Archive for Lecturing

I don’t know how to teach…

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , , , , , on October 25, 2021 by telescoper

Making use of this Bank Holiday Monday morning to tidy up some things on my computer I realized I had bookmarked this short clip of Richard Feynman answering a question about teaching. I clearly intended to blog about it at some point but forgot to do so, so I’m correcting that now.

Feynman was of course a renowned lecturer both for university students and for public audiences. I think one of the things that made him so successful is that he liked talking about his subject and liked being the centre of attention; people who like neither of those things are unlikely to make good lecturers!

But the thing that really struck me about what he says in this clip is near the beginning where he says he thinks the way to approach teaching is “be chaotic” to “use every possible way of doing it”. Now some of us are occasionally chaotic by accident, but I think there is a great deal of truth in what he says. I also agree with him when he says “I really don’t know how to do it..” I don’t either

If you start from the premise that every student is different, and will consequently learn in a different way, then you have to accept that there is no one unique style of teaching that will suit everyone. It makes sense therefore to try different kinds of things: worked examples, derivations, historical asides, question-and-answer sessions, and so on. And we shouldn’t rely exclusively on lectures: there must be a range of activities: problems classes, tutorials, supplementary reading, etc. With a bit of luck the majority of your class will find something that stimulates and/or enlightens them.

The point about using every possible method at your disposal has become especially relevant now that we have had about 18 months’ experience of online teaching. I feel very strongly that we should make recordings of lectures routinely available to all students, not as a replacement for the “live” experience but to add to the set of resources a student can draw on. The same goes for other things which came into regular use doing our online period, such as printed lecture notes (again, not as a replacement for a student’s own notes but as a supplement).

I think it also helps to acknowledge that what you can actually achieve in a lecture is very limited: you shouldn’t be simply trying to “deliver” material for later regurgitation. You should be pointing out the particularly interesting aspects, explaining why they are particularly interesting, and what things students should follow up in private study where in textbooks and on the net they will find yet more different ways of approaching the subject.

After over thirty years of teaching have come to the conclusion that the main purpose of university education is to convince students that their brain is more than simply a memory device, i.e. that it can also be used for figuring things out. I’m not saying that a good memory is worthless. It can be extremely useful and memory skills are important. I’m just saying that the brain can do other things too. Likewise, examinations should not be simple memory tests. Sadly school education systems seem to be focussed on coaching students passing exams by rote learning.

We see particular evidence of this in physics, with many students afraid to even attempt to solve problems they haven’t seen before. One infers that they passed exams by simply memorizing answers to questions very similar to those on the paper. Our job is to remove that fear, not by pretending that physics is easy, but by giving students the confidence to start believing that they can do things that they previously thought were too difficult. In other words, university education is often about undoing some of the limitations imposed on students by their school education.

Back to lecturing, there are some obvious basics which lecturers need to do in order to teach competently, including being prepared, talking sufficiently loudly, writing clearly (if relevant), and so on. And of course turning up at the right theatre at the right time. But there are also those things that turn mere competence into excellence. Of course there are many ways to lecture, and you have to put your own personality into what you do, but the main tips I’d pass on to make your lectures really popular can be boiled down into the Three Es. I add that these are things that struck me while watching others lecture, rather than me claiming to be brilliant myself (which I know I’m not). Anyway, here we go:

Enthusiasm. The single most obvious response on student questionnaires about lecturing refers to enthusiasm. My take on this is that we’re all professional physicists, earning our keep by doing physics. If we can’t be enthusiastic about it then it’s clearly unreasonable to expect the students to get fired up. So convey the excitement of the subject! I don’t mean by descending into vacuous gee-whizz stuff, but by explaining how interesting things are when you look at them properly as a physicist, mathematics and all.

Engagement. This one cuts both ways. First it is essential to look at your audience, ask questions, and make them feel that they are part of a shared experience not just listening to a monologue. The latter might be fine for a public lecture, but if a teaching session is to be successful as a pedagogical exercise it can’t be passive. And if you ask a question of the audience, make your body language tell them that it’s not just rhetorical: if you don’t look like you want an answer, you won’t get one. More importantly, try to cultivate an atmosphere wherein the students feel they can contribute. You know you’ve succeeded in this when students point out mistakes you have made. On the other hand, you can’t take this too far. The lecturer is the person who is supposed to know the stuff so fundamentally there’s no symmetry between you and the audience. You have to be authoritative, though that doesn’t mean you have to behave like a pompous schoolmaster. Know your subject, explain it well and you’ll earn respect without needing to bluster.

