Archive for the Education Category

Work in Progress

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , , on July 3, 2019 by telescoper

It was less than a year ago that I posted this photograph of a sign I saw by the Kilcock Road on my way into work in the Science Building at Maynooth University.

It was a planning notice that started the process of constructing extra buildings to accommodate various new teaching and study spaces on campus.

By way of an update, here are a couple of pictures taken near that location this morning that show how things have progressed.

Although I had some experience of this kind of construction project from Sussex days I’m not really au fait with the technicalities. The main work being done so far seems to be preparatory: levelling the ground, laying drains and sewers, adding pipes for communications cables, changing the road layout and so on. They call this `readying work’. There’s no sign of actual buildings going up yet, but that is to be expected. Using modern building techniques construction of the actual edifice can be very rapid once the groundwork is done.

I’m in the building on the right of the photograph with the mechanical digger in it, so I was a bit worried that all this would lead to an intolerable amount of noise but it’s actually not too bad. The main inconvenience is for people with cars, since a road has been closed for this work, but I walk into campus so it doesn’t affect me directly.

When it’s all done the new building should look like this:

The University’s News item about this project can be read here.

I’ll post further updates when there’s more to report!

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Admissions, Consultations and Congratulations!

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , , , , , , on July 2, 2019 by telescoper

Some good news for Maynooth University arrived this morning. Yesterday (1st July) was the deadline for applicants to Irish universities to change their mind about first preference courses through the Central Applications Office (CAO) which, for UK readers, is roughly equivalent to UCAS). That deadline having passed, CAO has now released details of the number of first-choice applicants to each course at each university.

The news for Maynooth University is very positive, in that it has received its highest-ever (>4,200) first preference applications. This figure represents a 7% increase on Maynooth applications from last year. In particular the number of students applying for the Bachelor of Science degree is up a whopping 33% on last year!

I like our `Omnibus’ Science degree programme, for reasons which I’ve discussed here and am glad to see it’s proving so attractive to students.

Of course it now remains to be seen how many of those students get the required points on their Leaving Certificate examinations (which have just finished) but the prospects are looking good! I’m particularly looking forward to meeting new students in Theoretical Physics next year!

Yesterday was also an important day for existing Maynooth students. The main University Examination Board was held last Thursday and yesterday students received all their results. Of course I saw all the marks last week but couldn’t say anything before the final results were released so it was nice yesterday to join in the congratulations of the final-year students in Theoretical Physics who have done extremely well this year. You couldn’t wish to meet a nicer, friendlier and harder-working group of students and I’m delighted for their success. Some will be leaving to pursue studies abroad,  but some are staying on to do Masters programmes here so there will be some familiar faces still around in Theoretical Physics next year.

An innovation this year is that the Examinations Office has set up an Exam Results Information Centre to advise students on what to do if there are issues arising from their results (such as taking repeat examinations):

For subject-specific inquiries to do with academic matters we have a Consultation Day tomorrow (Wednesday 3rd July) during which students can, if they wish, ask to see their marked examination scripts as well as asking other questions about their academic studies. This is something I feel very positively about too (as I wrote here). I’ll be on duty in Theoretical Physics tomorrow, actually. If Theoretical Physics students can’t make it in tomorrow then just email us and we’ll try to arrange another time.

 

 

Additional Mathematics O-level 1979

Posted in Biographical, Education, mathematics with tags , , , on July 1, 2019 by telescoper

Yesterday a comment appeared on an old post of mine about the O-level Examination I took in Mathematics when I was at School. With a shock that reminded me that it was FORTY years ago this summer that I was taking my O-levels at the Royal Grammar School in Newcastle. That’s a memory lane down which I wasn’t anxious to take a trip.

For any youngsters reading this, the GCE (General Certificate of Education) Ordinary Level Examinations O-levels were taken at age sixteen in the United Kingdom back in the day; they were replaced during the 1980s by the modern GCSE Examination. For readers in Ireland the O-levels were roughly equivalent to the Junior Certificate, just as A-levels are roughly equivalent to the Leaving Certificate.

