Archive for the Maynooth Category

Examining Again

Posted in Biographical, Education, Maynooth with tags , , on August 5, 2022 by telescoper

ChorizoGate distracted me from mentioning on here that the Repeat Examination period started on Wednesday. I usually write a post at the start of an Exam period to wish all the students good luck, but this time the first examination for which I am responsible took place yesterday morning, and I’ve already marked the scripts so in that case the die is already cast. I send my best wishes to all other students taking repeat examinations, though, including the first-years taking my paper later on this afternoon.

Today’s examination doesn’t finish until 5.30pm so I’ll have to collect the scripts on my way home to mark them over the weekend. I have another three examinations on my own modules next Wednesday but because of ongoing staffing issues I am also responsible for marking several examinations for modules I didn’t teach. I’ve got a busy week ahead so I want to finish marking today’s paper before it starts,

I also thought it was worth mentioning for any university teachers out there reading this that although they are held at roughly the same time of year in the two countries there’s a difference in the way resits are handled in the institutions I’ve worked at in the United Kingdom and the way repeats work here in Maynooth which is implied by the slightly different name.

In UK institutions with which I am familiar students generally take resits when, because they have failed one or more examinations during the year,  they have not accumulated sufficient credits to proceed to the next year of their course. Passing the resit allows them to retrieve lost credit, but their mark is generally capped at a bare pass (usually 40%). That means the student gets the credit they need for their degree but their average (which determines whether they get 1st, 2nd or 3rd class Honours) is negatively affected.

This is the case unless a student has extenuating circumstances affecting the earlier examination, such as bad health or family emergency, in which case they take the resit as a `sit’, i.e. for the first time with an uncapped mark.

Here in Maynooth, repeat examinations are generally taken for the same reasons as in the UK but the mark obtained is not capped. When I’ve told former UK colleagues that our repeat examinations are not capped they generally  don’t  like the idea because they feel that it might lead to many students playing games, i.e. deliberately not taking exams in May with the intention of spreading some of their examination load into August. There’s not much sign of students actually doing that in my Department, to be honest, for the reason that the results from the repeat examination period are not confirmed until early September so that students that deploy this strategy do not know whether they are going to be able to start their course again until a couple of weeks before term. That could cause lots of problems securing accommodation, etc, so it doesn’t seem to me to be a good strategy.

I’d welcome comments for or against whether resits/repeats should be capped/uncapped and on what practice is adopted in your institution(s).

Lá Saoire i mí Lúnasa

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Maynooth, Mental Health with tags , on August 1, 2022 by telescoper

Today, Monday 1st August 2022, being the first Monday in August, is a Bank Holiday in Ireland. This holiday was created by the Bank Holiday Act of 1871 when Ireland was under British rule. While the holiday was subsequently moved to the end of August in England and Wales it has remained at the start of August in Ireland. Today is also a Bank Holiday in Scotland, though the Scots have the best of both worlds and have a holiday at the end of August too.

I’ve mentioned before that 1st August marks the old Celtic festival of Lughnasadh, named after the God Lugh, on which is celebrated the beginning of the harvest season. It is also one of the cross-quarter days, lying roughly half-way between the Summer Solstice and the Autumnal Equinox (in the Northern Hemisphere).

Anyway, the University is closed today and I made the use of the long weekend to take a few days of annual leave last week, from Wednesday. I’ll be off tomorrow too. Those four days will be about it for my summer holidays, though, as our repeat examinations commence on Wednesday 3rd August and I’ll be busy doing corrections from then on. Incidentally, these examinations are called the Autumn Repeats consistent with the general interpretation here in Ireland of 1st August being the start of autumn. The weather today is certainly somewhat autumnal!

For various reasons we have a larger-than-average number of students taking repeat examinations this year. Moreover, one of our temporary lecturers left at the end of his contract at the end of June so is unavailable to mark his examinations. As Head of Department, and with several staff unavailable, it’s my responsibility to make sure that they get graded so it looks like I’ll have to mark the majority of his scripts as well as my own. And a few projects too.

At least my term as Head of Department is due to end soon. I was appointed to this position in 2019, initially for three years starting on 1st September so August 31st 2022 is my last day in office. That reminds me that I stepped down as Head of School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at Sussex on 31st July 2016, i.e. six years ago yesterday. How can it be so long?

