Archive for Maynooth University

John & Pat Hume Doctoral Scholarships

Posted in Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on February 5, 2019 by telescoper

You may or may not know that former Northern Irish politician John Hume, is an alumnus of St Patrick’s College Maynooth and thus has close connections with Maynooth University. There’s a building named after him, for one thing.

In the words of the Maynooth University website,

Born in Derry/Londonderry, John Hume was the second leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) from 1979 to 2001. He has served as a member of the European Parliament and a member of the UK parliament, as well as a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

He is regarded as one of the most important figures in the recent political history of Ireland and one of the architects of the Northern Ireland peace process. The co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize with David Trimble in 1998, Hume was also recognised with the Gandhi Peace Prize and the Martin Luther King Award – he is the only recipient of all three major peace awards.

In 2010, he was named ‘Ireland’s Greatest’ in a public poll by RTÉ. It is fitting that Maynooth University recognises the contribution of John and Pat Hume to peace on the island of Ireland.

One of the most important manifestations of the connection between John Hume, his wife Pat Hume, and Maynooth University is a programme of Doctoral Scholarships, which are now being advertised for entry in September 2019.

These are available to fund a PhD in any academic discipline so I encourage anyone interested in doing graduate research to have a look at the details which can be found here. Maynooth University is particularly keen to encourage more women to pursue careers in STEM disciplines, so we particularly encourage female applicants.

If there’s anyone out there who might be interested in doing a PhD in Theoretical Physics or Astrophysics please feel free to contact me directly! And I’d be very grateful if others who see this could draw it to the attention of potential candidates.

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Self Assessments

Posted in Biographical, Education, Finance, Maynooth with tags , , on January 17, 2019 by telescoper

My first batch of examination marking having been completed satisfactorily and my next paper not taking place until the weekend (Saturday morning, to be precise), I naively hoped that I could devote myself to research for a few days this week as I am behind schedule in completing a couple of papers. Unfortunately this has not been as straightforward as I’d hoped. I’ve spent all of today doing various administrative things (expenses claims, examination reports, and a part of the Department’s Quality Review Self-Assessment document which is due in near the end of the month.

In case you are unfamiliar with such things, a Quality Review is an exercise that takes place from time to time for every Department or Administrative Unit in the University (and indeed for every university in Ireland). For the Department of Theoretical Physics at Maynooth University, the last one took place in 2009). The process begins with the aforementioned Self-Assessment document which basically lays out what the Department is trying to do, the processes by which it uses to do it, reflects on the effectiveness of those processes, and outlines ideas for how they can be improved. All the staff in the Department have been engaged in writing bits of this document, which is now gradually coming into shape.I’ve had a relatively light involvement in this because I haven’t been here for very long, but it has consumed quite a lot of staff effort.

When complete, the Self Assessment report is sent to a range of people both inside and outside the University and there is then a visitation during which the panel talks to staff and students and has a look around the Department. We’re expecting our `inspection’ to take place in March. After that the panel gives feedback to the Department in a report. The panel’s comments are made publicly available, as is appropriate for a publicly-funded body. The report emerging from the last Quality Review of the Department of Mathematical Physics (as it was then called ) can be found here (pdf). It’s all quite a lot of work – the latest Departmental meeting devoted to this yesterday lasted three and a half hours, and we’ve had several meetings like that! fortunately, it  will all be finished by next week. Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof.

 

Talking of Self Assessment, I realized last night with a panic that I hadn’t yet done my UK income tax return for 2017/18, also due in by the end of January. I spent this lunchtime getting all the bits of paper in order, and completed the task online fairly quickly as I’ve done it many times before. It turns out that yet again HMRC owes me a substantial refund. They haven’t handled my income tax properly since I left Sussex in 2016 as a matter of fact. Despite repeated attempts to get them to apply the rules correctly they have basically taxed all my income at source at the higher rate (40%) only to pay it back when I submitted my return. Fortunately, I am now domiciled in Ireland so won’t have to deal with HMRC much again.

Anyway, I should complete most of the outstanding administrative stuff this evening and if I do that I can clear a day for research, or at least writing up papers…

 

 

 

The Open Journal of Astrophysics: Last Update for 2018

Posted in Maynooth, Open Access, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on December 20, 2018 by telescoper


As term staggers to its close tomorrow, two things this morning reminded me that I should post a final update for the The Open Journal of Astrophysics.  I’ve been regularly boring all my readers with a stream of stuff about the Open Journal of Astrophysics, but if it’s all new to you, try reading the short post about the background to the Open Journal project that you can find here.

The first item was a little piece in the latest edition of University News (which was delivered this morning) about the launch event for the journal here at Maynooth University way back in October.