Anyway, that also reminded me that I never got round to posting the other O-level I took in Mathematics that summer, in Additional Mathematics. I thought I’d remedy that failing now, so here are the two papers I took (on Tuesday 26 June 1979 and Thursday 5 July respectively.

I had forgotten that there was so much mechanics in this actually (Section C of each paper). Is that different from equivalent papers nowadays? In fact I’d be interested in comments about the content and level of difficulty of this compared to modern examinations in mathematics via the box below.

P.S. I did ten O-levels that summer of ’79: Mathematics; Additional Mathematics; Combined Science (2); English Language; English Literature; French; Latin; History; and Geography. I still have all the papers and have only posted a subset. If anyone has requests for any others please let me know and I’ll scan them.

What’s the Point of the Prospectus?

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , , on June 30, 2019 by telescoper

Visitors to last weekend’s Summer Open Day at Maynooth University were all given a `goodie bag’ containing this:

The Undergraduate Handbook (as it’s called) is an example of a Prospectus, which Wikipedia helpfully defines as:

A university or school prospectus is a document sent to potential (prospective) students to attract them to apply for admissions. It usually contains information about the institution and the available courses, including advice on how to apply and the benefits of accepting a place. Many universities have an individual prospectus for each course or group of courses that they offer. Most universities have both online and paper versions of their prospectus, and they are divided into an Undergraduate Prospectus and a Postgraduate Prospectus.

I’ve worked at quite a few Universities in my career: (Sussex, Queen Mary, Nottingham, Cardiff and, now, Maynooth) and they have all produced something similar. The Maynooth one shown above is a fairly hefty document, in A4 format, and over 200 pages in length. It is nicely laid out and well produced so what follows is not to be interpreted as a criticism of it as a piece of literature!

Last week I was thinking about why universities continue to produce prospectuses in paper form when nowadays all the information is available online in a form that is much easier to search than the cumbersome hard copy.
Of the 200+ pages in the Maynooth version, only a few will be of any interest to any one student and we found on our stall last weekend that a much smaller pamphlet outlining just the science courses was far more popular and, one infers, useful for prospective students. The big handbook must be quite expensive to produce and distribute – and a new one is required every year – so is it really worth the effort?

I know from time at Sussex that the annual printing of the prospectus imposed a number of constraints on the process of developing new courses. The deadline for getting things ready was over a year ahead of the time a new course would start, which dramatically slowed down the process. That’s not a particular criticism of Sussex, by the way, I think that’s a fairly ubiquitous issue. Why not just have the material available online, where it can be updated with new courses and modules at any time?

There may be good reasons for continuing with the old-style university prospectus, but the only reason I’ve heard articulated is that `everyone else has one so we have to too’. Maybe the prospectus is an effective marketing tool, I don’t know. If so it’s probably more for the benefit of parents than students.

I’d be interested in hearing views from prospective students, parents thereof, academics and or university
admissions specialists on this issue, especially from those who want to change my mind as I have to say that I think we should scrap the paper and just deliver the material via the internet (either via webpages or an app).

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The Senior Academic Leadership Initiative

Posted in Education, Maynooth, Politics with tags , , , , , on June 27, 2019 by telescoper

I’ve been so busy over the last week or so that I forgot to mention that on Friday (21st June) the Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor announced a new scheme to improve the gender balance in senior academic roles in Irish universities.

While women make up more than half of university lecturers here in Ireland, just 24% are professors, and the new scheme plans to tackle that under-representation at senior levels by creating up to 45 academic leadership positions specifically for women over the next three years.

The Senior Academic Leadership Initiative (SALI) is funded by the Department of Education and Skills and managed by the Higher Education Authority. More details of the scheme can be found here and the call for applications can be found here.