I moved back to Cardiff in 2016 to a three-year, part-time position which would have come to an end in 2019. I supposed at the time that I would then take early retirement and that would be that. I certainly didn’t imagine then that I would move once more, this time to Ireland nor did I think I would be Head of Department anywhere.

Reflecting on my decision to leave Sussex and return to Cardiff I wrote this:

I’m not going to go into all the reasons for stepping down, but one of them is I wanted to establish a better work-life balance…. I was therefore more than happy to accept the offer of a position here on a 50% salary. In other words, I am officially a part-time member of staff. I’m planning to use the other 50% to pursue some other interests, such as writing a couple of books and running the Open Journal of Astrophysics, but generally just taking more time off the treadmill of academic life.

It didn’t quite turn out like that, but at least I did what I was appointed to do at Cardiff. It was just chance that led to the change of plan, with the opportunity of moving to Ireland coming out of the blue. Instead of taking 50% of my time off, from December 1st 2017 until July 2018 I worked 50% of the time at Maynooth, commuting to and fro across the Irish Sea: thereafter I worked here full-time.

When I was appointed Head of Department of Theoretical Physics in Maynooth in 2019 I received some (sarcastic) comments about that bit above about the “treadmill of academic life”. In truth I didn’t imagine that it would be as hard as it turned out. I wrote in 2019:

It’s about three years now since I stepped down as Head of School at the University of Sussex at which point I didn’t imagine I would be stepping up to be Head of Anything again, but to be honest this position has a smaller and much better defined set of responsibilities than the one I used to hold so I’m actually quite looking forward to it.

Of course I didn’t know then that the Covid-19 pandemic would strike in 2020, exacerbated by staff shortages and lack of support at University level, creating a huge increase in workload and stress. The job has been far harder than I imagined it would be, not least because there is no proper job description for a Head of Department at Maynooth. The “smaller and much better defined set of responsibilities” I anticipated turned out not to be the case at all. Indeed, the workload associated with being HoD has grown substantially over the last three years, with fewer resources and lower levels of support.

In short, I can’t wait for this month, and my term as Head of Department, to be over. I am not going to leave Maynooth and will continue doing teaching and research (including supervising graduate students), both of which I enjoy. But after this month time I will have served my time as Head of Department and it will be someone else’s turn to climb up on the treadmill…

PhD Stipends in Ireland

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , on July 29, 2022 by telescoper

Some time ago I posted an item about the planned introduction of a higher PhD stipend (€28K) for a small number of research students in Ireland. It being obvious that he current level of PhD stipends (e.g. €18.5K per annum for IRC-funded studentships) being far too low, my main comment on that was that if that level is a fair level for a PhD then all PhD students should get it.

Now there’s an open letter going around signed by over 400 PhD students arguing for an uplift in their stipends. I support this wholeheartedly. I’m surprised there aren’t even more signatories than that, actually, but I think they have now opened it up again and let others sign it who didn’t know about it. I encourage all PhD students reading this to sign it

With inflation rampant at over 9%, even the IRC level of stipend is difficult for a student to live on (especially in the Greater Dublin area) yet many receive even less than that. Maynooth University, for example, funds many of its PhD students at the paltry level of €10K per annum. This is completely impossible to live on and it forces recipients to undertake large amounts of tutoring or other work (including bar work and retail) in order to get by financially. In my opinion stipends paid at this level are simply exploitative. I have argued repeatedly, but without success, for these to be scrapped.

The deliberate impoverishment of PhD students exists in order to force them to undertake extensive and poorly paid teaching duties because there aren’t enough teaching faculty to cover what is required. That situation is a direct result of the chronic underfunding of higher education in Ireland. Universities will argue that they don’t have any choice, but that doesn’t make the situation is acceptable.

Third level institutions don’t care. If they did they’d do something about it. Maynooth University ran up a surplus of €13.2M during the first year of the pandemic largely by exploiting unpaid overtime by lecturers and tutors, the latter predominantly PhD students. It could be used to provide emergency relief for PhD students but I bet it won’t be. In fact has anyone working at Maynooth received anything at all in return for generating this surplus?

