Archive for the Maynooth Category

Maynooth University Library Cat Update

Posted in Maynooth with tags on July 12, 2020 by telescoper

I’m busy today reading a PhD thesis in advance of a virtual viva voce examination tomorrow morning but since a few people have asked, I’m taking a short break to update about Maynooth University Library Cat.

The weather has been fairly grim for the last few weeks so he’s been keeping to the various sheltering places he uses but the weather was a bit better on Friday so he was out and about.

As you can see, he’s in good health. In fact he’s as fit as a fiddle. Various people take offerings on a daily basis so he never has any shortage of food. As a matter of fact I wonder where he puts it all as he manages to stay very trim…

Getting Back to Work

Posted in Covid-19, Maynooth with tags , , on July 7, 2020 by telescoper

It’s Consultation Day here in Maynooth, which is when students can get some feedback on the exam results released last week and also discuss what they may need to do in terms of repeating assessments next month.

A few minutes ago I took a short break from dealing with such things to make a cup of coffee and I thought I’d provide an update on the processes going on to allow people to return to work. Signs went up on the outside doors to the Science Building last week.

The furniture in the Foyer area has been rearranged to facilitate social distancing…

The Department of Theoretical Physics will be operating a two-way system, with people sticking to the left of the corridors. People came to yesterday to stick the signs on the floor.

Fortunately the corridors in the Department are just about wide enough to maintain social distancing. If people pass each other coming in different directions their encounter will only be transient anyway, which is of low risk.

The computer room (not shown) will have a one-way system so students and staff will enter through one door and leave through the other. We will also have to take half the machines out of use for social distancing purposes, but that should be manageable.

Elsewhere in the Science building in order to avoid people passing each other on the (rather narrow) stairs there is one set for up and another for down.

Social distancing is being enforced in the other facilities too…

That’ll do for now. Time to get back to work.

Temporary Lectureship in Theoretical Physics at Maynooth University!

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , on June 28, 2020 by telescoper

While I remember I should announce that we have fixed term ten-month full-time teaching position available in the Department of Theoretical Physics at Maynooth University.

The appointment is to provide sabbatical cover for Dr Jiri Vala.

The advert only went up last week but the deadline is just a fortnight away, on Sunday 12th July, which is pretty soon. This is because we need the person in post by September! Interviews are likely to be held in early August.

You can find the ad here or here or at the Maynooth University website here (which is also where you should apply).

Please feel free to pass this on to anyone you think might be interested!

Before Phase Three..

Posted in Biographical, Covid-19, Maynooth with tags , , on June 28, 2020 by telescoper

Tomorrow (on Monday 29th June) Ireland will enter Phase Three of its (accelerated) Roadmap for Reopening after the Covid-19 restrictions.

The Coronavirus situation here remains relatively stable, with new cases steady at a low level:

This is not the case for the rest of the world, however. Yesterday two grim milestones were passed: 10,000,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 worldwide and 500,000 deaths:

Much of the recent numerical growth of the pandemic is associated with North and South America. Brazil is particularly badly affected as are some of the United States. I don’t need to comment on the quality of the political leadership involved.

I am very nervous about the situation in the United Kingdom too, where I feel the reopening is being rushed. Poor leadership is partly responsible for the continuing high levels of infection there too.

Anyway, back to Phase Three in Ireland. Yesterday I bought a copy of the Irish Times and found this booklet inside:

The emphasis is on the fact that despite the low levels in Ireland Covid-19 has not gone away and we all have to be prepared to take special precautions for the foreseeable future. I would be amazed if there wasn’t another flare-up here at some point, actually, it’s just a question of when. And those optimistic about the delivery of a vaccine in the near future, I’ll remind you that there isn’t yet a vaccine for any form of Coronavirus let alone the novel form responsible for Covid-19 (SARS-CoV-2).

Anyway, on Friday I attended a virtual Question and Answer session with the President of Maynooth University, Professor Philip Nolan, about the plans for reopening campus over the Summer and into the new academic year. It is clear that lots will have to be done before staff can return fully and even then it won’t be anything like “normal”.