Entertainment. As I said above, lecturing is very limited as a way of teaching physics. That is not to say that lectures don’t have a role, which I think is to highlight key concepts and demonstrate their applicability;  the rest, the details, the nuts and bolts are best done by problem-based learning. I therefore think it does no harm at all if you make your lectures fairly light on detail and (with reason) enjoyable as pieces of entertainment. By all means introduce the odd joke, refer to surprising examples, amusing analogies, and so on.  As long as you don’t overdo it, you’ll find that a bit of light relief will keep the attention levels up. A key element of this is spontaneity. A lecture should appear as if it develops naturally, in an almost improvised fashion. Of course your spontaneity will probably have to  be very carefully rehearsed, but the sense of a live performance always adds value. A lecture should be a happening, not just a presentation. Lecture demonstrations also play this role, although they seem to be deployed less frequently  nowadays than in the past. Being a showman doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and the audience will know if you’re forcing it so don’t act unnaturally, but at the very least try to move about. Believe me, watching a lecturer drone on for an hour while rooted to the spot is a very tedious experience (especially on a video recording). You’d be surprised how much difference it makes if you can convey at least the impression of being alive.

On this last point, I’ll offer a few quotes from a physicist who definitely knew a thing or two about lecturing, Michael Faraday. First, his opinion was that the lecturer should not be

…glued to the table or screwed to the floor. He must by all means appear as a body distinct and separate from the things around, and must have some motion apart from that which they possess.

Conventional wisdom nowadays suggests that one should take breaks in lectures to stop students losing concentration. I’m not sure I agree with this, actually. It’s certainly the case that attention will flag if you persist with a dreary monotone for an hour, but  I think a lecture can have a natural dynamic to it which keeps the students interested by variation rather than interruption. Faraday also thought this.

A flame should be lighted at the commencement and kept alive with unremitting splendour to the end…I very much disapprove of breaks in the lecture.

Finally, here is one of my all-time  favourite physics quotes, Faraday’s take on the need for lectures to be entertaining:

..for though to all true philosophers science and nature will have charms innumerable in every dress, yet I am sorry to say that the generality of mankind cannot accompany us one short hour unless the path is strewn with flowers.

Standing Up for Online Lectures

Posted in Covid-19, Education, mathematics, Maynooth with tags , , , , on November 3, 2020 by telescoper

I have a break of an hour between my last lecture on Vector Calculus (during which I introduced and did some applications of Green’s Theorem) and my next one on Mechanics & Special Relativity (during which I’m doing projectile motion), so I thought I’d share a couple of thoughts about online teaching.

I started the term by doing my lectures in the form of webcasts live from lecture theatres but since we returned from the Study Break on Monday I’ve been doing them remotely from the comfort of my office at home, which is equipped with a blackboard (installed, I might add, at my own expense….)

I still do these teaching sessions “live”, though, rather than recording them all offline. I toyed with the idea of doing the latter but decided that the former works better for me. Not surprisingly I don’t get full attendance at the live sessions, but I do get around half the registered students. The others can watch the recordings at their own convenience. Perhaps those who do take the live webcasts appreciate the structure that a regular time gives to their study. Even if that’s not the reason for them, I certainly prefer working around a stable framework of teaching sessions.

“Why am I still using a blackboard?” I hear you ask. It’s not just because I’m an old fogey (although I am that). It’s because I’m used to pacing myself that way, using the physical effort of writing on the blackboard to slow myself down. I know some lecturers are delivering material on slides using, e.g., Powerpoint, but I have never felt comfortable using that medium for mathematical work. Aside from the temptation to go too fast, I think it encourages students to see the subject as a finished thing to be memorized rather than a process happening in front of them.

I did acquire some drawing tablets for staff to enable them to write mathematical work out, which is useful for short things like tutorial questions, but frankly they aren’t very good and I wouldn’t want to use them to give an hour long lecture.

In addition to these considerations, my decision to record videos in front of a blackboard was informed by something I’ve learnt about myself, namely that I find I am much more comfortable talking in this way when I’m standing up than sitting down. In particular, I find it far easier to communicate enthusiasm, make gestures, and generally produce a reasonable performance if I’m standing up. I know several colleagues who do theirs sitting down talking to a laptop camera, but I find that very difficult. Maybe I’m just weird. Who else prefers to do it standing up?