It is of course good for a research student to get some teaching experience during their PhD but this should be on a voluntary basis. A PhD student who chooses to teach will probably do a better job than one who is forced to do it in order to pay the rent. My basic point, though, is that a full-time research student should be funded to do research full time, and it is grossly unfair to pay them too little for this to be possible.

The Built Environment

Posted in Architecture, Maynooth on July 22, 2022 by telescoper
The New Building

It seems that after long delays, the new building on Maynooth University’s North Campus is finally finished. Or at least I think it is. I haven’t been inside yet. I don’t know who are what is going to be housed there, except that the President’s Office is going to be there. The remaining space might nevertheless do something to relieve the shortage of office accommodation on campus.

It was only just under four years ago that I saw this sign marking the proposed site of the new building.

Less than a year later, work had started:

This was in January 2020:

A couple of months later the site was surrounding by fencing decorated by an artist’s impression of the new building:

Notice that the plan was to open in “Early 2021”. Unfortunately the pandemic intervened and building stopped. This was at the end of March.

When building work eventually resumed there were further delays due to difficulties, e.g., in procuring materials. We were supposed to have use of this building for the last two open days on campus but that didn’t happen. It will be hopefully be ready for the new academic year, though. The finished product even looks a bit like the artist’s picture!

The building work has at times caused serious problems with noise in the Science Building, where my office is located, but not any more. Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof.

Life and Chemical Imbalances

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Maynooth, Mental Health with tags , , , , , on July 21, 2022 by telescoper

Although it has weighed on my mind in recent weeks, and I have mentioned it on this blog a couple of times, I’ve managed to avoid writing too much about the fact that exactly ten years ago I was languishing in the high-dependency unit of a psychiatric hospital. Today I saw that there’s an article doing the rounds about mental health issues so I thought I’d use it as a pretext for getting some of the memories of that time off my chest.

The article I mentioned above has the rather misleading title Depression is probably not caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain – new study. What the article argues is that there isn’t a simple cause-and-effect relationship between depression and the chemical serotonin. There may well be a biochemical explanation of depressive illness that involves serotonin, but it’s obviously very complicated. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. Very few things in neuroscience are simple.

Unfortunately some people are misrepresenting the piece by claiming that it proves that a widely-used class of anti-depressant drugs known as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs; the best-known of which, Fluoxetine, is known by the trade name Prozac). This class also includes Citalopram and Paroxetine (trade name: Seroxat), both of which I have been on. The latter is not available on the National Health Service through a General Practitioner, but must instead be prescribed by a consultant psychiatrist because of rather serious side-effects.

I refer you to an explanatory article Dean Burnett who explains that nobody really knows how these SSRI anti-depressants work, and why it is not surprising that they can have unexpected side effects. I hope that the articles I mentioned above help make it clearer what is involved being on medication of this sort. These drugs are in widespread use, but ignorance about them is spread even wider.

Anti-depressants are not only prescribed for the treatment of clinical depression but also for, e.g., anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. It is for these things rather than depression per se that I have taken SSRIs. Nobody really knows why anti-depressants work against depression (although there is clinical evidence that they do), and there is even less understanding why (and, in some cases, evidence that) they are effective for these other conditions. Like many treatments they seem to have been discovered empirically, by trial and error.

As Dean Burnett explains in his article, SSRIs work by increasing the level of Serotonin (a monoamine neurotransmitter). However, taking an SSRI increases the level of Serotonin almost immediately whereas the effect on depression takes weeks to register. While low Serotonin levels may play a part in depressive illness, they’re clearly not the whole story.

Ten years ago, in the summer of 2012, I experienced awful problems largely as a result of trying to come off the medication I had been on since the previous autumn. The withdrawal symptoms then included shaking fits, insomnia, visual and auditory hallucinations, nausea, and hypervigilance.

The effect of this extreme collection of withdrawal symptoms was that I didn’t eat or sleep for a couple of weeks. My mental and physical health deteriorated steadily until my GP referred me to a psychiatric hospital just outside Cardiff. When I arrived there they took one look at me and put me in a high-dependency unit, under close supervision.

