Archive for Maynooth University

Maynooth University Library Cat Update

Posted in Maynooth with tags , on January 14, 2020 by telescoper

It’s high time for the first update about the famous Maynooth University Library Cat for 2020. I gave him some breakfast on the way in to work yesterday morning, before Storm Brendan arrived. He scoffed it rapidly, even though I strongly suspect I wasn’t the first person to give him food!

I was a bit worried about said feline before the Christmas break because he had a problem with one of his front legs which gave him a limp. I couldn’t see any cuts or anything but it was clearly causing him some bother. Fortunately he seemed to shake it off and there’s no sign of the limp any more.  You can often tell if a cat is poorly because that’s the one situation when they lose their appetite, and there’s no sign of that! Indeed he was quite skittish yesterday when I said hello.

Although the rain hadn’t arrived with Storm Brendan when I fed him yesterday it was already quite windy.  There’s something about windy weather that makes cats freak out a bit. I don’t know what it is. Perhaps the it’s noise? Cats have very sensitive hearing and maybe the sound of the wind causes a kind of sensory overload? My old cat Columbo used to run around like a mad thing when it was windy outside. It’s not that he was unhappy about it – it just got him very excited.

Anyway, today it’s raining quite heavily so I expect Maynooth University Library Cat is tucked up in his little box or somewhere else that’s cosy.

 

Exam Time

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , , , on January 12, 2020 by telescoper

Back in Maynooth into the January examination period, I await the arrival tomorrow of the first batch of examination scripts I have to mark, so I thought I’d do a quick post on the topic of examinations.

First, for readers elsewhere, full-time undergraduate students at Maynooth what is called 60 “credits” in a year, usually split into two semesters of thirty credits each. This is usually split into 5-credit modules with an examination in each module at the end of each semester. Projects, and other continuously-assessed work do not involve a written examination, but the system means that a typical student will have at least 5 written examination papers in January and at least another 5 in May. Each examination is usually of two hours’ duration.

This is very similar to the system in most UK universities that I am aware of except that a full year’s work over there is 120 credits so there’s a conversion factor of 2:1. A 5-credit module in Ireland would be a 10-credit module in the United Kingdom, for example, but otherwise the system is similar.

One big difference between our examinations in Theoretical Physics in Maynooth and those at other institutions I’ve taught at in the UK is that the papers here – at least at a reasonably advanced level, say Years 3 and 4 – offer no choice of questions to be answered.  A typical format for a two-hour paper is that there are two long questions, each of which counts for 50 marks. Elsewhere  one normally finds students have a choice of two or three questions from four or five on the paper.

One  advantage of our system is that it makes it much harder for students to question-spot in the hope that they can get a good grade by only revising a fraction of the syllabus. If they’re well designed, two long questions can cover quite a lot of the syllabus for a module, which they have to in order to test all the learning outcomes. To accomplish this, questions can be split into parts that may be linked to each other to a greater or lesser extent to explore the connections between different ideas, but also sufficiently separate that a student who can’t do one part can still have a go at others. With such a paper, however, it is a  dangerous strategy for a student to focus only on selected parts of the material in order to pass.

As an examiner, the Maynooth style of examination also has the advantage that you don’t have to worry too much if one question turns out to be harder than the others. That can matter if different students attempt different questions, but not if everyone has to do everything.

But it’s not just the number of questions that’s important, it’s the duration. I’ve never felt that it was even remotely sensible for undergraduate physics examinations to be a speed test, which was often the case when I was a student. Why the need for time pressure? It’s better to be correct than to be fast, I think. I always try to set examination questions that could be done inside two hours by a student who knew the material, including plenty of time for checking so that even a student who made a mistake would have time to correct it and get the right answer. If a student does poorly in this style of examination it will be because they haven’t prepared well enough rather than because they weren’t fast enough.

The structure of the Maynooth examinations at more introductory level is rather different, with some choice. In my first year module on Mechanics & Special Relativity, for example, there is a compulsory first question worth 50 marks (split into several pieces) and then the students can pick two out of three shorter questions worth 25 marks each. This is a somewhat gentler approach than with the more advanced papers, partly adopted because we have quite a few students doing the General Science degree who taking Mathematical Physics as one of their 4 first-year subjects but will not be taking it further.

As their examination is not until Wednesday, I’ll have to wait until later this week to find out how my first-years have done. This will be the examination taken at University level for most of my class, so let me take this opportunity to pass on a few quick tips.

  1. Try to get a good night’s sleep before the examination and arrive in plenty of time before the start.
  2. Read the entire paper before starting to answer any questions. In particular, make sure you are aware of any supplementary information, formulae, etc, given in the rubric or at the end.
  3. Start off by tackling the question you are most confident about answering, even if it’s not Question 1. This will help settle any nerves.
  4. Don’t rush! Students often lose marks by making careless errors. Check all your numerical results on your calculator at least twice and – PLEASE – remember to put the units!
  5. Don’t panic! You’re not expected to answer everything perfectly. A first-class mark is anything over 70%, so don’t worry if there are bits you can’t do. If you get stuck on a part of a question, don’t waste too much time on it (especially if it’s just a few marks). Just leave it and move on. You can always come back to it later.

Readers of this blog are welcome to add other tips through the comments box below!

Oh, and good luck to anyone at Maynooth or elsewhere taking examinations in the next few weeks!

 

Theoretical Physics at Maynooth University Open Days!