Lecture Streaming

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , , , on October 7, 2020 by telescoper

When we were told, at the start of this term, to move all our teaching online my initial intention was to record most of the lectures in my office for the students to watch at their leisure rather than streaming them live.
The system we’re using, Panopto, allows for both webcast (i.e. live streaming) and pre-recorded (offline) videos. I thought that only very few students would want to watch the broadcast version. I have however changed my mind about this and am now streaming all my lectures (as well as recording them for later viewing). It also meant that I could record the lectures in advance at my without being constrained by the timetable.

Last week my office wasn’t usable for recording videos because of noise from building work so I had to find somewhere else to record the videos so I decided to go to the lecture theatre at the scheduled time primarily because I knew the room would be available at that time. When I started the first lecture I thought I might as well webcast it as well, thinking only a few students would tune in. In fact, out of my class of 45 or so second-year students, about 39 were online while I did the lecture. Since then I’ve done all the lectures live and plan to do so until further notice.

A handful of students even turn up in person to the lectures. I see no problem with this. The restrictions are designed to minimize as far as possible the number of students coming to campus, but if they are here anyway because of labs (which can’t be done virtually) then why shouldn’t they come to the lectures? (Provided, of course, that they follow the public health guidance, wear masks, wash their hands, practice social distancing, etc). I find their presence very helpful, actually. Talking to an audience is far easier than talking only to a camera. You do have to remember to look at the camera though!

It is possible to edit the webcast recording before sharing it with the students. That way you can get rid of all the mistakes, hesitations and other defective bits. Starting with a 50 minute lecture that usually means you end up with about 10 minutes of good material.

Having settled on this approach I was dismayed on Monday to find the Panopto system wasn’t working in either webcast or offline recording mode. I assumed at first that I was doing something wrong but it turns out it was a major outage affecting all of Europe that went on all day. Twitter was full of comments from academics complaining about! Panopto uses cloud storage with very little being held locally so when the connectivity fails the user is helpless. I did the lecture by Teams instead, but had lost some time faffing around trying to get Panopto to work.

Yesterday morning Panopto was back working and my office was quiet so I reran the lecture using the blackboard in my office and recorded it as an offline video. That way the students now have the lecture in the right space on the Moodle page. After that I did two more lectures as webcasts using Moodle – Tuesday is a busy teaching day this term – and everything worked fine.

I think there are two morals to be drawn from this. The first is not to assume that you know what students will find useful. The second is wherever possible to have a backup plan. Putting all your eggs in the basket marked Panopto is risky.

Winging IT

Posted in Biographical, Covid-19, Education with tags , , , , , on April 2, 2020 by telescoper

The current restrictions resulting from the Covid-19 outbreak have forced many of us academics to adapt to using IT in ways we hadn’t even imagined just a month ago. It’s not only remote teaching via virtual learning environments with live and/or prerecorded video lectures, but also meetings held by videoconferencing platforms such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams.

Few of us have had much training in the use of these things, so when it comes to Information Technology we’re all winging it. Still, necessity is the mother of invention and we just have to get on with it.

I’m gradually getting used to Microsoft Teams, for example. I’ve even got proper kit to wear.

Incidentally, yesterday I learned that the expression ‘to wing it’ actually comes from the Theatre, where it alludes to an actor studying their lines in the wings (at the side of the stage) because they haven’t had time to learn their part before the performance (usually because they are replacing another actor at short notice).

Nowadays ‘winging it’ means generally improvising or making it up as you go along. I’m finding winging it to be rather hard work but quite fun, actually. While we’ve been trying to flatten the Covid-19 curve the learning curve has definitely been getting steeper.

What’s Your Lecture Face?

Posted in Biographical, Education with tags , , , on December 19, 2012 by telescoper

I was thinking the other day – it doesn’t happen that often so I try to make the most of it when it does – about what a strange situation it is when someone stands up in front of a bunch of students and lectures at them for an hour. In the course module I’ve just finished teaching I’ve had the best part of a 100 people watching, and occasionally listening to, me drone on about something or other. What’s strange is that all those people see basically the same thing, whereas the lecturer gets to see all those different facial expressions. I wonder if the students are even aware that each one has a characteristic lecture face?

