Archive for the Maynooth Category

Popping up on Campus

Posted in Covid-19, Education, Maynooth with tags , , on September 24, 2021 by telescoper

Well that’s the end of Week 1 of the new regime (or Week 0 for new students). Apart from quite a few timetabling issues and a staff short shortage it hasn’t gone too badly. I also heard today that next week there will be a “pop-up vaccination centre” on Maynooth University campus.

I think this is a good idea.

Talking of things popping up on campus, I think Maynooth University Library Cat has been enjoying the attention he’s been getting from returning staff and students. In fact his little abode is now an official calling point on the Campus Tours for new students.

Being petted and pampered can be exhausting however and occasionally he likes to withdraw to his quarters for a rest..

Anyway, it’s been a hectic week and the new students arrive tomorrow so now it’s definitely long past wine o’clock…

The Autumnal Equinox 2021

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on September 22, 2021 by telescoper

So here we are then. The Autumnal Equinox (in the Northern hemisphere) takes place this evening (Wednesday 22nd September)  at 20.21 Irish Time (19.21 UT).

Although  the term `equinox’  refers to a situation in which day and night are of equal length, which implies that it’s a day rather than a specific time, the astronomical equinox is more accurately defined by a specific event, i.e. when the plane defined by Earth’s equator passes through the centre of the Sun’s disk (or, if you prefer, when the centre of the Sun passes through the plane defined by Earth’s equator). Day and night are not necessarily exactly equal on the equinox, but they’re the closest they get. From now on days in the Northern hemisphere will be shorter than nights and they’ll get shorter still until the Winter Solstice.

Many people take the autumnal equinox to be the end of summer. There is a saying around these parts, however, that `Summer is Summer to Michaelmas Day’ (September 29th), which is not until next week. I must say, though,  though it doesn’t feel very summery today.

Anyway, this is Welcome Week in Maynooth and, barring any sudden changes of plan, we’re due to start teaching first year students on Monday 27th September. Returning students commenced on Monday 20th. I gave my first lecture on Vector Calculus yesterday. That was the first in-person lecture I’ve done for over a year. It was strange because I taught the same students online last year, but obviously never actually saw or heard them, as students generally mute their video and sound when attending lectures. Today was an improvement on that but everyone in the class was wearing a mask so I still haven’t really seen them! At lest this means that all the students were observing the necessary protocol, which is a relief, and the masks didn’t interfere with them responding to questions of mine or asking questions of their own.

We are still one lecturer short as the visa office in Dublin has been sitting on the application from our new member of staff since June 23rd. On top of my own things to do I’ve been setting up lectures for him so the students can view them in the lecture hall remotely. I’m not sure how long that will go on for, although it’s out of my hands.

Other than that I’ve spent the last couple of days trying to iron out problems with the timetable – of which there are unfortunately many – as well as preparing my own lectures. I want to record my lectures from the classrooms but unfortunately the University has chosen not to install decent video equipment so I’ve had to improvise. I recorded yesterday’s lecture using a webcam attached to the stand for my tenor saxophone. It seemed to work out reasonably well.

Freedom (?)

Posted in Art, Maynooth with tags , , , on September 21, 2021 by telescoper

The photograph above shows the sculpture Freedom by Polish-Irish sculptor Alexandra Wejchert, which has recently been installed on the North Campus of Maynooth University. It was formerly located outside the former headquarters of AIB, the bank, in Ballsbridge. AIB has now moved its HQ – the old one is now occupied by Facebook – and the sculpture became surplus to requirements but managed to offload it on graciously offered it on loan to Maynooth University. I won’t comment on the artistic merits of this piece but it seems to me a very strange decision to plonk it right in the middle of the main pedestrian entrance to the North Campus so everyone has to walk around it. I’m also wondering how long it will be before a traffic cone is found on the tip of one of the prongs…

Back to Campus

Posted in Biographical, Education, Maynooth on September 20, 2021 by telescoper

Well here we are at last, back to campus. Returning students were back to lectures this morning and although our new students don’t begin their lectures until next Monday (27th September) a sizeable contingent who accepted first-round offers were also here today doing orientation activities.

