Archive for the Maynooth Category

Summer Open Day in Maynooth

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , on June 22, 2018 by telescoper

It seems I have volunteered to represent the Department of Theoretical Physics at Maynooth University’s Open Day tomorrow, so I’ll be giving a talk as well as answering questions, handing out leaflets etc on the Theoretical Physics stall (with the aid of some current students). It’s 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. At least the weather looks like it’s going to be nice, even if the post-solstitial nights are now drawing in.

If you’re planning to come tomorrow, the event starts at 10.30 am and the first talk is at 11.15, but I’m not on until 13.35. Lots of information is available here. Please come and say hello if you’ve read this here blog post!

Anyway, Maynooth University has made a nice little video about the Open Day so I thought I’d share it here, mainly to give readers a look at the lovely campus, which is bathed in sunshine as I write this!


Back to Cardiff again..

Posted in Cardiff, Maynooth with tags , on June 6, 2018 by telescoper

So here I am again, back in sunny Cardiff (if a bit later than planned). My flight from Dublin was supposed to depart at 8.35, but didn’t go until over an hour later. The delay was allegedly caused by a lightning strike last night that required the plane to be checked before take-off. Although they must have known about this mishap for some time, FlyBe didn’t bother to tell us anything about the reason for the delay or how long it would be. This was the scene at the (unstaffed) departure gate at about 9.15am. The lack of communication or any form of customer service compounds the irritation caused by such delays.

Anyway, once airborne, it was a pleasant flight. Here are two pictures just after taking off from Dublin Airport, with a view up to Malahide in the North.

And here are a few more flying over Wales about 10 minutes before landing.

We landed about 85 minutes late in Cardiff, but it’s lovely weather here so I’m not as grumpy as I might have been. Now, to work.

Lá Saoire i mí Mheitheamh

Posted in Biographical, History, Maynooth, Uncategorized with tags , , , on June 4, 2018 by telescoper

So here I am, in Maynooth, on my birthday. I’ve made such an impression here in Ireland since I arrived that they’ve declared this day a national holiday so I’ve got the day off.

The June Bank Holiday (Lá Saoire i mí Mheitheamh) in Ireland is actually the equivalent of last week’s late May Bank Holiday in the UK, in that both have their origin in the old festival of Whitsuntide (or Pentecost) which falls on the 7th Sunday after Easter. Because the date of Easter moves around in the calendar so does Whit Sunday, but it is usually in late May or early June. When the authorities decided to fix a statutory holiday at this time of year, presumably to reduce administrative difficulties, the UK went for late May and Ireland for early June. Whit Sunday was actually on 20th May this year.

Incidentally, when I was a lad, ‘Whit Week’ was always referred to as ‘Race Week’. Geordie Ridley’s famous music hall song The Blaydon Races begins “I went to Blaydon Races, ’twas on the 9th of June, Eighteen Hundred and Sixty Two on a summer’s afternoon…”. Easter Sunday fell on 20th April in 1862, so Whit Sunday was on 8th June. After raucous scenes at the Blaydon Races, they were scrapped and replaced with a Temperance Festival on the Town Moor in Newcastle which evolved into one of the largest open-air funfairs in Europe, The Hoppings.

Anyway, with this birthday, I have now reached the minimum retirement age in the UK university pension scheme, so I could start drawing my pension when I leave Cardiff University next month. For a time I was planning to do that, but Ireland has given me a new lease of life, so to speak, so thoughts of retirement have receded.

Today also represents a short hiatus before our formal Exam Board meeting tomorrow, then I’ll be back in Cardiff for exam business there. And next week I’ll be in neither Cardiff nor Maynooth…

The Maynooth Pound

Posted in History, Maynooth with tags , , on June 2, 2018 by telescoper

Taking a stroll around Maynooth this afternoon I came across a little bit of local history that I thought I would share. On the appropriately name Pound Lane, right next to the stream that used to run past an ancient mill where there is now a shopping centre, there is a small enclosure called the Maynooth Pound, marked with this sign:

If you can’t read the sign it explains that this is the only surviving example of a type of pound which used to be common all over Ireland. Stray animals were brought here to be fed and watered before being reunited with their owners (for a small fee).

The walls are of interesting dry stone construction and have survived the passage of time rather well; they were built in 1822, although the Pound itself is a bit older.

The interior of the Pound was virtually derelict until quite recently but has been tidied up and is now a pleasant place to sit down and perhaps feed the birds. The old mill was famous for its crows, of which there are still a great many in Maynooth although they tend now to congregate on the playing fields near the Royal Canal.

In the picture, the mill stream is to the right of the shot and you can see the roof of the Manor Mill shopping centre to the upper right.

Maynooth Matters

Posted in Biographical, Education, Maynooth on May 31, 2018 by telescoper

Well, it’s another lovely day here in Maynooth and it feels even nicer that now that I’ve finished the stack of examination and project marking I had to do relating to the Computational Physics module I’ve been teaching for the past term.

I was feeling a bit guilty that I only just got the marks ready before today’s deadline, but it turns out that mine is far from being the last set to go into the database.

Tomorrow we have an internal meeting to discuss all the examination results and then on Tuesday next week we have the full formal meeting of the Exam Board complete with visiting External Examiner. It’s always a busy period preparing for these meetings as not only does everything have to be marked, but also all the marks need to be checked and double-checked, and various statistics produced ready for the forthcoming meetings. We take all these things very seriously because they’re so important.