I think they thought I was suicidal but I really wasn’t. I was just so exhausted that I didn’t really care what happened next. I was however put on a kind of `suicide watch’, the reason for this being that, apparently, even while sedated, I kept trying to pull the tube out of my arm. I was being fed via a drip because I was ‘Nil by Mouth’ by virtue of uncontrollable vomiting. I guess the doctors thought I was trying to sabotage myself, but I wasn’t. Not consciously anyway. I think it was probably just irritating me. In fact I don’t remember doing it at all, but that period is very much a blur altogether. Anyway, I then found myself in physical restraints, so I couldn’t move my arms, to stop me pulling the tube out.

Those days are painful to recall but I was eventually moved to a general ward and shortly after that I was deemed well enough to go home. Fortunately, I recovered well enough to return to work (after taking a short break in Copenhagen). I signed up for 6 weeks of talking therapy. I had to wait some time before a slot became available, but had appointments once a week after that.

At the end of the summer of 2012, I was offered the job of Head of the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at Sussex University. I moved from Cardiff to Brighton in early 2013 to take up this new position. I hadn’t been there for long when my old problem returned. The stress of the job obviously played a role in this, and I soon realized that I couldn’t keep going without help from medication. It was then that I was tried out on Paroxetine, the dose being gradually increased until I was at the maximum recommended level (60mg daily).

While this medication was effective in controlling the panic disorder, it had some unpleasant side-effects, including: digestive problems; dizziness; difficulty in concentrating; fatigue; and the weirdest of all, a thing called depersonalisation, which I still experience (in a relatively mild form) from time to time.

I found myself living a kind of half-life, functioning reasonably well at work but not having the energy or enthusiasm to do very much else outside of working hours. Eventually I got fed up with it. I felt I had to choose between staying in my job as Head of School (which meant carrying on taking the drugs indefinitely) or leaving to do something else (which would mean I might be able to quit the drugs). I picked the latter. The desire to come off medication wasn’t the only factor behind my decision to stand down from my job at Sussex, but it played a big part.

I knew however that Paroxetine is associated with notoriously difficult withdrawal symptoms so, mindful of my previous experience in 2012, I followed the medical instructions to the letter, gradually cutting down my dose over a couple of months during the course of the Autumn in 2016. I still had significant withdrawal symptoms, especially the insomnia, but not as bad as before.

In 2016 had no idea that I would move to Ireland in 2017. I’m glad to say, though, that despite the isolation and stress caused by the pandemic, and workload issues generally, I’ve managed without any form of anti-depressants since then, though it hasn’t always been easy. Let’s just say that I am greatly looking forward to reaching the end of my term as Head of Department of Theoretical Physics at the end of next month…

Heatwave

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth with tags , on July 18, 2022 by telescoper

The extremely hot weather currently engulfing much of Europe has reached Maynooth, although the temperature here is around 30°C, which is warm by the standards of Ireland but not as extreme as the >40ºC predicted for the UK today and on the continent. Maynooth is in the part of Ireland where temperatures are predicted to be highest.

I’m told that a “heatwave” is defined in Ireland as four consecutive days with temperatures above 25ºC. That is relatively cool by some standards but not for this temperate island. Still, it looks like it will break by Wednesday.

I don’t function very well in hot weather so I’m staying indoors where it is relatively cool (although we have no air conditioning). The highest temperature I’ve ever been in was 48ºC in Aswan, Southern Egypt, where I was on holiday in the 90s. That was different though as it is basically a desert climate and was a very dry heat. I found as long as I drank plenty of water I felt OK. A few summers later when I spent a few days in New Orleans it was barely 30ºC but so unbearably humid that I found it impossible. Humidity in Maynooth today is about 40% so it’s not too bad.

Before coming to work this morning I put out lots of water in the garden for the birds, who need to drink as well as bathe. The local robin has been very vocal over the last few days as if to demand that I keep the water supply refreshed. I’m convinced this bird thinks it owns my garden and that I am its servant. Elsewhere in the garden I moved my dwarf fig to a shadier spot, it being rather frazzled.

I checked on Maynooth University Library Cat’s bowl on my way too, though he himself was nowhere to be seen, no doubt sheltering in a cool spot somewhere.