I didn’t actually have a lecture today as my first-year module doesn’t begin until next week but I did go to the lecture theatre at 11am this morning to chat to students about the module and give them some tips for studying theoretical physics. As it happens, that is Physics Hall which is on the ground floor of the building shown in the picture above. I’ll see the full class next week. My second year module has lectures on Tuesdays so my first real lecture will be tomorrow (afternoon).

We’re still short of one lecturer who still hasn’t obtained his visa yet. He will be doing lectures remotely until such time as he can arrive. I won’t deny that this has caused a lot of stress. We’re short-handed enough anyway without this.

Aside from that I’ve been trying to organize a number of things, including tutorials and course materials, and change some timetable bookings. The latter has proved necessary because we do have significantly more students than we had last year and some of the rooms we have been given are too small.

With another week to go until first-year lectures begin, and second-round CAO offers just going out today, we could still have a few more new students enrolling between now and then. The number of returning students has probably settled down by now, though we might get a few late enrolments.

Views of Maynooth University Campus

Posted in Architecture, Education, Maynooth on September 16, 2021 by telescoper

I’ve been spending a lot of time doing various webinars and the like to help welcome new students to Maynooth University for the new academic year. During the course of this I discovered we had some semi-official photographs to use as backgrounds for Zoom or Teams. I thought it might be fun to share a few of them here as they provide nice views of some of the buildings you might see while walking around campus…

One week to go…

Posted in Education, Maynooth on September 13, 2021 by telescoper

It’s Monday 13th September 2021 which means that teaching begins a week today. Gulp.

We still don’t really have any idea how many students we’ll have on our courses in the first year. The 2021 Leaving Certificate Results only came out on Friday 3rd September and the first round of CAO offers went out last week (on Tuesday 7th). Today at 3pm is the deadline for accepting these offers, so we expect to have some reasonably firm information later this week. There are two more rounds of CAO offers, though, so there may be some late arrivals.

This week we’re having some orientation and induction sessions for the new students. I recorded several videos to help students make their choices and am doing two live webinars about Mathematical and Theoretical Physics. I’m not doing one for our denominated Theoretical Physics & Mathematics programme because students on that do not have options in the first year. There’s also a live online Q&A session.

Lectures for first-year students don’t start until 27th September (two weeks from today) but there will probably be quite a few students who accept their places this week and would be able to start with the rest of the students next Monday. I think we’ll devise some optional sessions for them to keep them amused until teaching starts in proper.

Meanwhile the returning students (second, third and fourth years) have been enrolling. That seems to have gone alright and we now have a good idea how many we’ll have in those classes.

Unfortunately we still have the problem I’ve already, mentioned that for visa reasons we’re short of a member of staff, who is likely to have to start giving his lectures remotely. He has been allocated one second year and one third year module. I’ll wait a day or two to see if his visa comes through and if not inform the students that these lectures will be online. I suspect the students won’t be happy but it’s out of my hands. The visa application has been waiting for months for an answer from the Immigration Service in Ireland, which is a very poor level of performance by them.


Posted in Biographical, Covid-19, Education, Maynooth on September 10, 2021 by telescoper

I spent most of today in various virtual meetings to do with next Semester’s teaching which is due to start on September 20th for returning students (and a week letter for first-years). I’ve also been keeping an eye on the student record system, as the returning students have started to register. We don’t expect most first-years to start enrolling until next week, although I did see a few early acceptances coming through…

One of the meetings I had today was about how to handle the first-year “Omnibus” science course in which some of the modules are taught in large classes which have to be held remotely and others in smaller groups which will be in person. One of the complications is if students have, say, two lectures online, which they can view at home, will they really travel to campus to attend another one in person? And if they have an online lecture immediately before or after an in-person one, where will they view it if they haven’t got time to get between home and campus (or vice versa)?

All this reminded me of similar discussions we had at this time last year. Back then all the plans came to naught anyway because everything went online anyway a few weeks into term as infections rose (see left panel below):

Today 1620 new cases of Covid-19 were reported in Ireland. On this day last year the number was 196 I keep a full record here where you will see that between 10th September 2020 and 10th September 2021 3,378 deaths were recorded, most of them resulting from the big spike that followed Christmas. There is evidence of a dip right now, which is sincerely hope continues, but to me the rate of infections is alarmingly high. If infections start to climb then they’ll be starting from a much higher level than last year.