Incidentally the issue of face masks came up and there was some discussion about their effectiveness. Not being a medical expert I don’t really know about that, but I think one of the important things about masks in a work environment is that their visibility means that they work as a signal to remind people to be aware of Covid-19. I have discarded my home-made face masks and bought a box of proper ones and I intend to wear them whenever I am in a work setting in which anyone else is present.

On Friday evening I finally received (relatively) detailed instructions on how the return to work process will work. The Department of Theoretical Physics at Maynooth University is still basically in Phase 1 while the university working group has been assembling this guidance. It will probably be several more weeks before we can get people back to work because there are many things still to be done: including the installation of hand sanitizers, one-way systems, screens, and new signage.

Another thing that came up during the President’s Q&A was the question of vacations for staff. Fortunately I had muted both my audio and video feeds for this as I laughed out loud. What with organising the return to work, overseeing repeat exams, recruiting a sabbatical replacement, planning teaching for next year, rewriting my own lectures for the “new normal”, etc etc, and (hopefully) moving into a new house, I can’t see any prospect of any summer holiday this year at all!

Maynooth University Open Day is here!

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , , on June 27, 2020 by telescoper

So here I am at home answering questions online from visitors at our virtual Open Day. It’s actually pouring with rain which might have dampened the enthusiasm of visitors to a traditional Open Day but it’s been quite busy so far. Here is a video tour of the Maynooth University campus, filmed in better weather than today!

You will see that it includes an artist’s impression of the new building on the North Campus which isn’t actually finished yet.

And here is a gratuitous picture of our star attraction:

Another Open Day Preview – General Science at Maynooth

Posted in Education, Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on June 26, 2020 by telescoper

I thought I’d put up another post following on from yesterday’s post about Open Day at Maynooth coming up on Saturday 27th June which, owing to Covid-19 restrictions still being in place,  is once again a virtual event. It will take place between 10am and 2pm and be online for that period to answer queries about Theoretical and Mathematical Physics at Maynooth University. You can sign up for the event here.

Yesterday’s post was about our denominated degree programme in Theoretical Physics and Mathematics, but I also recorded a separate video for students interested in studying Mathematical Physics  (or Theoretical Physics – we use the terms interchangeably) through our General Science programme, MH201, so here’s a little presentation about how to study Mathematical physics at Maynooth that way:

Currently, most students doing Science subjects here in Maynooth enter on the General Science programme (codename)  a four-year Omnibus science course that involves doing four subjects in the first year, but becoming increasingly specialised thereafter. That’s not unlike the Natural Sciences course I did at Cambridge, except that students at Maynooth can do both Mathematical Theoretical Physics and Experimental Physics in the first year as separate choices. Other possibilities include Chemistry, Computer Science, Biology, etc.

In Year 1 students do four subjects (one of which has to be Mathematics). That is narrowed down to three in Year 2 and two in Year 3. In their final year, students can stick with two subjects for a Joint Honours (Double Major) degree, or specialise in one, for Single Honours.

I like this programme very much because it does not force the students to choose a specialism before they have had a taste of the subject, and that it is flexible enough to accommodate Joint Honours qualifications in, e.g., Theoretical Physics and Mathematics. It also allows us to enrol students onto Physics degrees who have not done Physics or Applied Mathematics as part of the Leaving Certificate.

I think Mathematical Physics has a particular value in the first year of this course, even for students who do now wish to continue with beyond that level. The material we present in the first year focusses on Mechanics, which is perfect for students to learn how to apply concepts from the Mathematics courses in calculus and linear algebra (especially vectors). It obviously complements Experimental Physics and I would recommend all students who want to do Experimental Physics to do Mathematical Physics too, but  basic mechanics comes up in a wide range of contexts in science, including Biology and Chemistry, so it is relevant for students taking a wide range of pathways through this very flexible programme.

 

 

Maynooth Open Day Preview

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , , , on June 25, 2020 by telescoper

No sooner has the examination period finished when we have to start thinking about admissions again. There is an Open Day at Maynooth coming up on Saturday 27th June. Covid-19 restrictions still being in place this is once again a virtual event that will take place between 10am and 2pm. I will be online for that period to answer queries about Theoretical and Mathematical Physics at Maynooth University. You can sign up for the event here.