The thermoelectric wine cooler in my kitchen has been struggling noisily to maintain cellar temperature (12-14 ºC) . It’s quite old so this heatwave might well finish it off. Let’s hope the same isn’t true for too many humans…

Meanwhile, back at Covid…

Posted in Covid-19, Maynooth, Politics with tags , on July 6, 2022 by telescoper

While the Tory Government on the other side of the Irish Sea appears to be collapsing I’ve trying not to laugh too loud so have distracted myself by updating my Covid-19 page with the latest data for Ireland. The summary figure is this:

You can see that cases (blue curve) are still rising (up 5.8% on last week) but the increase may just be slowing. I only show PCR-confirmed tests so interpretation of these is complicated by the lack of general PCR testing. The testing positivity rate is 38.5% and there are many more positive antigen tests not confirmed by PCR. There are now over 900 people in hospital with Covid-19 and 37 in intensive care. The mortality rate (orange curve) however remains steady.

I’m a bit concerned that case numbers are so high, especially as there are so few people taking precautions. I know this is purely anecdotal but I do know several people in Maynooth who have come down with fairly nasty doses of Covid-19 in recent weeks. I also know of many people who have travelled to conferences for the first time in a couple of years only to come down with Covid-19 in the process. The high incidence of Covid-19 is causing staff absences elsewhere that are disrupting many organizations and businesses. I do hope we’re not in for another surge before the start of term in September!

Despite all this (and the fact that I have been fairly lax about wearing a face covering myself) I still have not experienced Covid-19. I’ve never had symptoms and never tested positive. Have I just been lucky, or is there more to it than that?

On the Exploitation of PhD Students

Posted in Maynooth, Science Politics on July 5, 2022 by telescoper

Last week the Government of Ireland announced a new scheme intended to recruit “high-level researchers” to PhD programme in Ireland. The scheme, which is a public-private partnership of around  €100 million, will fund around 400 PhD studentships with an annual stipend around €28K, which is substantially higher than the current rate for, e.g., ICR-funded students which is €18.5K.

The call for applications has not yet been issued, so I don’t know how the new scheme will operate. I will, however, comment on the implications for postgraduate landscape in general.

With inflation rampant at the moment, even the IRC level of stipend is difficult for a student to live on (especially in the Greater Dublin area) yet many receive even less than that. Maynooth University, for example, funds many of its PhD students at the paltry level of €10K per annum which is impossible to live on and which forces recipients to undertake large amounts of tutoring or other work in order to get by financially. In my opinion stipends paid at this level are simply exploitative. They exist in order to force PhD students to undertake extensive and poorly paid teaching duties because there aren’t enough teaching faculty to cover what is required. That situation is a direct result of the chronic underfunding of higher education in Ireland. Universities will argue that they don’t have any choice, but that doesn’t make the situation is acceptable.

It is of course good for a research student to get some teaching experience during their PhD but this should be on a voluntary basis. A PhD student who chooses to teach will probably do a better job than one who is forced to do it in order to pay the rent. My basic point, though, is that a full-time research student should be funded to do research full time, and it is grossly unfair to pay them too little for this to be possible.

Apparently the level of the new €28K stipends is “in line with financial supports offered under similar global scholarships”. I take this as a statement that the Irish Government has acknowledged that the proper rate of pay for a PhD student is at this level, which seems to me to be about right. It is howeer about 50% higher than what existing PhD students actually receive. Now it has been explicitly accepted that €28K is the right amount, it seems to me to be logical that all PhD stipends should be increased to this level.

In order to get a place on a PhD course, any student needs to have an excellent undergraduate track-record, so all graduate students are “high-level” researchers however they are funded. This new scheme will create a new tier of higher remuneration for some students, many of whom will be in the same departments and laboratories as others doing exactly the same level of work but at a much lower income with heavy teaching duties to do on top of their research, and who will justifiably feel like second-class citizens. This is unfair and will prove extremely divisive and bad for morale.

I have nothing against the new scheme, but it needs to be accompanied by a drastic “levelling up” (to coin a phrase) across the entire postgraduate system.

P.S. I note that the new scheme costs €100M and will fund 400 PhD students. Maynooth University ran up a surplus of €13.2M during the first year of the pandemic. This is enough to fund about 50 PhD studentships with a 28K stipend. Just saying.