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , on November 30, 2019 by telescoper

Today, Saturday 30th November 2019, is another Open Day at Maynooth University.

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.

If you’re coming along today, please say hello either at the lecture (2.10pm)) or at the stall in the Iontas Building from 10.30 each day where you can chat about the course or anything else vaguely related to Theoretical Physics. There are other stalls, of course, but the Theoretical Physics one is obviously way more interesting than the others!

I might have time to take a few snaps during the day. If I do I’ll post them here. In the meantime here is a summary of my talk:

UPDATE: I didn’t get time to take any pictures because we were busy all morning. The subject talk in the afternoon was absolutely packed out – way more people than I’ve seen at any other open days here at Maynooth – and loads of questions at the end. Very enjoyable but rather exhausting. I think I might head home for a nap!

Open Day Friday

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth with tags , , , on November 29, 2019 by telescoper

It’s a busy day today in Maynooth with two very important jobs to do. Until lunchtime I’ll be preoccupied with an Open Day here at Maynooth University, the first of this year’s cycle. Here’s the poster advertising them (with dates included):

You’ll see that I have a new role as Poster Boy for Maynooth University, though they have understandably put me at the extreme edge of the poster (bottom right). I’ve got plenty of people helping on the stall in the Iontas Building today but I do have to give a talk to prospective students. There’s another Open Day tomorrow, for which I’ll be on the stall and doing the talk for most of the day.

Here’s a little promotional video:

Today’s  Open Day winds down by 2pm after which my second major task of the day begins. But that’s a secret, at least for the time being.

 

 

 

The Cosmic Web in Maynooth

Posted in Books, Talks and Reviews, Talks and Reviews, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on November 5, 2019 by telescoper

Next week (10th to 17th November) in Ireland is Science Week and this will be celebrated by a number of events here in Maynooth, among which is a talk by yours truly on 15th November:

Here is a short description:

How can we map the distribution of galaxies over thousands of millions of light years? What does the Universe look like on these scales? How did get to look like that? And how do we know?This talk will explain how astronomers and cosmologists have come together over the past couple of decades to make huge surveys of the Universe, revealing the existence of a complex but beautiful `Cosmic Web’ with vast chains of galaxies strung out around immense dark voids. These observational breakthroughs have been mirrored by advances in theory and computer simulation that allow us to understand how this amazing structure was born 14 billion years ago in the Big Bang and has been growing and evolving ever since. Free and open to TY, 5th and 6th year students, this talk will be of particular interest in those interested astronomy, space, physics and the Universe itself!

It is on in the morning to make it possible for school students to attend and the talk is adapted to this audience, so it won’t be the same as the one I gave in Dublin last week. The timing seems to have worked because the lecture theatre has over 200 seats in it but is already almost full. There are still a few places available so if you’re in the area you can book here.

 

 

Feline Matters

Posted in Maynooth with tags , on September 19, 2019 by telescoper

In gratitude for Maynooth University’s recent rise in the Times Higher League Tables reported yesterday, the authorities have made appropriate offerings to the deity responsible for this good fortune:

I notice also that Maynooth University Library Cat is clearly the inspiration for this visualisation of an inspiralling system, though I’m not sure what amplitude of gravitational waves this event would produce.

All of which means that I’m about to go home for an evening’s relaxation before spending tomorrow in Dublin…

University Rankings Again

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , , , , , on September 18, 2019 by telescoper

Last week saw the publication of the Times Higher World University Rankings which have once again predictably generated a great deal of sound and fury while signifying nothing very important. I can’t be bothered to repeat my previous criticisms of these league tables (though I will point you to a very good rant here) but I will make a couple of comments on the reaction to them here in Ireland.

First let me mention (for what it’s worth) that Maynooth University has risen from the band covering 351st-400th place to that covering 301st to 350th place. That means that Maynooth went up by anything from 1 place to 99 places. That’s two consecutive years of rises for NUIM.

(I’ll add without further comment that I arrived here two years ago…)

The Irish Media have not paid much attention to this (or to the improvement in standing of NUI Galway) but have instead been preoccupied with the fact that the College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Queen Elizabeth near Dublin, known as Trinity College Dublin for short, has fallen by 44 places to 164th place; see, for example, here. Now there’s no question in my mind that Irish universities need an injection of income – especially in science subjects – in order to improve standards of education and research, but I don’t really understand the obsession with Trinity College. It’s a fine institution, of course, but sometimes it’s almost as if the press think that’s the only University in Ireland…

In response to its declining fortunes Trinity College has claimed that Ireland needs a `Rankings Strategy’. No it doesn’t. It needs something far more radical – a higher education strategy. The current government  doesn’t have one

Anyway, given the rate of Maynooth’s rise and Trinity’s fall it is a straightforward undoubtedly scientifically valid extrapolation to predict that in two or three years time, Maynooth will have overtaken Trinity in the World Rankings anyway!

(No, I’m not going to take any bets on that.)

Turning away from the exercise in numerological flummery that is the Times Higher League Tables, let me pass on some numbers that are actually meaningful. The week before term with not everyone yet registered, the number of students taking Mathematical Physics in the first year at Maynooth has increased by 31% since last year and the number on our fast-track Theoretical Physics and Mathematics (TP&M) programme has increased threefold. These increases are very pleasing. Although lectures proper don’t start until next week, I did an introductory session with the TP&M students this morning. It was very nice to be able to welcome them to Maynooth for what I hope will be an enjoyable time at Ireland’s soon-to-be top University!