Of course we now have vaccines and the good news is that it seems that well over 90% of those over the age of 18 in Ireland will have been vaccinated by the start of term but with the Delta variant in circulation will this be enough?

At least we have had a significant change in the wording given to students: masks are now “mandatory” in lecture theatres.

I still think there’s a significant chance we have to revert to online teaching just as we did last year. Looking on the bright side at least we know how to do that now, as we’ve done it before.

But that’s enough worrying for this week. I’m now going to have a glass of wine and cook myself some dinner. Sautéed chicken with Cavolo Nero and Parmesan, in case you were wondering.

Back to the Veggie Box

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Maynooth on September 9, 2021 by telescoper

Still life with vegetables

Since I’ve now been reunited with my kitchenware, cooking utensils and whatnot I thought I’d try to sort out a routine that enables me to eat a bit more adventurously and healthily. I’ve been a bit lazy in that regard over the last few years.

Many years ago when I lived in Nottingham I decided on a plan to increase the quantity and quality of the vegetables I was eating by ordering a weekly box  from an organic supplier. The one I picked there was called River Nene who provided very good stuff all year around. When I moved to Cardiff I had to cancel the arrangement, and I remained predominantly inorganic while I was renting a flat there. When I finally managed to buy a new house and move in, though, I looked to reestablish the regular deliveries. I was pleased to find a company called River Ford, which is kind of affiliated to River Nene, and which undertook deliveries of organic produce in the Cardiff area. I kept that up until I moved to Sussex. I did resume for a while when I returned to Cardiff in 2016 but the company changed the delivery arrangements suddenly and without telling me and I couldn’t use them anymore.

Anyway, I found a company called HarvestDay that provides a similar service here in Ireland that delivers fresh, seasonal organic vegetables direct from the farm to the customer. I decided to place a trial order to check them out before placing a regular order. The first box came this morning, delivered by a nice young man called Josh, and I am very pleased with it. Among other things there was a squash, Calabrese broccoli, spring onions and Cavolo Nero as shown in the picture.

There are several reasons why I choose to get my vegetables delivered this way.

First and foremost, organically grown vegetables fresh from the farm definitely taste far nicer than the bland varieties carried by most mainstream suppliers, including both supermarkets and local greengrocers. Once you’ve tasted how ‘carrotty’ a carrot should be you’ll never want to eat one of those supermarket ones that look too orange to be true and have no flavour at all.  This applies not just to carrots but to most vegetables: fresh organic ones are so much better.

Some supermarkets do carry organic ranges but the prices are usually astronomical, and they are often shipped in from all around the world. That brings me to the second point which is that all (or virtually all) the vegetables I get in my weekly box are grown locally. They’re correspondingly fresh and the environmental impact of bulk transportation is also lessened.

Third, the nature of the scheme is that all the vegetables are seasonal. I think it’s quite sad that people have largely lost respect for the seasons by virtue of the fact that you can get strawberries all year around in supermarkets. I think it’s good to celebrate the natural cycle of things by eating  the correct food when it happens to be ready. You wouldn’t want to have Xmas dinner every day, so why not be prepared to wait until October to eat fresh sweetcorn?  To every thing there is a season. There’s always something yummy to eat if you’re prepared to be imaginative with your cooking.

And that’s the final point.. If you place a standing order for a small box of vegetables every week, the composition varies from week to week and with the time of year. The company does email and post on its website the contents of the following week’s boxes, but I generally don’t look at it. When this sort of box arrives, it’s usually a mixture of staples plus things that are not so familiar, and often something I’ve never cooked before.  If it hadn’t been for the veggie box, I would probably never have found out about how to cook chard, romanesco, jerusalem artichokes and celeriac. I look forward to these surprises. Not knowing exactly what’s coming forces me to cook new things, and if I don’t know how to cook them there’s always google. That’s why I get vegetables this way rather than going to a shop. It forces me to be a bit less lazy.

Of course, the summer salads and lighter things have now finished and, with winter coming on, there will be more root vegetables. I think the heavier vegetables tend to put some people off a bit, but there’s enough variety to keep it fun. My practice is to eat the more perishable things first, then move onto the rest. If it looks like things are going to go off or be unused I usually chuck them into a vegetable curry, which can be frozen or eaten over several days. Spicy dishes improve with time.