P.P.S. Another difficulty in Ireland not addressed at all by this scheme is at Masters level, where there are currently even fewer funding opportunities than at Doctoral level. Students who want to do a Masters in Ireland usually have to fund themselves whereas they can do one for free – or even get paid! – at other European universities. There is therefore a strong incentive to leave to do a Masters programme.

Final Reminder – Professorial Position in Observational Astrophysics or Cosmology at Maynooth!

Posted in Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on July 1, 2022 by telescoper

With just a few days to go to the deadline (3rd July), I thought I would take the opportunity to remind readers that Maynooth University has a Chair (i.e. Full Professor) position in Astrophysics or Cosmology under the Strategic Academic Leadership Initiative (SALI). I blogged about this scheme here and announced this Chair position originally here.

You can find the full announcement of the competition for all the SALI positions here; you can apply for the position at Maynooth here. The position is now also advertised on the AAS Jobs Register here.

As I said, the deadline for applications is 3rd July 2022, and the provisional start date is January 2023 (although this is flexible). As well as a good salary (starting at €124,683 at current rates, rising by annual increments to €157,611) the position comes with membership of the Irish public service pension scheme, a defined benefit scheme (comparable to the older version of the UK’s USS which has now been scrapped).

The key rationale for these SALI positions is clear from the statement from Simon Harris, the Minister responsible for Third Level education in Ireland:

“Championing equality and diversity is one of the key goals of my department. The Senior Academic Leadership Initiative (SALI) is an important initiative aimed at advancing gender equality and the representation of women at the highest levels in our higher education institutions.

We have a particular problem with gender balance among the staff in Physics in Maynooth, especially in Theoretical Physics where all the permanent staff are male, and the lack of role models has a clear effect on our ability to encourage more female students to study with us.

The wider strategic case for this Chair revolves around broader developments in the area of astrophysics and cosmology at Maynooth. Currently there are two groups active in research in these areas, one in the Department of Experimental Physics (which is largely focussed on astronomical instrumentation) and the other, in the Department of Theoretical Physics, which is theoretical and computational. We want to promote closer collaboration between these research strands. The idea with the new position is that the holder will nucleate and lead a new research programme in the area between these existing groups as well as getting involved in outreach and public engagement.

It is intended that the position to appeal not only to people undertaking observational programmes using ground-based facilities (e.g. those provided by ESO, which Ireland recently joined), or those exploiting data from space-based experiments, as well as people working on multi-messenger astrophysics, gravitational waves, and so on.

Exciting as this position is in itself, it is part of wider developments and we are expecting to advertise further job opportunities in physics and astronomy very soon! I’d be happy to be contacted by any eligible person wishing to discuss this position (or indeed the general situation in Maynooth) on an informal basis.

A First Course in General Relativity

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , on June 30, 2022 by telescoper

This morning I received delivery of a brand new copy of the Third Edition (left) of A First Course in General Relativity by Bernard Schutz. I bought the First edition (right) way back in 1985 when I started out as a graduate student. Not surprisingly there is a lot of additional material in the 3rd edition about gravitational waves, which had not been discovered when the first edition was published. I notice also that Bernard has lost his “F”…

 In fact I have known Bernard for quite a long time, most recently as colleagues in the Data Innovation Research Institute in Cardiff. Before that he chaired the Panel that awarded me an SERC Advanced Fellowship in the days before STFC, and even before PPARC, way back in 1993. It just goes to show that even the most eminent scientists do occasionally make mistakes…

Anyway, the arrival of this book is a double coincidence because I’ve been thinking over the last couple of days about starting to organize teaching for next academic year. This isn’t easy as we still don’t know who is going to be available. We’re interviewing tomorrow for one of our vacant positions, actually. Yesterday also the University Bookshop sent out a request for textbooks to stock ahead of next academic year.

I was reflecting on the fact that I’ve been doing research in cosmology and theoretical astrophysics since 1985 and teaching undergraduate and postgraduate students since 1990 but I’ve never taught a course on general relativity. This may or may not change next year when teaching is allocated. There are many textbooks out there but, prompted by the arrival of Bernard’s new book, I was wondering if anyone reading this blog has any other recommendations, suitable for final-year undergraduate theoretical physics students, that might complement it on the reading list for my first course in general relativity, should I happen to give one?

Suggestions, please, through the comments box below!