Archive for Maynooth University

Maynooth joins the Euclid Community

Posted in Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on January 10, 2018 by telescoper

There’s a nice webpage showing all the institutions around the world who belong to the consortium behind the European Space Agency’s Euclid Mission. Here’s a screen grab that shows all the logos of all the institutions involved in this very large Consortium:

There are so many that it’s hard to see them all, but if you look very closely about half way down, among the Ms, you will see Maynooth University among them. This is the first institution in Ireland to have joined the Euclid Consortium and it has just been officially added thanks to yours truly moving there later this year. Ireland is a member state of the European Space Agency, by the way.

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Why I’m moving to Ireland

Posted in Biographical, Education with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 20, 2017 by telescoper

Over the past few weeks quite a number of people have asked me why I decided to move to Ireland, so thought I’d write a post about it in case anyone out there is interested.

The simple answer that I was offered a full-time permanent and rather well paid job at Maynooth University. I’m currently on a part-time fixed term contract at Cardiff University.  The salary wasn’t the main factor, but the low value of the £ relative to the € means that I will do quite well financially out of the move. On top of that I will be joining a final salary pension scheme which has far more favourable terms that the scheme that applies to UK academic staff. Oh, and there’s neither a Research Excellence Framework nor a Teaching Excellence Framework nor a Knowledge Exchange Framework nor punitive levels of student tuition fees nor any of the many other  idiocies that have been inflicted on UK universities in recent years. It will be a relief to be able to teach and do research in environment which, at least for the time being, regards these as things of value in themselves rather than as means of serving the empty cycle of production and consumption that defines the modern neoliberal state. Above all, it’s a good old-fashioned professorship. You know, teaching and research?

That’s the simple answer, but there’s a bit more to it than that. I left Sussex in 2016 with the intention of taking early retirement as soon as I could do so. My short exposure to  a role in senior management, as Head of the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex, convinced me that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life  in a system that I felt had lost all sight of what universities are and what they are for. I was (and still am) deeply grateful to Cardiff University for throwing me a lifeline that enabled me to escape from what I increasingly saw as a dead-end job, and giving me an interesting job to do to tide me over until next year, when I am 55 and therefore eligible for early retirement.

I think I have done everything that was asked of me in my current position at Cardiff, on a half-time salary but often up against very short timescales. The two MSc courses I was brought in to set up are both now running and looking to expand. On top of that we also managed to secure funding for a Centre for Doctoral Training. I only played a small part in doing that, but I think it has put the Data Innovation Research Institute on the map.  When both of these successes had been secured earlier this year, I felt that there was no way that leaving now would have a negative effect either on the Data Innovation Institute or the School of Physics & Astronomy. By about April this year I had firmly decided to retire completely from academia in mid-2018.

The problem with this plan had been apparent since 2016: Brexit.  I think it’s still quite possible that the Brexit project will fail under the weight of its own contradictions, but that no longer matters. The damage has already been done. The referendum campaign, followed by the callous and contemptuous attitude of the current UK Government towards EU nationals living in Britain, unleashed a sickening level of xenophobia that has made me feel like a stranger in my own country. Not everyone who voted `Leave’ is a bigot, of course, but every bigot voted for Brexit and the bigots are now calling all the shots. There are many on the far right of UK politics who won’t be satisfied until we have ethnic cleansing. Even if Brexit is stopped the genie of intolerance is out of the bottle and I don’t think it well ever be put back. Brexit will also doom the National Health Service and the UK university system, and clear the way for the destruction of workers’ rights and environmental protection. The poor and the sick will suffer, while only the rich swindlers who bought the referendum result will prosper. The country in which I was born, and in which I have lived for the best part of 54 years, is no longer something of which I want to be a part.

So, having spent most of my working life in the UK higher education system and decided that my heart was no longer in that, I then had to face that my heart was no longer in this country at all. Could I face years of retirement in mean-spirited down-market Brexit Britain? What was I to do?

I’ve mentioned many times on this blog how lucky I have been that opportunities have come along at exactly the right time. In May, a friend pointed out the advertisement for a job in Maynooth with an application deadline just a few days away. Cosmology was specifically mentioned as one of the possible areas. I felt that they would probably be looking for someone younger, and my research output over the last few years has been patchy given my other commitments, but at the last minute I sent off an application.

Ireland has a particularly strong attraction for me because I have Irish ancestry through which I am eligible for citizenship without having to go through the naturalisation process (which takes 5 years, still less than many EU countries). Together with an Irish EU passport comes a continuation of the rights – especially freedom of movement – that UK citizens will shortly lose. It seemed like outrageously good luck that this post came up just at the right time, but the end of July came and went without any news. I assumed I hadn’t been shortlisted, so forgot about the idea.

Then, in September I received a letter inviting me for interview just a couple of weeks later. I’m not sure why the process was  so delayed, but was overjoyed to find out there was still a chance. The date clashed with a prior commitment, so I had to do the interview via Skype (over a flaky internet connection from a hotel room) rather than in person.  I thought it went very badly, but I ended up being offered the job. I visited Maynooth University shortly after being informed of this, to discuss terms.

The people at Maynooth were keen to have me start there as soon as possible, but given the lateness of the interview date I had already committed to teaching in Cardiff this forthcoming Semester and I wasn’t going to leave my current colleagues and students in the lurch. There was an obvious solution, however. I am employed here at 50% FTE so I could start in Maynooth at up to 50% without having to resign. We quickly agreed this transitional arrangement was workable, and I started there on 1st December.  The period from February to April will be very busy, as I will be working either side of the Irish Sea, but it’s only for a relatively short time. Next summer I plan to relocate completely to Ireland.