I’m one of those people who finds it very difficult to give a lecture without looking at the audience. It’s partly to try to establish some kind of rapport with them, notably in order to encourage them to answer when I ask a question or to offer questions of their own, but also to try to figure out whether anyone at all is following what I’m saying. Not all students are helpful in this regard, but some have very responsive mannerisms, nodding when they understand and frowning when they don’t. When I’m teaching a class for the first time I usually look around a lot in an attempt to identify those students who are likely to help me gauge how well things are going. Usually,  there are only a few barometers like this but I would be lost without them. Fortunately most students seem to sit in the same place in the theatre for each lecture so you can usually locate the useful ones fairly easily, with a discreet look around before you  start.

Most other students seem to have a default lecture face.  The expressions range from a perpetual scowl to a vacant smile (each of which is in its own way a bit scary). There’s the “wish I wasn’t here” face of pure boredom,  not to mention those who are fast asleep; I don’t mind them as long as they don’t snore. There’s the Bookface of someone who’s not listening but messing around on Facebook, and the inscrutable ones whose faces are masks yielding no clues as to what, if anything, is going on behind. The brightest students often seem to belong to the last group, although I haven’t done a statistical study of this so that must be taken as purely anecdotal.

Anyway, I feel a Christmas Poll coming on. Please participate if you can be bothered. If you don’t know what your own lecture face is, then you could always ask….

Student Comments

Posted in Biographical, Education, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on July 14, 2012 by telescoper

I sneaked into the department this morning to pick up some things from the office and leave some other things that I’ve finished with. I went quite early, to avoid the Saturday crowds there and back.

One of the things I found in my pigeonhole was a packet of student questionnaires about the third-year module Nuclear and Particle Physics for which I was responsible. It seems like a decade since I finished teaching it and marked the exams, but it can only be a couple of months. I was dreading reading the responses this time because I know I struggled a bit with this module, partly because it’s the first time I taught the Nuclear Physics part and partly for other reasons I won’t go into.

In fact the students were very kind and gave me quite good reviews; the only score that let me down really was that they thought the material was rather difficult. I’m not really surprised by that, because I think it is. However, as I’ve said before, I don’t think it’s a physics lecturer’s job to pretend that the subject  is easy; it is  a lecturer’s job to try to convince students that they can do things that are difficult. I don’t mean making  things difficult just for the sake of it, but trying to get the message across that a brain is made for thinking with and figuring difficult things out can be intensely rewarding.

The main criticism that students wrote in the space provided for their own comments was that they didn’t like the fact that I used powerpoint for some lectures. Actually, I don’t like using powerpoint for lectures either, but unfortunately I had no choice on some occasions. First I had a rather large class (85 students) and one of the rooms I had to use had a very small whiteboard; I was worried about its visibility from the back and the need to keep cleaning it every five minutes. Also in that room the projector screen covers the same area as the whiteboard, so it’s a pain to keep changing between powerpoint and whiteboard. Anyway, it’s a fair criticism. I’ll try to work out a better way of doing it next year.

To be perfectly honest I don’t like whiteboards much either. Call me old-fashioned, but  chalkboards are much better. Received wisdom, however, is that we have to have whiteboards, with all the ludicrous cost and environmental unfriendliness of the accompanying dry-wipe marker pens. But I digress.

Anyway, next Wednesday afternoon will see our graduation ceremony. Graduation day always reminds me of something somebody told me years ago when I attended my first one, at Queen Mary (and Westfield College, as it was then).  The essence of the comment was that what you have to remember as a lecturer is that when the students do well it’s their achievement; but when they don’t it’s your fault. Life’s like that, it’s never as symmetrical as particle physics.

Many of the students who took  Nuclear and Particle Physics will be graduating on Wednesday. I’m distraught that I won’t be able to go myself; this will be the first ceremony I’ve missed since I moved here five years ago.  If any of the graduating Physics class from Cardiff University happens to read this, I really hope you have a great day on Wednesday. I wish I could be there to shake your hand and wish you a very fond goodbye, but sadly that’s just not possible on this occasion.

The Three Es for Lecturing

Posted in Education with tags , , , , on October 5, 2011 by telescoper

Yet another very busy day looms in front of me. I’m off to the smoky bigness of London for an examiners’ meeting at Queen Mary this afternoon, but before that I have to squeeze in my first tutorial of the year, with a group of fresh-faced freshers. Actually I don’t know if they’re fresh faced or not because I haven’t met them yet. I had my first teaching encounter with the first years yesterday morning during an exercise class on mechanics, which I enjoyed despite some teething troubles with the facilities in the room we were using. I was very happy with the way the students chipped freely in with answers whenever I asked questions, which is a good sign.