I didn’t make it into the picture above as I had to leave the event before the end in order to give an undergraduate lecture, but the appearance of this piece reminds me to express once more my gratitude to Maynooth for providing such excellent support for this project.

The other event this morning was an email notification that the OJA has received yet another submission. We now have a number of papers in the pipeline, and interest seems to be picking up. I can’t say how many submissions will actually be published, but the papers we have received are working their way through the peer-review system and we’ll see what transpires.

On a related point, a few people have asked me why the Open Journal of Astrophysics is not in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). The answer to that is simply that DOAJ requires a minimum of five papers published in a calendar year and because we had a long hiatus before the re-launch we don’t yet qualify. The way things are going we should meet the threshold for 2019 pretty quickly.

Though I stress that the Editorial Board of OJA is not going to compromise standards just to get listed on DOAJ.
we are hoping to increase the number of submissions with time (in a manageable way). As it happens, we do have funds available to promote the OJA as I think quite a large number of members of the astrophysics community still haven’t heard of it. This also makes it a little difficult to enlist referees who perhaps jump to the conclusion that this is a dodgy or predatory journal. There are many of these about, sadly, but I hope we can establish relatively easily the fact that we’re not of that ilk.

I would like here to repeat a small request I posted a while ago. Do any of you have any ideas for promoting The Open Journal of Astrophysics? We could advertise directly in journals of course, but I’m wondering if anyone out there in the interwebs has any more imaginative ideas? If you do please let me know through the comments box below.

Fintan O’Toole on “Heroic Failure: Brexit and the Politics of Pain”

Posted in Literature, Maynooth, Politics with tags , , , on December 6, 2018 by telescoper

Time for a tea break and a quick post about a very interesting event this afternoon at Maynooth featuring renowned Irish journalist and author Fintan O’Toole (whose regular columns in the Irish Times I read with great interest).

This event saw John O’Brennan, Director of the Centre for European and Eurasian Studies in Maynooth in conversation with Fintan on his new book, Heroic Failure: Brexit and the Politics of Pain. The book deals with the Brexit referendum, the chaos it unleashed in British politics and the challenges posed to the island of Ireland by a ‘No Deal Brexit’. In particular the book examines how a country that once had colonies is redefining itself as an oppressed nation requiring liberation; the dreams of revolutionary deregulation and privatization that drive Arron Banks, Nigel Farage and Jacob Rees-Mogg; and the silent rise of English nationalism, the force that dare not speak its name. He also discusses the fatal attraction of heroic failure, once a self-deprecating cult in a hugely successful empire that could well afford the occasional disaster: the Charge of the Light Brigade, or Franklin lost in the Arctic. Now failure is no longer heroic – it is just failure, and its terrible costs will be paid by the most vulnerable of Brexit’s supporters, and by those who may suffer the consequences of a hard border in Ireland and the breakdown of a fragile peace.

The discussion was so interesting – and Fintan O’Toole was so eloquent and amusing –  that I bought the book. The author was kind enough to sign it for me too!

There’s an extract printed on the cover that will give you a taste, but if you want more you’ll have to buy the book:

Of all the pleasurable emotions, self-pity is the one that most makes us want to be on our own…Only alone can we surrender completely to it and immerse ourselves in the steaming bath of hurt, outrage and tender regard for our terribly wronged selves. Brexit therefore makes sense of a nation that feels sorry for itself. The mystery, though, is how Britain, or more precisely England, came not to just experience this delightful sentiment but to define itself through it.

I only bought the book today so haven’t read it yet, but I will endeavour to write a review when I have.

Now back to the writing of lecture notes…

Physics: Mathematical or Theoretical or Experimental?

Posted in Education, Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on November 26, 2018 by telescoper

Fresh from doing two Open Day talks last week I thought I’d write a few words here about something that cropped up in the question-and-answer session.

For a start, I should explain that here at Maynooth University there are two Physics departments, one the Department of Theoretical Physics (of which I am a Faculty member) and the other the Department of Experimental Physics. These two units are in the same building but are largely separate in terms of teaching and research.

For instance, when students enter on our General Science degree programme they have to choose four subjects in the first year, including Mathematics (much as I did when I did my Natural Sciences degree at Cambridge back in the day). Picking `double physics’ (i.e. Experimental Physics and Theoretical Physics) uses up two of those choices, whereas Physics was a single choice in the first year of my degree.

To confuse matters still further, the Department of Theoretical Physics only recently changed its name from the Department of Mathematical Physics and some of our documentation still carries that title. I got asked several times at the weekend what’s the difference between Theoretical Physics and Mathematical Physics?

As far as Maynooth is concerned we basically use those terms interchangeably and, although it might appear a little confusing at first, having both terms scattered around our webpages means that Google searches for both `Mathematical Physics’ and `Theoretical Physics’ will find us.

