Archive for Maynooth

Examining Again

Posted in Biographical, Education, Maynooth with tags , , on August 5, 2022 by telescoper

ChorizoGate distracted me from mentioning on here that the Repeat Examination period started on Wednesday. I usually write a post at the start of an Exam period to wish all the students good luck, but this time the first examination for which I am responsible took place yesterday morning, and I’ve already marked the scripts so in that case the die is already cast. I send my best wishes to all other students taking repeat examinations, though, including the first-years taking my paper later on this afternoon.

Today’s examination doesn’t finish until 5.30pm so I’ll have to collect the scripts on my way home to mark them over the weekend. I have another three examinations on my own modules next Wednesday but because of ongoing staffing issues I am also responsible for marking several examinations for modules I didn’t teach. I’ve got a busy week ahead so I want to finish marking today’s paper before it starts,

I also thought it was worth mentioning for any university teachers out there reading this that although they are held at roughly the same time of year in the two countries there’s a difference in the way resits are handled in the institutions I’ve worked at in the United Kingdom and the way repeats work here in Maynooth which is implied by the slightly different name.

In UK institutions with which I am familiar students generally take resits when, because they have failed one or more examinations during the year,  they have not accumulated sufficient credits to proceed to the next year of their course. Passing the resit allows them to retrieve lost credit, but their mark is generally capped at a bare pass (usually 40%). That means the student gets the credit they need for their degree but their average (which determines whether they get 1st, 2nd or 3rd class Honours) is negatively affected.

This is the case unless a student has extenuating circumstances affecting the earlier examination, such as bad health or family emergency, in which case they take the resit as a `sit’, i.e. for the first time with an uncapped mark.

Here in Maynooth, repeat examinations are generally taken for the same reasons as in the UK but the mark obtained is not capped. When I’ve told former UK colleagues that our repeat examinations are not capped they generally  don’t  like the idea because they feel that it might lead to many students playing games, i.e. deliberately not taking exams in May with the intention of spreading some of their examination load into August. There’s not much sign of students actually doing that in my Department, to be honest, for the reason that the results from the repeat examination period are not confirmed until early September so that students that deploy this strategy do not know whether they are going to be able to start their course again until a couple of weeks before term. That could cause lots of problems securing accommodation, etc, so it doesn’t seem to me to be a good strategy.

I’d welcome comments for or against whether resits/repeats should be capped/uncapped and on what practice is adopted in your institution(s).


Posted in Biographical, Maynooth with tags , on July 18, 2022 by telescoper

The extremely hot weather currently engulfing much of Europe has reached Maynooth, although the temperature here is around 30°C, which is warm by the standards of Ireland but not as extreme as the >40ºC predicted for the UK today and on the continent. Maynooth is in the part of Ireland where temperatures are predicted to be highest.

I’m told that a “heatwave” is defined in Ireland as four consecutive days with temperatures above 25ºC. That is relatively cool by some standards but not for this temperate island. Still, it looks like it will break by Wednesday.

I don’t function very well in hot weather so I’m staying indoors where it is relatively cool (although we have no air conditioning). The highest temperature I’ve ever been in was 48ºC in Aswan, Southern Egypt, where I was on holiday in the 90s. That was different though as it is basically a desert climate and was a very dry heat. I found as long as I drank plenty of water I felt OK. A few summers later when I spent a few days in New Orleans it was barely 30ºC but so unbearably humid that I found it impossible. Humidity in Maynooth today is about 40% so it’s not too bad.

Before coming to work this morning I put out lots of water in the garden for the birds, who need to drink as well as bathe. The local robin has been very vocal over the last few days as if to demand that I keep the water supply refreshed. I’m convinced this bird thinks it owns my garden and that I am its servant. Elsewhere in the garden I moved my dwarf fig to a shadier spot, it being rather frazzled.

I checked on Maynooth University Library Cat’s bowl on my way too, though he himself was nowhere to be seen, no doubt sheltering in a cool spot somewhere.

