Archive for Maynooth

Astrophysics & Cosmology Masterclass at Maynooth

Posted in Education, Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on November 24, 2020 by telescoper

Stealing the idea from our long-running Particle Physics Master Class (which sadly had to be cancelled this year for Covid-19 related reasons, but will resume in 2021), the Department of Theoretical Physics at Maynooth University has decided to launch a Masterclass in Astrophysics & Cosmology. The first one will be on January 14th 2021.

This will be a half-day virtual event via Zoom. It’s meant for school students in their 5th or 6th year of the Irish system, but there might be a few of them or their teachers who see this blog so I thought I’d share the news here. You can find more information, including instructions on how to book a place, here.

Here is the official poster and the programme:

I’ll be talking about cosmology early on, while John Regan will talk about black holes. After the coffee break one of our PhD students will talk about why they wanted to study astrophysics. Then I’ll say something about our degree programmes for those students who might be interested in studying astrophysics and/or cosmology as part of a science course. We’ll finish with questions either about the science or the study!

Four Weeks To Go

Posted in Biographical, Covid-19, Education, Maynooth with tags , , , , , on November 23, 2020 by telescoper

As I await another Zoom meeting I remembered this cartoon from last week’s Private Eye, which sums up the prevalent mood amongst academics these days (and no doubt people in other kinds of job too).

At the start of this morning’s Panopto lecture I realised that there are still 4 weeks left of this Semester before the Christmas break. I was a bit surprised by that as this term seems to have lasted a decade already. The time certainly hasn’t zoomed by. Still, at least I’ve more-or-less kept up with my planned schedule of lectures in both of my modules without slipping. I may even be able to finish lectures to my 2nd year Vector Calculus in time to do a bit of revision in the final week.

That’s not to say other things haven’t slipped. The greatly increased time for teaching needed to move everything online hasn’t left much time for research or anything else. I keep meaning to work in the evenings to deal with outstanding things but mostly I find once I’ve done the necessary admin and teaching stuff all I can do is sleep. It seems that I’ll have to work over Christmas to finish off the backlog. Given that I didn’t have a holiday this summer that’s not ideal, but it’s unlikely I’ll be going anywhere over the “festive” season owing to Coronavirus restrictions so I might as well make the best of it.

We don’t have much idea how things will work out next Semester. The politicians seem to be wanting universities to have more on-campus teaching in the New Year. They also want to end the current restrictions to end before Christmas. In fact the current regime is suppose to end on December 2nd, which is next week, and cases are still running around 400 per day. I don’t think they can do both of these and for the Covid-19 situation to remain under any semblance of control. I think the likeliest scenario is that cases surge over the next few weeks and the Christmas break and we have to go back into full restrictions in January or February.

There is however the prospect of a vaccine or vaccines being available fairly early next year so maybe the end of this is in sight. I really hope we can get back to campus normality at some point in 2021. I do feel very sad about the effect all these restrictions has been having on the students. It’s not just having to have remote lectures. I think having a lecturer in the same room is an advantage, but the loss of it is not the worst issue. We encourage our students to work with each other in their learning, and I’m sure students learn at least as much from each other as they do from the lecturer. Peer group learning is more difficult when your peers are sitting in separate locations most of the time.

Earlier today I found myself using the phrase “getting back to normal” in connection with plans for next teaching year. Then I realise that we staff know what we mean by “normal” but our first-year students don’t. I have a feeling that may might find it more difficult to adjust to the old normal than they did to the new one.

And in any case many of our students in all years did not take up accommodation in Maynooth at the start of this year because of the remote teaching. Even if we did on campus lectures or tutorials next term, I suspect many will stay at home anyway to avoid substantial cost of rented accommodation. We will therefore have to continue making material available online whatever happens.

Anyway, what may or may not happen next Semester is to a large extent out of my hands so I won’t be making any firm decisions on what approach I will be taking until much closer to the start of Semester 2 In the meantime the goal is to fight the exhaustion and try get through to the end of term in one piece.

Maynooth from the Air

Posted in Maynooth with tags , , , on October 12, 2020 by telescoper

I came across this video of drone footage of Maynooth and surroundings and thought I’d share it here. There are plenty of shots of the St Patrick’s College and parts of Maynooth University as well as the town itself and  Carton House. Judging by the state of progress of the new University building and the colour of the Virginia creeper I’d say this was filmed very recently. Enjoy!

 

 

On the Exploitation of Postgraduates

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , , , on September 27, 2020 by telescoper

Thinking through the implications of Friday’s announcement for teaching I saw the following advice sent out to students from Maynooth University

For the next few weeks most lectures will move online. You will be invited on-campus for practical classes, tutorials and for the teaching which requires a lot of interaction.

I can’t see significant numbers of students travelling to campus for a tutorial when they have no other teaching sessions but thinking about this yesterday I was struck by the decision that tutorials should go ahead while lectures shouldn’t. Tutorials are largely given by postgraduate students and it seems extremely unfair to me that they should be required to run the risk and incur the expense of travelling to campus in order to carry out in-person teaching, when full-time staff can minimize their chances of infection by staying at home and teaching remotely.

I’ll therefore be instructing all postgraduate tutors in my Department that they are not expected to run their tutorials on campus.

Yesterday I moaned about university staff being taken for granted but the situation is even worse for postgraduate tutors, who make an invaluable and essential contribution to teaching but are often treated horrendously badly by universities.

Take for example the scandalous situation at NUI Galway, where postgraduate students are being required to undertake 120 hours of unpaid teaching duties per year. The University’s justification for this is the following

Contributing to teaching is an integral part of the training of a research Master’s or PhD student. Teaching assists you in the acquisition of generic and transferable skills, and is an important element in the formation of a research graduate.

This may well be true but it does not constitute an argument why such work should be unpaid. I would argue that an even more “important element in the formation of a research graduate” is learning not to allow oneself to be exploited.

One of the very few things I can say I achieved in my time at Sussex was to abolish the use so-called Graduate Teaching Assistantships in the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences that required postgraduates to do unpaid teaching and make all such work voluntary and paid.

I am well aware of the reason why Galway is trying this on – it’s the chronic underfunding of Ireland’s universities and colleges exacerbated by rampant managerialism – but that’s no excuse for institutionalised exploitation. I wholeheartedly support the postgraduates at Galway refusing to carry out unpaid teaching duties and hope the University will withdraw this unjustified and iniquitous policy.

The Autumnal Equinox 2020

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on September 22, 2020 by telescoper

So here we are then. The Autumnal Equinox (in the Northern hemisphere) takes place this afternoon at 14.31 Irish Time (13.31 UT).

Though  the term `equinox’  refers a situation in which day and night are of equal length which implies that it’s a day rather than a specific time, the equinox is more accurately defined by a specific event when the plane defined by Earth’s equator passes through the centre of the Sun’s disk (or, if you prefer, when the centre of the Sun passes through the plane defined by Earth’s equator). Day and night are not necessarily exactly equal on the equinox, but they’re the closest they get. From now on days in the Northern hemisphere will be shorter than nights and they’ll get shorter still until the Winter Solstice.

For many people the autumnal equinox is taken to be the end of summer, though there is a saying around these parts that `Summer is Summer to Michaelmas Day’ (September 29th). Looking back over the posts I’ve written at this time of year since I started blogging in 2008, it’s noticeable how many times we’ve had a window of good weather around the autumnal equinox. In Wales such a warm spell in late September is called Haf Bach Mihangel – “the little summer of St Michael”.

Here’s a sample excerpt from the post I wrote in 2008 on this:

The weather is unsettling. It’s warm, but somehow the warmth doesn’t quite fill the air; somewhere inside it there’s a chill that reminds you that autumn is not far away.

I find this kind of weather a bit spooky because it always takes me back to the time when I left home to go to University, as thousands of fledgling students are about to do this year in their turn.

It has been quite warm here in Maynooth recently too. Last night I mowed the lawn in the evening sunshine, which may well be the last time I do that until spring. The weather turned a bit colder overnight and the weather forecast suggests the little summer may be over.

Anyway, this is Welcome Week in Maynooth and, barring any sudden changes of plan, we’re due to start teaching on Monday 28th September. I’ve been keeping an eye on the registrations of students as they come in as well as starting to get my notes, problem sheets, recordings and other teaching materials together. I have to say that hasn’t been helped by the decision to install a new fire alarm system in the Science Building this week. I had to go home early because of the constant din of the sounders being tested.

I have to admit I’m very apprehensive about the forthcoming semester and beyond. It’s impossible to predict where we will be by the next equinox in March, or even by the Solstice in December. Covid-19 cases are increasing and it doesn’t seem that anyone has a clue how to stop the `second wave’ surging through the population this autumn. The September equinox is often said to to be the start of Astronomical Autumn. This year more than ever it seems to herald that Winter is coming.

Moving Over

Posted in Biographical, Covid-19, Maynooth with tags , , on September 18, 2020 by telescoper

Although I moved into my new house in Maynooth nearly three weeks ago, it was only today that my former landlord came to collect the keys to the flat I was formerly living in. I am quite pleased that I no longer have the keys because having them made me feel some sort of responsibility for the place even though there is nothing of mine there. Handing over the keys is a form of closure, I suppose.

The fact that the landlord wasn’t in a hurry to complete the formalities gave me a bit of extra time to finish a couple of tasks that took longer than I’d expected.

The first was to close the electricity account for which task I needed a final reading from the electricity meter. One of the awkward things about the flat I was in was that the electricity meter isn’t in the flat but in a cupboard in the hallway along with the meters for the other three flats in the building. The cupboard belongs to the management company and they have the only keys. Whenever I needed a meter reading I therefore have to ask them to take one. I contacted them before moving out to do this, but they only sent me the reading this Monday so I only just got the account closed this week. I was a bit irritated that it took so long, but pleased in the end because the reading was substantially less than the `estimated’ reading used by the electricity company in the absence of any readings during the lockdown so I got a nice farewell refund.

Incidentally, the level of sloth of managing agents is by no means unusual in my experience. They always seem to manage to do as little as possible.

The other thing was the washing machine. The appliance supplied with the flat broke down at the start of the lockdown so I bought a new one just in time before all the stores closed and, with the landlord’s permission, I scrapped the old one. I always had the intention of taking the new one with me when I moved out. When the time came however it proved more difficult than I’d imagined.

In order to detach a washing machine from the water supply it is necessary to close a valve, otherwise there will be a flood. Unfortunately the valve was jammed and I could budge it. No worry, I thought, I’ll just turn off the cold water at the stopcock. Mostly this is found under the kitchen sink but when I looked for it I realized that whoever had installed the unit under the sink had boarded up the stopcock so it was inaccessible. I therefore had to take the back panel off the unit to get at the stopcock. When I had done that I found the stopcock wouldn’t budge. Not at first anyway. Eventually, with the application of a bit of elbow grease, I got it to turn. And so it came to pass that the washing machine was detached.

I then had to cart it to my new house. The only hard bit of that was lifting the thing onto the trolley I’d borrowed for the purpose. Washing machines are rather heavy, you see. After some struggling I managed to get going and trundled quite happily down the road to my new house and got it attached to the water there without any problem.

After having a cup of tea and a bit of a rest I thought it would be a good idea to go back to the flat and leave a note to explain that the cold water was turned off at the main and that it would be inadvisable to turn it on without sealing up the inlet pipe with a blank (or indeed another washing machine).

These tasks completed, and the keys returned, one part of the process of moving is now over. Phase Two will involve transporting the rest of my belongings from Cardiff, but that won’t be possible for a while as it looks like both Ireland and the UK are heading for more restrictions on movement due to Covid-19.

The one thing that has really struck me since moving is how much quieter my new neighbourhood is. The flat was on a main road so – apart from the full lockdown period in the spring – there was constant traffic noise. Although I got used to it, it did make it very hard to record video lectures etc. The new place is sufficiently far from large roads that the background noise is negligible, and it’s a detached house so there’s no noise from the neighbours either!

The Ghost Room in Maynooth

Posted in History, Maynooth, Poetry with tags , , , on September 9, 2020 by telescoper

I stumbled across this rather macabre post about Maynooth University and thought I’d share it….don’t have nightmares!

That reminds me of this poem by Emily Dickinson:

One need not be a chamber to be haunted,
One need not be a house;
The brain has corridors surpassing
Material place.

Far safer, of a midnight meeting
External ghost,
Than an interior confronting
That whiter host.

Far safer through an Abbey gallop,
The stones achase,
Than, moonless, one’s own self encounter
In lonesome place.

Ourself, behind ourself concealed,
Should startle most;
Assassin, hid in our apartment,
Be horror’s least.

The prudent carries a revolver,
He bolts the door,
O’erlooking a superior spectre
More near.

Come Here To Me!

Path leading down to the College Graveyard at Saint Patrick’s College. (Carax)

Just on the outskirts of Dublin lies the historic university town of Maynooth. It is the home of Ireland’s main Roman Catholic seminary, St Patrick’s College, which has been churning out priests since 1795.

One particular room in the college has been associated with demonic apparitions, suicide and paranormal activity for over 150 years.

In the mid 19th century in Room Two of Rhetoric House, two young seminarists took their own lives, nineteen years apart, and the room has been the source of many tales ever since.

Rhetoric House in the South Campus, built in 1834, was formerly a residential house for trainee priests. It now hosts the Department of History.

Rhetoric House, Maynooth (http://bogwarrior.com)

On 1 March 1841, a young student from Limerick by the name of Sean O’Grady (b. 1820) jumped out of room and fell…

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Back to School

Posted in Biographical, Covid-19, Education, Maynooth with tags , , , , on August 26, 2020 by telescoper

News that primary and secondary schools in Ireland are re-opening this week reminded me of this picture I saw a year ago:

I suppose the items on display there provide one way of dealing with the stress of worrying whether re-opening will result in a large increase in Covid-19 cases!

Meanwhile the Third Level sector is also preparing to re-open. Although we have another month to go before teaching is supposed to restart at Maynooth University, I’m already getting quite a few emails from students asking what things are going to be like when it resumes in September. All I can answer is what our plans are, but whether or not we can put those plans into practice depends crucially on things outside my control, including local factors (such as the number of students taking each module) and national factors (especially the restrictions intended to prevent the spread of Covid-19).

On the first matter we’ll have to wait until students register which, for first years will be very late in the day because of the delayed leaving certificate results this year. We will know a bit sooner about returning students, but even for them it will be a couple of weeks or so.

The national picture is even more uncertain. As of yesterday, the average number of new Covid-19 cases per day over the last 7 days was an uncomfortably high 103.6:

Over the next month will the local lockdown in Kildare carry on? What will be the impact of schools’ reopening? Will the national Covid-19 picture improve or deteriorate? Although at this stage we plan to resume (partly) campus-based teaching on September 28th, but we have to accept that if things take a turn for the worse we might not be able to do that and will instead have to go online. We’ll just have to wait and see.

That doesn’t help students, of course, because they have to make decisions about accommodation and travel. It’s a very awkward and stressful situation for them but I think the only way to approach the queries I’m getting is to tell the truth. Sometimes “I don’t know” is the only honest answer.

At least my own preparations are proceeding. I’ve just had my own tensor barrier put in. This is intended to deter people from wandering into my office and spreading their germs. I don’t think the installation is finished yet, however, as it doesn’t seem to be connected to the mains electricity.

Forgotten Fires at Maynooth

Posted in History, Maynooth with tags , , on August 17, 2020 by telescoper

I’m taking the liberty of reblogging this fascinating bit of local Maynooth history. I did know about the 1878 fire on South Campus, having read about it here, but for some reason I had imagined it happened elsewhere in the College. St Mary’s Square, which was designed by Augustus Pugin,  is actually behind St Patrick’s House as you look at it from the larger St Joseph’s Square.

 

The college chapel was not completed until 1891 so can’t be seen on the picture of the aftermath of the fire shown in the blog post; the spire wasn’t built until 1895. St Mary’s is part of the national seminary, as opposed to Maynooth University.

New House, site of the later fire in  1940 , forms the North side of the quadrangle enclosing St Joseph’s Square which is to your right as you look towards St Patrick’s House. It is home to the Law Department of Maynooth University.

MU Library Treasures

by Sarah Larkin, Archivist, St Patrick’s College Maynooth

Dublin fire brigade attending the fire at New House, 29 March 1940.

This yearSt Patrick’s College, Maynooth celebrates 225years since its foundation in 1795. This blog post is the second in a series highlighting some of the interesting and lesser known events and facts of the College’s history. This postlooks attwo occasions when fire broke out in the College, and how tragedy was avoided.

On 1 November 1878, at 8am in the morning, fire broke out in St Mary’s inMaynooth College. The College fire engine proved to be inadequate. An attempt to summon help from the Dublin fire brigade failed, as the local telegraph failed to work and a message had to be sent from Celbridge. A special train was immediately laid on in Dublin to bring the fire engine to Maynooth. It was thendrawn to the College…

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Three Funerals and a Cartoon

Posted in Biographical, Football, Maynooth with tags , , , on July 21, 2020 by telescoper

I was later than usual coming to the office today as I had to arrange some things to do with the house I’m buying in Maynooth. It was mid morning when I walked up towards campus. I was a little bit confused to see a large crowd of people walking along Main Street, but when I got closer I realized they were all walking behind a hearse on their way to a funeral service at St Mary’s Church. I followed the procession all the way along Main Street and up Mill Street where another large group of people was waiting outside the Church. I don’t know who had passed away but judging by the attendance they must have been popular in the community.

This is the first time I’d seen such a procession here in Ireland, though I was of course already aware that the Irish treat funerals very differently from the English. Coincidentally, though, today saw the funeral of Jack Charlton which began with a procession through the streets of Ashington, the cortege led by piper playing the Northumbrian pipes. Many hundreds turned up to show their respects.

Because of Covid-19 restrictions, only about 20 people could attend the funeral service, which was held at the West Road Crematorium in Newcastle upon Tyne. As it happens, that was where the funeral of my Mam took place about 9 months ago. There were no Covid-19 restrictions then, which makes it seem like a different age altogether.

Anyway, going back to Jack Charlton, I saw last week marvellous comic book tribute to him called The Life and Times of Jack Charlton by David Squires in the Guardian. The poignant last panel is beautifully done.