It’s interesting though that Wikipedia has different pages for Mathematical Physics and Theoretical Physics. The former begins

Mathematical physics refers to the development of mathematical methods for application to problems in physics. The Journal of Mathematical Physics defines the field as “the application of mathematics to problems in physics and the development of mathematical methods suitable for such applications and for the formulation of physical theories”. It is a branch of applied mathematics, but deals with physical problems.

while the latter starts

Theoretical physics is a branch of physics that employs mathematical models and abstractions of physical objects and systems to rationalize, explain and predict natural phenomena. This is in contrast to experimental physics, which uses experimental tools to probe these phenomena.

The difference is subtle,and there is obviously a huge amount in common between these two definitions, but it is perhaps that Theoretical Physics is more focused on the use of mathematics to account for the results of experiment and observations whereas Mathematical Physics concerns itself more with the development of the necessary mathematical techniques, but I’m sure there will be readers of this blog who disagree with this interpretation.

For the record here is what Wikipedia says about Experimental Physics:

Experimental physics is the category of disciplines and sub-disciplines in the field of physics that are concerned with the observation of physical phenomena and experiments. Methods vary from discipline to discipline, from simple experiments and observations, such as the Cavendish experiment, to more complicated ones, such as the Large Hadron Collider.

I’d say that theoretical physicists are more likely than mathematical physicists to be working closely with experimentalists. I count myself as a theoretical physicist (that’s what I did in Part II at Cambridge, anyway) though I do work a lot with data.

Anyway, as an experiment, I asked the audience at my Open Day talks if they could name a famous physicist. Most popular among the responses were the names you would have guessed: Einstein, Hawking, Feynman, Dirac, Newton, Schrodinger, and some less familiar names such as Leonard Susskind and Brian Greene. Every single one of these is (or was) a theorist of some kind. This is confirmed by the fact that many potential students mention similar names in the personal statements they write in support of their university applications. For better or worse, it seems that to many potential students Physics largely means Theoretical (or Mathematical) Physics.

Although it is probably good for our recruitment that there are so many high-profile theoretical physicists, it probably says more about how little the general public knows about what physics actually is and how it really works. For me the important thing is the interplay between theory and experiment (or observation), as it is in that aspect where the whole exceeds the sum of the parts.

It might seem a bit strange to have two Physics departments in one University – though it seems to work alright in Cambridge! – but I think it works pretty well. The one problem is that there isn’t a clear entry point for `Physics’ without an adjective. Students can carry Theoretical Physics and Experimental Physics through all the way to final year and get a joint honours degree (50% theory and 50% experiment) or they can pick one to do single honours, but we might attract a few more students if the former possibility were just called `Physics’. Perhaps.

On the Second (Open) Day..

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , on November 24, 2018 by telescoper

I’ve been back on campus all morning today (Saturday 24th November) at Maynooth University for the second Open Day. I’m just taking a short break to have a sandwich and a cup of tea before rejoining the fray and giving the Subject Talk at 2.10pm on behalf of the Department of Theoretical Physics.

Yesterday’s Open Day was a very busy day. I’m given to understand that there was a record crowd  of over 3000 visitors. We were certainly not short of people to talk to at our stand in Iontas.

I think being a number of school trips contributed to the high attendance. Today has been more individual prospective students and parents. Also it’s been a bit rainy this morning so numbers might be down a bit compared to yesterday, but we’ve been busy again on the stall.

Anyway the main reason for writing this post is to thank all our student helpers including Rebekah, Eibhlin, Philip, Cai, Tigernach and Ryan for contributing over the two days and staff members Paul and Jiri for doing their stint. Their only material reward for helping has been a lunch voucher for one of the campus refectories.

UPDATE: The talk was very well attended and ended with lots and lots of questions, so I think I’ll call it a success. Now home to put my feet up and have a nice cup of tea!

Theoretical Physics at Maynooth University Open Days!

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

Well, tomorrow (Friday 23rd November) and Saturday 24th November are both open days at Maynooth University. If you want to find out more about them you can look here where you will find this video which has some nice views of the campus:

I used to give Open Day talks quite frequently in a previous existence as Head of School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex and now I’m at it again, giving talks on behalf of the Department of Theoretical Physics on each Open Day. If you come along, please say hello either at the lectures (1.10pm on Friday and 2.10 on Saturday)! We also have a stall in the Iontas Building from 9.30 each day where you can meet staff and students and talk to them about the course, or anything else vaguely related to Theoretical Physics. There are other stalls, of course, but the Theoretical Physics one is obviously em>way more interesting than the others!

Looking for fun pictures to put in my talk I stumbled across this:

I think that’s the only one I need, really!