A while ago I attended a session on teaching for our new lecturers. Actually I didn’t attend most of it, I just dropped in at the end to deliver a few tips I’ve picked up from observing other lecturers. Here in Cardiff we have “peer observation” of lectures in which one member of teaching staff sits in on a lecture by another, followed by a feedback and discussion session. While I was at Nottingham it was a different system; two nominated staff members (myself and another Professor) sat in on  lectures by each of the other staff. It was a lot of work, but gave me the chance to see quite a lot of different approaches to teaching and was consequently very interesting.

Anyway, over the years it became obvious that there are some obvious basics which lecturers need to do in order to teach competently, including being prepared, talking sufficiently loudly, writing clearly (if relevant), and so on. And of course turning up at the right theatre at the right time. But there are also those things that turn mere competence into excellence. Of course there are many ways to lecture, and you have to put your own personality into what you do, but the main tips I’d pass on to make your lecturers really popular can be boiled down into the Three Es. I add that these are things that struck me while watching others lecture, rather than me claiming to be brilliant myself (which I know I’m not). Anyway, here we go:

Enthusiasm. The single most obvious response on student questionnaires about lecturing refers to enthusiasm. My take on this is that we’re all professional physicists, earning our keep by doing physics. If we can’t be enthusiastic about it then it’s clearly unreasonable to expect the students to get fired up. So convey the excitement of the subject! I don’t mean by descending into vacuous gee-whizz stuff, but by explaining how interesting things are when you look at them properly as a physicist, mathematics and all.

Engagement. This one cuts both ways. First it is essential to look at your audience, ask questions, and make them feel that they are part of a shared experience not just listening to a monologue. The latter might be fine for a public lecture, but if a teaching session is to be successful as a pedagogical exercise it can’t be passive. And if you ask a question of the audience, make your body language tell them that it’s not just rhetorical; if you don’t look like you want an answer, you won’t get one. More importantly, try to cultivate an atmosphere wherein the students feel they can contribute. You know you’ve succeeded in this when students point out mistakes you have made. On the other hand, you can’t take this too far. The lecturer is the person who is supposed to know the stuff so fundamentally there’s no symmetry between you and the audience. You have to be authoritative, though that doesn’t mean you have to behave like a schoolmaster. Know your subject, explain it well and you’ll earn respect without needing to bluster.

Entertainment. To be absolutely honest, I think lectures  are a  fairly useless as a way of teaching physics. That is not to say that they don’t have a role, which I think is to highlight key concepts and demonstrate their applicability;  the rest, the details, the nuts and bolts are best done by problem-based learning. I therefore think it does no harm at all if you make your lectures enjoyable as pieces of entertainment. By all means introduce the odd joke, refer to surprising examples, amusing analogies, and so on.  As long as you don’t overdo it, you’ll find that a bit of light relief will keep the attention levels up. A key element of this is spontaneity. A lecture should appear as if it develops naturally, in an almost improvised fashion. Of course your spontaneity will probably have to  be very carefully rehearsed, but the sense of a live performance always adds value. A lecture should be a happening, not just a presentation. Lecture demonstrations also play this role, although they seem to be deployed less frequently  nowadays than in the past. Being a showman doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and the audience will know if you’re forcing it so don’t act unnaturally, but at the very least try to move about. Believe me, watching a lecturer drone on for an hour while rooted to the spot is a very tedious experience. You’d be surprised how much difference it makes if you can convey at least the impression of being alive.

On this last point, I’ll offer a few quotes from a physicist who definitely knew a thing or two about lecturing, Michael Faraday. First his opinion was that the lecturer should not be

…glued to the table or screwed to the floor. He must by all means appear as a body distinct and separate from the things around, and must have some motion apart from that which they possess.

Conventional wisdom nowadays suggests that one should take breaks in lectures to stop students losing concentration. I’m not sure I agree with this, actually. It’s certainly the case that attention will flag if you persist with a dreary monotone for an hour, but  I think a lecture can have a natural dynamic to it which keeps the students interested by variation rather than interruption. Faraday also thought this.

A flame should be lighted at the commencement and kept alive with unremitting splendour to the end…I very much disapprove of breaks in the lecture.

Finally, here is one of my all-time  favourite physics quotes, Faraday’s take on the need for lectures to be entertaining:

..for though to all true philosophers science and nature will have charms innumerable in every dress, yet I am sorry to say that the generality of mankind cannot accompany us one short hour unless the path is strewn with flowers.

