Archive for Maynooth University

Admissions Matters

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , , , , on August 12, 2019 by telescoper

Well, the wait is almost over. Tomorrow is the day that students in Ireland get their Leaving Certificate results. Tomorrow’s date is Tuesday 13th August, so I hope that’s not a bad omen! A couple of days later this week, on Thursday, UK students get their A-level results.

Here in Ireland, University admissions are dealt with through the Central Applications Office (CAO) which, for UK readers, is roughly equivalent to UCAS. Earlier this year we heard Maynooth University received its highest-ever number of first_preference applications, which is a very positive sign, but we don’t know yet exactly how many of those actually made the grade needed to start here next month.

As is the case in the UK with A-level results, Irish institutions receive the Leaving Certificate results a bit before the students do, which means that on both sides of the Irish sea higher education institutions will be very busy sorting through their applications to see who has made it onto what course. This is a very stressful time for all concerned, not only the prospective students but also the university staff involved in processing the results and academics wondering how many students they will have to teach next year.

From time to time one hears suggestions that the system could be made much fairer and less stressful if students could remove some of the uncertainty by applying  to university after getting their Leaving Cert (or A-level) results rather than, as is the case now, before. UPDATE: here’s a piece in the Guardian by Angela Rayner arguing this.

The problem is that there are only two ways that I can see to achieve this:

  • have the final school examinations earlier;
  • start the university academic year later.

The unavoidable consequence of the first option would be the removal of large quantities of material from the syllabus so the exams could be held several months earlier, which would be a disaster in terms of preparing students for university.

The second option would mean starting the academic year in, say, January instead of late Septembe. This would in my opinion be preferable to 1, but would still be difficult because it would interfere with all the other things a university does as well as teaching, especially research. The summer recess (July-September), wherein much research is currently done, could be changed to an autumn one (October-December) but there would be a great deal of resistance, especially from the older establishments; I can’t see Oxbridge being willing to abandon its definitions of teaching term! And what would the students do between July and January?

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The Buddleian Library Cat

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on July 11, 2019 by telescoper

Geddit?

I’ll get my coat.

A Head Again!

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth with tags , on July 4, 2019 by telescoper

Today is Independence Day – on which all joint probabilities P(A,B) can be expressed in the form P(A)P(B) – and by coincidence I received a letter that I’ve been expecting from the President. No, not Michael D. Higgins (nor Donald Trump for that matter) but the President of Maynooth University, Professor Philip Nolan.

Despite it being marked Strictly Private and Confidential I have actually read it, and it says that I have been appointed as Head of the Department of Theoretical Physics at Maynooth University, with effect from 1st September 2019.

The appointment is for three years in the first instance, with the possibility of renewal for another two years `subject to satisfactory performance’. So just the three years then.

The current Head of Department is taking a sabbatical next semester (from September to January) and just this morning we have been interviewing candidates for a temporary to provide teaching cover for his absence. Now we officially begin the handover (including, I suppose, moving offices…).

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.

But first I’m going to take tomorrow off.

Work in Progress

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , , on July 3, 2019 by telescoper

It was less than a year ago that I posted this photograph of a sign I saw by the Kilcock Road on my way into work in the Science Building at Maynooth University.

It was a planning notice that started the process of constructing extra buildings to accommodate various new teaching and study spaces on campus.

By way of an update, here are a couple of pictures taken near that location this morning that show how things have progressed.

Although I had some experience of this kind of construction project from Sussex days I’m not really au fait with the technicalities. The main work being done so far seems to be preparatory: levelling the ground, laying drains and sewers, adding pipes for communications cables, changing the road layout and so on. They call this `readying work’. There’s no sign of actual buildings going up yet, but that is to be expected. Using modern building techniques construction of the actual edifice can be very rapid once the groundwork is done.

I’m in the building on the right of the photograph with the mechanical digger in it, so I was a bit worried that all this would lead to an intolerable amount of noise but it’s actually not too bad. The main inconvenience is for people with cars, since a road has been closed for this work, but I walk into campus so it doesn’t affect me directly.

When it’s all done the new building should look like this:

The University’s News item about this project can be read here.

I’ll post further updates when there’s more to report!

Admissions, Consultations and Congratulations!

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , , , , , , on July 2, 2019 by telescoper

Some good news for Maynooth University arrived this morning. Yesterday (1st July) was the deadline for applicants to Irish universities to change their mind about first preference courses through the Central Applications Office (CAO) which, for UK readers, is roughly equivalent to UCAS). That deadline having passed, CAO has now released details of the number of first-choice applicants to each course at each university.

The news for Maynooth University is very positive, in that it has received its highest-ever (>4,200) first preference applications. This figure represents a 7% increase on Maynooth applications from last year. In particular the number of students applying for the Bachelor of Science degree is up a whopping 33% on last year!

I like our `Omnibus’ Science degree programme, for reasons which I’ve discussed here and am glad to see it’s proving so attractive to students.