I’m not sure students appreciate how much goes on behind the scenes at this time of year, but in this period they are finished with their academic work and probably out and about enjoying the sunshine. They were cooped up indoors sitting their examinations just a few days ago while we staff were in a state of comparative relaxation, and now it’s our turn to suffer.

Anyway, it’s at busy times of the year that we rely heavily on the efforts not only of administrative staff, without whom the whole business of examinations would grind to a halt. We rely on them all round the year, in fact, but their contribution is particularly obvious during exam season.

As it happens the Department of Theoretical Physics at Maynooth University will soon be losing an invaluable member of administrative staff who is retiring in a month or so. We have an advertisement already out for a (full-time) Executive Assistant with a deadline of 17th June to provide us with a replacement as soon as possible.

Anyway, Monday 4th June is a Bank Holiday in Ireland. It’s the equivalent holiday to the Late Spring Holiday in the UK (which is always on the last Monday of May), but here in the Emerald Isle it is always the first Monday in June. This year it happens to be on my birthday! So after the ordeal of tomorrow’s pre-Board meeting I have a long weekend to relax before the official meeting on Tuesday. I’m not sure if the fine weather will last, but I intend to do a bit of sightseeing if it does.

Student access to marked examination scripts

Posted in Cardiff, Education, Maynooth with tags , , , on May 25, 2018 by telescoper

I’m currently waiting for the last couple of scripts from my Physics of the Early Universe examination to arrive so I can begin the task of marking them. The examination was yesterday morning, and it’s now Friday afternoon, so I don’t know why it takes so long for the scripts to find their way to the examiner, especially when marking is on such a tight schedule. I’m away next week (in Ireland) so if I don’t get papers by this afternoon they won’t be marked until I return. The missing two are from students sitting in alternative venues, but I don’t see why that means they take over 24 hours  to get to the marker.

(By the way,  `script’ refers to what the student writes (usually in a special answer book), as opposed to the `paper’ which is the list of questions to be answered or problems to be solved in the script.)

Anyway, while I’m waiting for the missing scripts to arrive I thought I’d mention that here in the School of Physics & Astronomy at Cardiff University we have a system whereby students can get access to their marked examination scripts.  This access is limited, and for the purpose of getting feedback on where they went wrong, not for trying to argue for extra marks. The students can’t take the scripts away, nor can they make a copy, but the can take notes which will hopefully help them in future assessments. There’s a similar provision in place in the Department of Theoretical Physics at Maynooth University, where I will be relocating full-time in July, based around a so-called `Consultation Day’.

When I was Head of the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at Sussex University I tried to introduce such a system there, but it was met with some resistance from staff who thought this would not only cause a big increase in workload and but also lead to  difficulties with students demanding their marks be increased. That has never been the experience here at Cardiff: only a handful take up the opportunity and those that do are told quite clearly that the mark cannot be changed.  Last year I had only one student who asked to go through their script. I was happy to oblige and we had a friendly and (I think) productive meeting.

If I had my way we would actually give all students their marked examination scripts back as a matter of routine. The fact that we don’t is no doubt one reason for relatively poor performance in student satisfaction surveys about assessment and feedback. Obviously examination scripts have to go through a pretty strict quality assurance process involving the whole paraphernalia of examination boards (including external examiners), so the scripts can’t be given back immediately but once that process is complete there doesn’t seem to me any reason why we shouldn’t give their work, together with any feedback written on it,  back to the students in its entirety.

I have heard some people argue that under the provisions of the Data Protection Act students have a legal right to see what’s written on the scripts – as that constitutes part of their student record – but that’s not my point here. My point is purely educational, based on the benefit to the student’s learning experience.

Anyway, I don’t know how widespread the practice is of giving examination scripts back to students so let me conduct a totally unscientific poll. Obviously most of my readers are in physics and astronomy, but I invite anyone in any academic discipline to vote:

And, of course, if you have any further comments to make please feel free to make them through the box below!


From Maynooth to Cardiff

Posted in Cardiff, Maynooth with tags , on May 21, 2018 by telescoper

So here I am in Dublin Airport, waiting for my flight back to Cardiff. It’s been a nice weekend in Ireland, with good weather and lots to do in and around Maynooth. In the course of my perambulations on Saturday I came across a group of people campaigning to Repeal the Eighth Amendment. I A referendum on that issue takes place on Friday this week (25th). I bought a badge from them, which I’m happy to wear in solidarity:

There are lots of posters around supporting supporting one or other side in the campaign. It’s very noticeable that the `Yes’ ones seem to be getting torn down quite regularly. It’s also noticeable that the `No’ ones are frequently rather crude and sometimes offensive. That’s a shame because there is a serious ethical issue at stake, and a grown-up debate is important. Still, past experience suggests that referendums and grown-up debates don’t necessarily go together.

I won’t be in Ireland for the vote, but I hope the ‘yes’ campaign succeeds in removing what I think is a daft piece of law. If it fails then it won’t stop Irish women having terminations, it will just mean that the continue to have to travel abroad (if they can afford to do so) or take terrible risks have an illegal abortion at home (if they can’t) . For me, a vote for `No’ is therefore just a vote for hypocrisy.

Incidentally, a letter arrived at my Cardiff residence a few days ago from the Human Resources Department at Cardiff University, acknowledging my resignation (which I handed in about 6 weeks ago). I noticed that the letter contains the sentence `We have sent this letter to the home address we have on record for you. If this address is incorrect please contact us..’. Hmmm. If the letter had gone to the wrong address how would I know?

Anyway, I’ll be back in Cardiff for the next week, with another set of exams to mark in a few days, then back to Maynooth. And now it’s time to go to the gate.