Well, that’s all I have time for, but please offer your own tips through the comments box if you feel so motivated!

Sentimental Education

Posted in Education, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on March 10, 2011 by telescoper

We’ve now reached the half-way point of the Spring Semester, which means that my teaching load has just doubled; I do the “Particle” bit of a third-year module on “Nuclear and Particle Physics”, which means I have 11 lectures from now until the end of the Semester to tell the students everything I know about particle physics. More than enough time.

Anyway, the first lecture today, as it was last year, was all about Natural Units. I always find it fun doing this, partly because the students stare at me as if I’ve taken leave of my senses. Come to think of it, they do that anyway.

The other night I was having a drink with some colleagues after work. Various topics came up, but we spent a bit of time talking about teaching. It appears that I’m in a small minority of my physics colleagues in that I actually like teaching. In fact, the older I’ve got the more I enjoy it. There’s always a limit, of course, and I wouldn’t like to do so much teaching that I couldn’t do other things, especially research, but I wouldn’t like to be in a job that didn’t involve teaching at all. I think most of my colleagues would jump at the chance to abandon teaching altogether. I can’t understand that attitude, mainly because I find it so rewarding myself, but I’m in a minority of one about so many things nowadays that I’ve ceased worrying about it.

I do sometimes wonder why I find teaching so rewarding. Perhaps it’s because I’m already middle-aged and don’t have any kids of my own. Teaching at least gives me a chance to play some sort of a role in someone else’s development as a person. I can’t guarantee that it’s necessarily a positive role, but there you are.  Another thing is that sometimes when I travel about at conferences and whatnot I get to meet people I taught years ago. It means a lot when they say they remember the lectures, especially if they’ve now embarked on scientific careers of their own.

One of the problems of the government’s push for greater concentration of research funds and the simultaneous slashing of teaching budgets is that the quality of University teaching is bound to suffer. If research funding is allocated only to self-styled research  “superstars” then Universities will obviously spare them from other duties. Teaching loads for ordinary foot soldiers will increase, with obvious consequences in decreasing enthusiasm among lecturing staff.

It’s already the case that teaching is grossly undervalued, and it’s probably worse in physics departments than anywhere else because, without research funding, most would simply go bust. Teaching funding is nowhere near sufficient to cover the real cost of a physics degree and in any case we can’t deliver advanced physics training without access to the research labs.

On top of this there’s the way teaching is entirely disregarded in promotion cases. On paper, promotion to Professor requires demonstrated commitment to teaching. In reality, all that committees care about is how much research income the candidate brings in. Excellence in teaching counts very little, if anything at all, in the assessment of a promotion case. I think this situation must change, especially with tuition fees set to rise to unprecedented levels, but all the forces currently at play are acting in precisely the wrong direction.

If we concentrate physics research funding any further then we’ll have a small number of rich institutions stuffed full of research professors whom the undergraduates never see. The less successful academics in these departments will be put on teaching-only contracts, not because they like teaching but because their alternative is Her Majesty’s Dole. Meanwhile, less favoured research labs – i.e. those who don’t get lucky in the REF – won’t be able to sustain world-class research or teaching activities and will be forced to shut up shop. Further research concentration is bad news all round for the higher education system.

But I digress.

One of the other things we talked about in the pub was the National Lottery. As regular readers of this blog might know, I put the princely sum of £1 on the lottery every Saturday. Some think this is strange, but I see it partly as one of those little rituals we all invent for ourselves and partly as a small price to pay for a little frisson of excitement when the numbers are drawn.

But I do sometimes wonder what on Earth I would do if I won a multi-million pound jackpot prize. Would I quit my job? Would I quit teaching? Actually, I’m not sure I would do either of those. If I could ditch the admin stuff, I would of course do so. I don’t have a car and have no interest in getting one, especially a fancy one. I don’t need a bigger house, or a yacht.  In fact, frankly, there’s nothing that I would really want to buy that I couldn’t buy already. It’s not that I have a huge salary, just that I’m not exactly very materialistic.

So even if I were rich I’d probably carry on doing pretty much what I do now. And that thought brings home just how lucky we are, those of us working in academia. For all the frustrations, the fact remains that we are fortunate to be getting paid for things that we enjoy doing.

Or am I just a sentimental old fool?

Anyway, I feel a poll coming on…


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