Each box looks like a lot of food, but I always manage to eat most of it. I have to admit that not all my culinary experiments are successful, but more often than not I am pleasantly surprised. I tried curried beetroot a few years ago, with more than a little trepidation. It turned out to be absolutely delicious, even if I did have to ad-lib a bit with some of the ingredients. The only drawback was an unexpectedly colourful trip to the lavatory the next morning…

Offers and Points

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , , , on September 8, 2021 by telescoper
Today’s Irish Times Supplement

Yesterday the Central Admissions Office released the first round offers for entry to Irish Universities; today the details appeared in the Irish newspapers. I don’t usually buy a newspaper on a weekday but I couldn’t resist getting a copy of the Irish Times so I could pore over the information presented in the CAO supplement, of which the picture above shows only a part, rather like I tend to do with the football results or cricket scores.

As expected, the points required for courses are significantly higher than last year. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic the School Leaving Certificate involved a combination of school-based assessment and examinations that obviously worked to the benefit of the students. Looking through the results I struggled to find courses where the points requirement had fallen, but there are a few examples.

Students who have met the requirements for a course they applied to have until 13th September to decide whether to accept. There is then another round of offers starting on 20th September and closing on 22nd September. Here in Maynooth we start teaching new students on 27th September so the CAO process is very truncated this year. I’d imagine that most students will settle on their choices in the first round.

My biggest worry this year is now not to do with the business of offers and acceptances but the mad scramble for accommodation at the start of term. It’s going to be a stressful few weeks for everyone.

Anyway, let’s take a look a the offers for Maynooth. Most students in the Department of Theoretical Physics come either through our denominated programme MH206 Theoretical Physics & Mathematics (TP&M for short) or through MH201 Science (the so-called “Omnibus” Science programme):

The denominated programme in Theoretical Physics and Mathematics (MH206) is up 11 points on 521 from last year’s 510 but that’s not an exceptionally high figure in historical terms although it is one of the higher offers for Maynooth. Points for MH201 Science are also up this year to 401 from 360 last year. This is higher than I can remember any previous year I have been here.

We don’t normally publish information on how many offers have been made* so I’ll just say that on the basis of first-round offers it looks like we have done pretty well on TP&M. A good thing about this course is that it doesn’t involve laboratory work so is not constrained by capacity in the way that experimental subjects are. The total number of first-year students on MH201 for example is largely constrained by space in Chemistry labs: students are given a free choice of subjects in Year 1 so we have to allow for them all to choose any subject which leads to a bottleneck. Students on MH201 don’t choose their first-year subjects until they enrol so we won’t find out what numbers are like on this course for some time.

*I know, and could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.

Two weeks to go…

Posted in Education, Maynooth on September 6, 2021 by telescoper

Science Building Foyer

I’ve decided to escape from the boxes and packing materials in my house in order to come onto campus. The Science Building is still rather empty but, despite the deserted appearance of the foyer above, there are a few other people working here. In fact, later this afternoon I’ll be having the first in-person meeting I’ve had with my PhD student for about a year; we’ve met regularly once a week via Teams so this will be a change!

It’s 6th September 2021 which means that teaching begins two weeks today. On top of the problem I’ve already mentioned that we’re short of a member of staff, we still don’t really have any idea how many students we’ll have on our courses. The 2021 Leaving Certificate Results only came out on Friday 3rd September and the first round of CAO offers will be published tomorrow (7th September) so please spare a thought for the admissions teams who have been working through the weekend to sort things out. We’ll get our first information tomorrow afternoon how things have gone, but we won’t have firm numbers until very close to the start of term, which is why teaching for new students won’t begin until 27th September, a week later than returning students.

Today is also Consultation Day, on which students can discuss their results in the August Repeat Examinations with members of staff (including myself).  Students who had disappointing results may need to repeat the year; others may progress to the next year of studies, having passed their repeats. Others who passed some but not others may be able to progress but with a restricted range of options. It’s all quite complicated but the few inquiries I’ve dealt with today have been resolved quite straightforwardly.

There’s a lot to do over the next fortnight, but it’s quite a relief to be in a situation where we can actually start doing out jobs rather than  just wait for others to do theirs. As Gandalf said on the eve of the Battle for Minas Tirith:

The board is set, the pieces are moving. We come to it at last…