The thermoelectric wine cooler in my kitchen has been struggling noisily to maintain cellar temperature (12-14 ºC) . It’s quite old so this heatwave might well finish it off. Let’s hope the same isn’t true for too many humans…

Last Open Day

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , , on June 25, 2022 by telescoper
Ready to go

So here I am, then, back at home. I’m not at Dublin Pride because I had to attend an Open Day at Maynooth University. It was a lot quieter than the last one I did, in April, but a reasonable number attended. The weather forecast was rather dire but it turned out to be not bad at all, if a bit breezy. Hopefully that means there was good weather for Pride too.

I’m told there were 1000 registrations as opposed to the 5000 a couple of months ago. This one is usually a bit quieter because students have basically finished making their choices by now. A show of hands in the audience in my talk suggested the vast majority were actually 5th year students, so not planning to go to University this September.

Anyway, that completes the cycle of open days for this academic year. Since I’m stepping down as Head of Department when my term ends at the end of August, this will be the last of these I shall be responsible for. I hope.

Big thanks to Dale who helped out a lot today, setting up and dismantling the stand, and to him and the others who have helped over the year.

Timeline for Admissions

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , , , on June 20, 2022 by telescoper

As the current academic year comes to a close – this week sees the final Exam Board at Maynooth University – thoughts turn with some apprehension to the start of the next.

The Leaving Certificate Examinations are taking place now and will finish on 28th June, more-or-less in line with pre-pandemic times, but the results will come out later. Normally these would be released in mid-August, so the university admissions process run by CAO would start then, giving a whole month before the start of teaching term at third-level institutions.

Last year, however, the results were not released until 3rd September 2021, which made it impossible for new students to start their courses at the scheduled time. At Maynooth, for example, first-years started a week later than returning students and missed the usual orientation week. More importantly for the students, there was a last-minute scramble for accommodation that made it impossible for many students to live anywhere near campus.

Until recently I was assuming that this year would be at least as bad as last. Although the examinations have returned to the traditional format this year, the Leaving Certificate results will be delayed again, for two (connected) reasons. One is that the Minister for Education decided that this year’s results would not be lower than last year so some scaling may be necessary and the other is that it is anticipated that more students will make use of the later alternative sittings provided for those unable to take the regular sitting owing to, e.g. ill health. These are connected because if a large number of students avail of the second setting then the scaling business will have to wait until their marks have been processed.

We know that the results will be late, but we don’t know how late they will be which is a major headache. Autumn Term in Maynooth is scheduled to start on 19th September, for returning students, but at the moment we don’t know when first years will start.

Today however there is an indication that results will probably be released in ‘late August’. If that turns out to be the case then the start of next academic year will probably turn out to be no less chaotic than this year was from at least from the point of view of teaching. I’d be relieved at any outcome that is not worse than last year. It’s even possible that teaching in Maynooth can start on 19th September for all students, though I don’t think I would bet on it. Things will be even be trickier at other institutions whose teaching term starts earlier in September.

That still leaves the problem of student accommodation, though. Here I don’t think the timeline for admissions will help much in averting an entirely predictable crisis. Once we know the dates we will make the best plans we can for teaching, but for accommodation there doesn’t seem to be any plan at all.

Post Easter Post

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth with tags , , on April 25, 2022 by telescoper

So here I am, then, back in the office after the Easter break for the remaining two weeks of Semester Two. I was supposed to be on leave last week but there’s so much to do that I ended up working most days apart from the Easter weekend itself, but at least I do so from the comfort of my own home and, occasionally, garden.

I had hoped to be able to spend the latter part of this week at the annual Euclid Consortium meeting which is being held this year in Oslo. Unfortunately because this year it falls within teaching term I’ve just got too much to do so I can’t go. I hope my colleagues and friends in Euclid have an enjoyable and successful time in Oslo. I hope to make it next year, wherever it is held.