In summary: new and additional senior academic leadership posts will be funded in areas where

  • there is clear evidence of significant gender under-representation
  • where this appointment will have significant impact within the HEI and the relevant faculty/department/functional unit
  • where they would be a proportionate and effective means to achieve accelerated and sustainable change within an institution

Predictably there has been a bit of a backlash to this announcement from some quarters, but I think it’s an excellent idea and it has my full support. Note further that Legal advice from the Attorney General has confirmed that this policy approach is consistent with EU and national employment and equality law.

I hope a significant number of these positions go to outstanding female academics in STEM disciplines, where the under-representation is indeed significant – and hope we can also attract some here to Maynooth! We don’t have any female academics in the Department of Theoretical Physics….

It’s important, however, to bear in mind that this scheme addresses only one of the issues relating to gender discrimination in Irish higher education and there are many others, especially in STEM disciplines (such as recruitment of early-career level) which will require separate actions.

 

 

 

 

Institutes, Acronyms and the Letter H

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , , , , , on June 25, 2019 by telescoper

Here’s a rambling and inconsequential post emanating from a coffee-room discussion yesterday.

The latest round of guff about University Rankings, in which Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) came top and Irish universities didn’t  prompted a strange letter to the Irish Times about the status of the Irish Institutes of Technology some of which have merged, or are planning to merge, to form Technological Universities.

Among the list of Irish Institutes of Technology, I found that sadly there isn’t an MIT in Ireland (Mullingar would be a good place for it!) but there are, for example:

Cork Institute of Technology (CIT)

Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT)

Limerick Institute of Technology (LIT)

Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT)

and so on, as well as..

Institute of Technology Tralee….(:-)

I wondered whether there might be some other potentially unfortunate acronyms  to be had, I hoped for example for a South Howth Institute of Technology but sadly there isn’t one; nor is there a Sligo Higher Institute of Technology. There’s no Galway Institute of Technology either.

In the course of that exercise in silliness I discovered how few towns and villages there are in Ireland whose names begin with the letter H. Moreover all of those listed on the Wikipedia page are in the Sacs-Bhéarla (English language) rather than genuinely Irish names.

I’m sure Irish speakers will correct me on this, but I guess this lack of Irish proper names beginning with H may be connected with the use of h in denoting lenition. When used in this way the `h’ always appears after the consonant being modified and so never forms the initial letter. There are plenty of words in Irish beginning with H, though, so this is either a red herring or something specific to place names.

Comments and corrections are welcome through the box below!

 

UPDATE: I’m reliably informed (via Twitter) that all words in modern Irish beginning with H are borrowings from other languages, and the h was only introduced into Irish words for the reason mentioned above,

Summer Open Day

Posted in Biographical, Education, Maynooth with tags , on June 22, 2019 by telescoper


This morning I made my way onto campus to  represent the Department of Theoretical Physics at Maynooth University’s Summer Open Day which took place today. Naturally I encountered Maynooth Library Cat on the way. I’ve never seen him in that location amid the shrubs before, and when I saw him heading for that place I thought he might be about to do a poo in the mulch (which looks a bit like a litter tray). Instead of that he just flopped into the position shown in the photo. It was quite sunny early on today and I think he was happy to have found a spot in the shade.

Despite the good weather, the Open Day wasn’t as busy as the last couple I’ve been involved with, probably because this year’s Leaving Certificate examinations haven’t quite finished. Nevertheless we had a reasonable number of prospective students visit the stall in Iontas, shown here with Rebekah (a current student in the Department on a summer research project):

Later on I gave a talk. The audience was fairly small but quite a few people took the opportunity to ask questions at the end, so I think it was useful for those who attended.

At least today the weather was nice, even if the occurrence of the solstice yesterday means that the nights are now drawing in…

I find these occasions always bring a bit of a flashback to Sussex days, actually, when I used to have to do this sort of thing quite regularly on Saturdays throughout the year. It’s almost three years since I left there. Can it really be so long already?