In the meantime, to whet your appetite, here is a little video introduction I recorded for the Open Dday for our Double Major BSc programme in Theoretical Physics & Mathematics (codename: MH206)

 

 

Becoming a Culchie…

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth with tags , , on June 23, 2020 by telescoper

Among all the other things going at the moment, most of them to do with Covid-19, I am in the process of trying to buy a house. I did toy with the idea of moving to Dublin but property prices there are ridiculously high and I wanted to avoid having to commute, so I decided to stay local, not that houses are very much cheaper here in Maynooth…

Another factor has been my arthritis. It’s not at all bad at the moment, but a while ago I was viewing a property which was very nice but had very steep and narrow stairs and I suddenly struck me that in a few years’ time they would probably be quite difficult to manage. Eventually I found a lovely bungalow near Maynooth and last week had my offer on it accepted. There’s a lot that can go wrong from here but all the paperwork, survey, valuation and other stuff is proceeding and I am hoping to move into the new house towards the end of the summer. Fingers crossed. I know that a lot can go wrong in the house-buying business so I’m taking nothing for granted.

There are many similarities in the house buying saga here in Ireland compared to the United Kingdom (where I have bought and sold several properties over the years), but one big difference is the auction process. Estate agents here in Ireland are generally called auctioneers, actually. In order to register to bid you have to first show that you have the necessary funds and then you can place a bid online. It’s easy in an auction to get drawn in so far that you end up spending more than you wanted to, so I decided on an absolutely upper limit on how high I would go. Fortunately the bidding stopped well below that.

There are a few other differences between the UK and Ireland. One is that if you buy a new house here you have to pay VAT on it, which is a considerable increase in cost. Another is that stamp duty is just 1% in Ireland, whereas for a property of similar price in England it would be 5%. Other than that the business of mortgages and valuations and surveys and Land Registry is all tediously familiar.

When I told a friend what I was buying and where he described my putative new house as a “Culchie Bungalow”.
I’d heard the word Culchie before but decided to look it up. The original meaning was a person from rural Ireland, but nowadays it refers more-or-less to anybody who lives outside Dublin. I was quite surprised however to see that Maynooth is specifically mentioned as a place where culchies live on the wikipedia page

Anyway, I don’t mind being called a culchie. I’ve been called a lot worse over the years!

Scrambled Phases

Posted in Biographical, Covid-19, Maynooth with tags , , , on June 22, 2020 by telescoper

A couple of weeks ago I posted about the imminent start of Phase 2 of the Irish Government’s Roadmap for Reopening after the closures enforced because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Since then the Irish Government has decided that there will only be four phases instead of five, and many elements of the programme will be moved forward. For example, all travel restrictions within the Republic will be lifted from next Monday (29th June), which is when Phase 3 is due to commence. It has also been announced that hairdressers, barbers, nail and brow salons, beauty salons, spas, make-up application services, tanning, tattooing and piercing services will re-open. I find that surprising, as I find it hard to see how such services can be provided at low risk of transmitting Covid-19.

In fact I find the whole idea of accelerating the Roadmap rather worrying. I hope I’m proved wrong, but it seems to me that the Government is rushing this. There are worrying signs in Germany that the R-number is increasing significantly and undue haste in opening business may lead to a similar rise. It must be stressed that the number of cases involved in Germany  is rather small and most are confined in local outbreaks that can be contained. Nevertheless, this remains a concern.

At the moment the situation looks stable, with new cases at a very low level:

I do worry however that, since only a very small fraction of the population (at most a few percent) have been infected with Covid-19, there will be very little resistance if Covid-19 starts to spread again.

As for my own work situation here at Maynooth University, what happens in Phases Three and Four is all a bit hypothetical, because we’re still stuck in Phase One! The University management is being extremely cautious about allowing anyone back to work at all until various protocols are agreed, risk assessments carried out, and staff training delivered. It seems likely therefore that we will reach Monday’s scheduled start of Phase 3 before we are even ready for Phase 2. In practice, therefore, the various phases of the Roadmap are no longer relevant in this particular setting. I think I’ll remain the only person coming in to the Department for quite some time!

I fully understand and support the careful approach adopted  by the University, of course, and the delay doesn’t matter that much as our teaching semester is now finished and, being theorists, we can all work from  home reasonably effectively. It must be more of a challenge for laboratory-based researchers. My main concern is  I’d be very surprised if all the other organizations and businesses due to open next Monday are as cautious. The last thing we need for people to cut corners and send us all back to square one.

 

Challenges Past and Future

Posted in Covid-19, Education, Maynooth with tags , , , , , , on June 19, 2020 by telescoper

Yesterday afternoon we held our Departmental Examination Board in Theoretical Physics (via Microsoft Teams*) which all went remarkably well in the circumstances.

The most challenging thing to happen yesterday afternoon was that a bloke came to cut back the bushes outside my office with a very large and noisy hedge trimmer. I thought I was going to have to contend with that all afternoon but it seems he had done most of it the day before and only came back yesterday to finish off. He left before the Exam Board started.

The next stage of our Exams process is for all the Departmental results to be collated for those students on joint programmes before the final University Board takes place about ten days from now. After that students will get their results.

That doesn’t quite finish examination matters for 2019/20 however because some students will need to take repeat examinations in August. These will be a week later than usual as a knock-on effect of the extra week we were given to mark and correct the May exams. We anticipate that at least some of the repeats will be the traditional `in person’ on campus style, but some may be online timed assessments like the ones we held in May. That depends a bit on how the Covid-19 pandemic pans out in Ireland over the next few weeks (and of course how many students actually take repeats, as social distancing generates a capacity issue for the examination halls).

At the moment we are optimistic because the number of new cases of Covid-19 is low and stable. That coulld change, of course, if the virus starts to spread again so we have to have contingency plans.

Even more uncertain is what will happen in September, although I have been very annoyed by some reports in the media that seem to have been actively trying to put students off coming to University next academic year on the grounds that there won’t be any lectures. We certainly plan to offer as much face-to-face teaching as possible and I think other third-level institutions in Ireland will do likewise. There will of course have to be a backup if there is another lockdown, which may mean switching back to remote teaching at relatively short notice, but at least we’ve done that once already so know much better now what works and what doesn’t. Nevertheless I would encourage all potential students not to believe everything they read in the media nor be deterred from attending university by rumours from sources who don’t know what they are talking about.

Earlier this week I was starting to think about how we might build the required flexibility into our teaching for next year and two main things struck me.

The first is that while we have more-or-less been forced into making various kinds of video material available to students, this is something that I feel we should have been doing already. I’ve long felt that the more types of teaching we incorporate and the wider range of learning materials we provide the better the chance that students find something that works for them. Even if we do have a full programme of lectures next year, it is my intention to continue to provide, e.g., recorded video explainers as well because they might augment the battery of resources available to the student.

Some time ago I had to make some policies about `reasonable adjustments’ for some disabled students learning physics. In the course of providing extra resources for this small group I suddenly thought that it would be far better, and far more inclusive, simply to make these resources available to everyone. Likewise, we’ve been forced to adjust to providing material remotely but we should be thinking about how to keep the best things about what we’ve done over the last few months and embedding them in the curriculum for the (hopefully Coronavirus-free) future and not regard them all as temporary special measures.

The other thing that struck me is in the same vein, but a little more speculative. Over the last many years I have noticed that students use printed textbooks less and less for learning. Part of that may be because we in a digital age and they prefer to use online resources. The switch to remote learning has however revealed that there are some students who are disadvantaged by not having a good internet connection. I just wonder whether this might lead to a resurgence in the use of textbooks. I’ll certainly be making a strong recommendation to the new first-year students in Theoretical Physics that they should get hold of the recommended text, which I have previously regarded as an optional extra.

*At one point I got muddled up between Teams and Zoom and called it Tombs. It was a grave error, but it can only be a matter of time before Microsoft Tombs actually arrives…