Next Monday is the May Day Holiday so we have only 9 days of teaching left before the study break and examinations. Although next weekend is a Bank Holiday weekend, the powers that be in Maynooth have decreed that Saturday will be an Open Day:

It remains to be seen how many prospective students and their families will choose to interrupt their long weekend to visit campus on Saturday April 30th but I’ll be there. I know no bounds, you see…

The most exciting thing that happened last week was that a bloke from the Gas Board came to install a new gas meter. My colleagues were skeptical that he would actually turn up at the appointed time but he did. He completed the job in about half an hour, including time for a short lecture on why I should have a carbon monoxide meter put in my kitchen. The gas meter is actually on the front of the house and the gas man was kept under close surveillance as he worked by the local robin who has clearly decided that both front and back gardens are its own private property.

Last week the same robin made further visits to the inside of my house, even tapping on the window with its beak to be let in. I am increasingly concerned that it will decide that the inside of the house also belongs to it and I’ll end up being forcibly evicted.

It is an annual tradition at Eastertide to worry about whether Newcastle United will be relegated from the Premiership but after a string of good results they look reasonably safe. The players will be relieved to have avoided a public flogging by the clubs new owners, the Saudi Royal Family.

A Question of the Past

Posted in Biographical, Cute Problems, Education, Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on April 20, 2022 by telescoper

I was tidying up some old files earlier today and came across some old examination papers, including those I took for my final examinations in Part II of the Natural Sciences Tripos in 1985. There were six of these, in the space of three consecutive days…

I picked one of the questions to share here because it covers similar ground to my current (!) Advanced Electromagnetism module for final-year students in Maynooth. Sorry it’s a bit grubby!

It’s been a long time since I took my finals and I’d largely forgotten what the format was. The question above was taken from Paper II which consisted of nine questions altogether in three Sections, A (Solid State Physics), B (Statistical Physics) and C (Electromagnetism, from which Q9 above was taken; I think the course was actually called Electrodynamics & Relativity). The examination was 3 hours in duration and students were asked to answer four questions, including one from each Section. That means each question would be expected to take about 45 minutes.

Looking at the paper in general and the above question in particular, a number of things sprang to mind about differences between then in Cambridge and now in Maynooth:

  1. Our theoretical physics papers in Maynooth are 2 hours in duration in which time students are to answer four questions, so that the questions are a bit shorter – 30 minutes each rather than 45.
  2. Our papers are also on a single subject rather than a composite of several; we typically don’t offer the students choice; my Advanced Electromagnetism paper has four questions and students have to answer all four for full marks.
  3. The questions on the old Tripos papers are less structured. There is no indication of the marks allocated to each part of the question in the question above.
  4. As far as I can recall there was no formula booklet back in 1985, though there was a sheet of physical constants. My Advanced Electromagnetism examination this year comes with a couple of pages of useful formulae from vector calculus and key equations in EM theory. One might argue that the old Cambridge papers relied rather more on memory (especially when you take into account that everything was in the space of three days).
  5. Back to Question 9, it is true that this along with the other Electromagnetism questions is at a similar level to what I have been teaching this Semester. If I recall correctly the relevant course in Cambridge was of 24 lectures, the same length as the course I’m teaching this year.
  6. Students taking my course should know how to do both parts of Question 9 without too much difficulty.

On the final point, the easiest way to tackle this sort of problem is to do what the question says: determine the electric and magnetic potentials, derive the electric and magnetic fields from them, then work out the Poynting vector quantifying the energy flux. The part of this that survives in the far-field limit gives you the radiated power then – Bob’s your Uncle – the answer is basically the Larmor Formula which is ubiquitous in problems of this type. The case of an oscillating dipole is a standard derivation but this method works for any time-varying source, as long as you remember to include the retarded potentials if it’s not periodic.

Had I been writing this question for a modern exam I think I would at very least have ended the first part with “Show that the radiated power is…” and then given the formula, so that it could be used for the second part even if a student could not derive it.

A Bird in Rhetoric House

Posted in Maynooth with tags , , , on April 6, 2022 by telescoper

Following on from my post of yesterday, I just remembered that I recently saw this on Twitter:

Geo the Jackdaw

This is Geo the Jackdaw paying a visitor to the Geography Department of Maynooth University which is located in Rhetoric House. He was a regular visitor there before the Covid-19 campus closure and suddenly reappeared a few days ago after a gap of two years.