You probably think I’m a bit old to be starting a new life in another country, even one that’s relatively nearby, but I reckon I have time for this one last adventure before I retire. In the words of Tennyson’s Ulysses, `It is not too late to seek a newer world’.  I have worked in British universities since 1988. That’s almost 30 years. I reckon I can still contribute something in the last 10 I have before I pull down the shutters for good. Who knows, maybe I’ll even experience the joy of living in a United Ireland before long?

The press have covered a number of stories of EU nationals who have been living in Britain and who have decided to leave because of Brexit. Surprisingly little attention has been paid to those, like myself, who are also EU nationals but who happen have been born in Britain. I know more than a few academics who are weighing up their options, as well as those born abroad I know who have already departed.  The Brexodus has already begun and its pace seems likely to accelerate very quickly indeed. Other have personal situations that are more complicated than mine, such as partners and children, so not everyone will find it easy to follow a similar path to the one I’ve chosen, but I those that can get out will do so.

Because I’ve lived here all my life I thought I would find it difficult to leave Britain. I was quite traumatised by the Brexit referendum, as one would be by the death of a close relative, but it made me reexamine my life. There is a time when you have to move on, and that’s what I’m doing. I’m done here.

 

 

Historical References

Posted in Biographical, History, Maynooth with tags , , , , , , , on December 2, 2017 by telescoper

This morning, having a few hours free after breakfast before some househunting activities, I took a stroll to buy a newspaper and decided to take a few snaps.

First, here are a couple of pictures of St Patrick’s College, where I am staying. My room is on the top floor, to the left in the wing that juts forward from the main building. The chapel (with the spire) is on the other side.

The building I’m in forms the most impressive side of a quadrangle, one other part of which you can see in the second photograph.

St Patrick’s College was founded in 1795, and its style could best be described as Gothic Revival. It was in fact built as a theological college with funds supplied by King George III. There was a political reason for his largesse. Roman Catholicism was brutally suppressed in Ireland during and after the Eleven Years War in the mid-17th Century, culminating in the vicious subjugation of Ireland by Oliver Cromwell. In effect, the Catholic Church in Ireland was outlawed. Starting from about 1766 some of the restrictions on Catholics began to be removed, but there were no institutions in Ireland capable of training priests so all of those wishing to join the priesthood had to study abroad, primarily in France. George was worried that this would lead to an influx of priests whose heads were filled with revolutionary ideas from the continent, so he decided to fund a place where they could be taught in Ireland, where at least there could be some control over their education.

The old theological college of St Patrick (the `Pontifical University’) forms the core of what is now the South Campus of Maynooth University. Some of the old buildings here seem to take their names from the components of the old Liberal Arts degree: there is a Music House, Logic House, Rhetoric House and so on.

Next the entrance to the South Campus you can see this:

These are the remains of Maynooth Castle (or Geraldine Castle, after the Fitzgerald family), built around 1200. It was a huge and imposing fortress but now only the gatehouse and solar tower remain. It has violent history: heavily damaged in 1535 by siege cannons, its garrison surrendered only to be summarily executed. Rebuilt in the 1630s, it was destroyed completely in the 1640s during – you guessed it – the Eleven Years War. It has been a ruin ever since, but provides an intriguing entrance to the campus!

I’m by no means an architectural expert but I had a hunch that the Church (above) that stands opposite the Castle on the other side of the road leading into campus might also be quite old. Indeed it is. It was built in 1248 as the chapel to Geraldine Castle. It is now an Anglican Church, still used for regular worship.

The South Campus is separated from the North Campus (where the Science Building and other modern facilities are) by a main road. The North Campus is very new, most of the buildings are less than 20 years old. Here’s a picture showing the splendid library, with the spire of the chapel of St Patrick’s College in the background.  This is one of the few newer buildings on the South Campus: the pedestrian path you see leads to the main road that splits North and South Campuses.

 

 

A Message from Maynooth

Posted in Biographical with tags , , on December 1, 2017 by telescoper

Today I started a new job, as Professor of Theoretical Physics in the Department of Theoretical Physics at Maynooth University, in County Kildare in the Irish Republic.

I haven’t resigned my job at Cardiff University. I’m currently employed there only half the time – or at least that’s what my contract says! – and I’m joining Maynooth on a 50% basis also so I can do one job alongside the other. In particularly I will be teaching in Cardiff next semester as planned.

Although I will be sharing my time equally between Wales and Ireland for the immediate future, I do intend to relocate fully to Ireland, as and when this becomes practicable and can be done in such a way as to not have any impact on ongoing activities in Cardiff.

I’ll post more about Maynooth in due course, but today is filled with organisational things: getting on the IT system, arranging tax and related matters, and finding somewhere to live. In the meantime I’m staying in St Patrick’s House, part of the Catholic seminary on Maynooth University’s South Campus. It’s a lovely building, with rooms that are basic but clean, comfortable and very inexpensive. It was too dark when I arrived last night to take a picture of the place but here’s one from the net:

It’s not quite as summery at the moment, either. It was very cold when I arrived last night and that has continued into today. I will take a snap at some point, but there was a rather ugly-looking crane at the front of the building and would prefer to take a picture when it has gone!

I’ve never been in a seminary before. Although everyone I’ve met here has been wonderfully nice and friendly, I have to say the corridors have more than a hint of The Shining about them:

Anyway, that’s all for now. I hope to have some time at the weekend to have a look around Dublin, which is only 30 minutes or so away by train from Maynooth, and where I may end up living in the not-too-distant future!