Of course it now remains to be seen how many of those students get the required points on their Leaving Certificate examinations (which have just finished) but the prospects are looking good! I’m particularly looking forward to meeting new students in Theoretical Physics next year!

Yesterday was also an important day for existing Maynooth students. The main University Examination Board was held last Thursday and yesterday students received all their results. Of course I saw all the marks last week but couldn’t say anything before the final results were released so it was nice yesterday to join in the congratulations of the final-year students in Theoretical Physics who have done extremely well this year. You couldn’t wish to meet a nicer, friendlier and harder-working group of students and I’m delighted for their success. Some will be leaving to pursue studies abroad,  but some are staying on to do Masters programmes here so there will be some familiar faces still around in Theoretical Physics next year.

An innovation this year is that the Examinations Office has set up an Exam Results Information Centre to advise students on what to do if there are issues arising from their results (such as taking repeat examinations):

For subject-specific inquiries to do with academic matters we have a Consultation Day tomorrow (Wednesday 3rd July) during which students can, if they wish, ask to see their marked examination scripts as well as asking other questions about their academic studies. This is something I feel very positively about too (as I wrote here). I’ll be on duty in Theoretical Physics tomorrow, actually. If Theoretical Physics students can’t make it in tomorrow then just email us and we’ll try to arrange another time.

 

 

What’s the Point of the Prospectus?

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

Visitors to last weekend’s Summer Open Day at Maynooth University were all given a `goodie bag’ containing this:

The Undergraduate Handbook (as it’s called) is an example of a Prospectus, which Wikipedia helpfully defines as:

A university or school prospectus is a document sent to potential (prospective) students to attract them to apply for admissions. It usually contains information about the institution and the available courses, including advice on how to apply and the benefits of accepting a place. Many universities have an individual prospectus for each course or group of courses that they offer. Most universities have both online and paper versions of their prospectus, and they are divided into an Undergraduate Prospectus and a Postgraduate Prospectus.

I’ve worked at quite a few Universities in my career: (Sussex, Queen Mary, Nottingham, Cardiff and, now, Maynooth) and they have all produced something similar. The Maynooth one shown above is a fairly hefty document, in A4 format, and over 200 pages in length. It is nicely laid out and well produced so what follows is not to be interpreted as a criticism of it as a piece of literature!

Last week I was thinking about why universities continue to produce prospectuses in paper form when nowadays all the information is available online in a form that is much easier to search than the cumbersome hard copy.
Of the 200+ pages in the Maynooth version, only a few will be of any interest to any one student and we found on our stall last weekend that a much smaller pamphlet outlining just the science courses was far more popular and, one infers, useful for prospective students. The big handbook must be quite expensive to produce and distribute – and a new one is required every year – so is it really worth the effort?

I know from time at Sussex that the annual printing of the prospectus imposed a number of constraints on the process of developing new courses. The deadline for getting things ready was over a year ahead of the time a new course would start, which dramatically slowed down the process. That’s not a particular criticism of Sussex, by the way, I think that’s a fairly ubiquitous issue. Why not just have the material available online, where it can be updated with new courses and modules at any time?

There may be good reasons for continuing with the old-style university prospectus, but the only reason I’ve heard articulated is that `everyone else has one so we have to too’. Maybe the prospectus is an effective marketing tool, I don’t know. If so it’s probably more for the benefit of parents than students.

I’d be interested in hearing views from prospective students, parents thereof, academics and or university
admissions specialists on this issue, especially from those who want to change my mind as I have to say that I think we should scrap the paper and just deliver the material via the internet (either via webpages or an app).

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Summer Open Day

Posted in Biographical, Education, Maynooth with tags , on June 22, 2019 by telescoper


This morning I made my way onto campus to  represent the Department of Theoretical Physics at Maynooth University’s Summer Open Day which took place today. Naturally I encountered Maynooth Library Cat on the way. I’ve never seen him in that location amid the shrubs before, and when I saw him heading for that place I thought he might be about to do a poo in the mulch (which looks a bit like a litter tray). Instead of that he just flopped into the position shown in the photo. It was quite sunny early on today and I think he was happy to have found a spot in the shade.

Despite the good weather, the Open Day wasn’t as busy as the last couple I’ve been involved with, probably because this year’s Leaving Certificate examinations haven’t quite finished. Nevertheless we had a reasonable number of prospective students visit the stall in Iontas, shown here with Rebekah (a current student in the Department on a summer research project):

Later on I gave a talk. The audience was fairly small but quite a few people took the opportunity to ask questions at the end, so I think it was useful for those who attended.

At least today the weather was nice, even if the occurrence of the solstice yesterday means that the nights are now drawing in…

I find these occasions always bring a bit of a flashback to Sussex days, actually, when I used to have to do this sort of thing quite regularly on Saturdays throughout the year. It’s almost three years since I left there. Can it really be so long already?