Geo is very tame, as you can see, but also full of mischief – he especially enjoys playing with pencils, knocking things over, and tearing up bits of paper.

In fact there are a great many jackdaws on campus – and lots of rooks too – but they’re mostly not as bold as Geo. Two jackdaws regularly visit my garden but they’re not at all domesticated and scarper as soon as I make an appearance, which is just as well because they’re usually engaged in some sort of vandalism.

Accommodation Not Wanted

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth with tags , , on April 6, 2022 by telescoper

A month ago I posted an item about the fact that I had offered the spare room in my house as accommodation for a refugee from the War in Ukraine. Over 20,000 refugees have now arrived in Ireland but I have just been told that the accommodation I offered is not suitable. That’s mainly because the greatest need is for homes suitable for families with children rather than single persons; I only have one room and it doesn’t have en suite facilities. Also most of the refugees are female and the assessors would probably be nervous about placing a woman in a house with a strange man like me.

I feel slightly less bad about this than I might have done before reading that only about 40-50% of the accommodation pledged to the Irish Red Cross has been assessed as suitable.

I also note that a number of host families are finding the job of providing accommodation to often traumatized people very difficult and many refugees have been returned to processing centres because the hosts are unable to cope. I might well have ended up feeling the same.

Anyway, at least I offered. I would have felt bad if I hadn’t. Now I’ll just have to try to find some other way to help…

The Vernal Equinox 2022

Posted in Maynooth with tags , , , on March 20, 2022 by telescoper

Just a quick note to say that the Vernal Equinox, or Spring Equinox, (in the Northern hemisphere) takes place this afternoon at 15.33 UTC (which is 3.33 pm local Irish Time). Many people regard this as the first day of spring. The weather in Maynooth is certainly spring-like. Of course in the Southern hemisphere this is the Autumnal Equinox.

The date of the Vernal Equinox is usually given as 21st March, but in fact it has only been on 21st March twice this century so far (2003 and 2007); it was on 20th March in 2008, has been on 20th March every spring from then until now, and will be until 2044 (when it will be on March 19th).

People sometimes ask me how one can define the `equinox’ so precisely when surely it just refers to a day on which day and night are of equal length, implying that it’s a day not a specific time?

The answer is that the equinox is defined by a specific event, the event in question being 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 until the Autumnal Equinox days in the Northern hemisphere will be longer than nights, and they’ll get longer until the Summer Solstice before beginning to shorten again.

Loughcrew (County Meath), near Newgrange, an ancient burial site and a traditional place to observe the sunrise at the Equinox

Here in Ireland we celebrated Saint Patrick’s day on March 17th, the reputed date of his death in 461 AD. Although he may have been born in Wales, nobody really knows for sure precisely where St Patrick was born, though, so it would be surprising if the when were any better known.

In any case, it wasn’t until the 17th Century that Saint Patrick’s feast day was placed on the universal liturgical calendar in the Catholic Church. In the thousand years that passed any memory of the actual date was probably lost, so the Equinox was perhaps rebranded for the purpose.

The early Christian church in Ireland incorporated many pre-Christian traditions that survived until roughly the 12th century, including the ancient festival of Ēostre (or Ostara), the goddess of spring associated with the spring equinox after whom Easter is named. During this festival, eggs were used a symbol of rebirth and the beginning of new life and a hare or rabbit was the symbol of the goddess and fertility. In turn the Celtic people of Ireland probably adapted their own beliefs to absorb much older influences dating back to the stone age. St Patrick’s Day and Easter therefore probably both have their roots in prehistoric traditions around the Spring Equinox, although the direct connection has long been lost.

Paráid Lá Fhéile Pádraig i Maigh Nuad

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth with tags , , on March 17, 2022 by telescoper

Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona daoibh go léir!

Today being 17th March it is St Patrick’s Day, and there not having been a St Patrick’s Day Parade for the last two years in Maynooth, I decided to make the most of my morning off and go watch the festivities. Here are some snaps I took on Straffan Road as the Parade made its way into town. As you can see it was a bit overcast, and it was also a bit breezy, but it wasn’t cold and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves!