Archive for School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences

Thirty years a graduate..

Posted in Biographical, Film with tags , , , , on June 4, 2015 by telescoper

Today got off to a bad start when Radio 3 swtiched on shortly after 6am with a Concerto for Two Harpsichords. Since even one harpsichord is one more harpsichord than I can tolerate, I switched it off immediately and went back to sleep. When I finally got going I arrived at my usual bus stop (at Old Steine) to find it taped off and out of service. The wreckage of a burnt-out bus at the stop provided the obvious explanation. I therefore had to walk all the way up to St Peter’s Church to get a bus up to campus. I got here just in time to have a quick coffee and head off to an two-hour long Joint Planning Meeting with the School of Engineering and Informatics.

All things considered this wasn’t the best start to a birthday I’ve ever had, but at least I now have time for a celebratory cup of tea from my birthday mug.


Thank you to Miss Lemon for the lovely present – as regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Bonkers) will know – the Maltese Falcon is my favourite film.

Anyway, I only have a brief respite because this is a very busy part of the academic year. Next week we enter the time of the Final examination boards where we have to classify the degrees of graduating students. While I was lying in bed recovering from harpsichord-induced schock this morning I realised exactly 30 years ago I had just finished my own final examinations. In those days they were very intense, six three-hour papers in just three days for most students. I got off lightly because I did a theory project which I could substitute for one paper. It was still quite exhausting though. Can that really be thirty years ago?

I remember the grand plans I had to celebrate the end of my finals, especially since they coincided to closely with my birthday. When the time came, however, I was totally exhausted and just ended up having a few beers and crashing out. That’s probably what’s going to happen today too…

Anyway, must get on. Time to prepare for this afternoon’s meeting of the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences Executive Committee. Another two hours. What a way to spend a birthday…

Mathematical and Physical Sciences Open Day at Sussex

Posted in Biographical, Education with tags , , , , on October 4, 2014 by telescoper

It’s another open day at the University of Sussex so I’m on campus again to help out as best I can, although I have to admit that all the hard work is being done by others! It’s been extremely busy so far; in fact, I’m told that about 6000 visitors are on campus today. This a good sign for the forthcoming admissions round, probably buoyed by the improved position of the University of Sussex in the latest set of league tables and in excellent employment prospects for graduates.

Anyway the good folks of  the Department of Physics & Astronomy  and Department of Mathematics were here bright and early to get things ready:



All morning we’ve had a steady stream of visitors to the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences (which comprises both Departments mentioned above). While I’m at it let me just give a special mention to Darren Baskill’s Outreach Team (seen in the team photograph below).
outreachThey have had absolutely amazing year, running a huge range of events and activities that have reached a staggering 14,000 people of all ages (including 12,000 of school age).

Anyway, I think I’ll toddle off and see if I can sit in on one of today’s lectures. It’s about time I learned something.


UPDATE: Here is Mark Hindmarsh about to get started on his lecture.


You could have knocked me down with a feather when I saw that he had included a quote from this blog in his talk:

I’ve worked in some good physics departments in my time, but the Department of Sussex is completely unique both for the level of support it offers students and the fact that so many of the undergraduates are so highly motivated.

And, yes, I did mean every word of that.

A Clean Sweep For Team MPS

Posted in Education, Sport with tags , , on June 19, 2014 by telescoper

It is with great pleasure that I announce another outstanding result for the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS). While minor unexciting sporting contests go on elsewhere in the world, all true sports fans have had their eyes literally glued on events on Falmer campus. Sussex University’s annual Fit to Get Committed Commit to Get Fit reached its final stages yesterday with the audience literally electrified by a thrilling Rounders competition. Team MPS didn’t win that event; although playing very well they were just a bit short of clichés, especially in the final third.

I wasn’t able to attend today’s lunchtime prize-giving event owing to a prior commitment. In fact I was on a course learning how to make legally fair disciplinary decisions. Fortunately this turned out to be an unnecessary precaution, as the MPS Commit to Get Fit team won all the awards!

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Well done to Matt for winning Best Blog by an Individual and to Naomi who was presented with a Special Individual Achievement award for her dedication as Team Captain, her personal achievements and fundraising activities where she dressed up as a musketeer for the day, together with Matt, to raise money for the Rocking Horse Foundation. Together they managed to raise a whopping £210!

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Last but not least, Team MPS scooped the top award with a trophy for Most Inspiring Team.

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So once again the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences sweeps the board. Literally.


Pass List Party

Posted in Biographical, Education with tags , , on June 13, 2014 by telescoper

Well, as I mentioned yesterday the pass lists for students in the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex went up at noon. Students and staff started to gather a bit in advance and we also made a few preparations for the celebration ..

Pass list prep

When the results were wheeled out there was an immediate scrum accompanied by plentiful popping of Prosecco corks.

Pass list party

I’d just like to congratulate all our students on their success. The results were truly excellent this year. Enjoy the moment and be proud of their achievement. I suspect that many will have been enjoying the day out in the sunshine perhaps even with a small intake of alcoholic refreshment. I on the other hand have been at Senate all afternoon. But I’m not bitter…

One Year in Sussex

Posted in Biographical, Brighton with tags , on February 1, 2014 by telescoper

Well, it’s the First of February which means it’s a year to the day since I started my current job as Head of the School of Mathematical Sciences at the University of Sussex, or MPS for short.

It’s been an eventful year, and not really like I expected. What I mean is that I knew it would be hard work, but the hardest bits were not the things I’d imagined. The first half of the year was primarily involved with appointing new staff to the School. All the interviews and other activities associated with that took up a huge amount of time but I think it all went well in the end. The number of full-time staff in MPS has increased by more than 50% over this time; from 15 to 23 in Mathematics (including 3 new Professors) and from 23 to 38 in Physics & Astronomy. The primary motivation for this is growth in student numbers: the number of undergraduates in Physics & Astronomy has doubled in the last three years or so, and this year we had our biggest ever intake of over 140 students.

All that wasn’t my doing, of course. The expansion of staff numbers was planned before I arrived, and the increase in student numbers is down to hard work by the admissions team.

I spent the latter part of last year involved with planning further expansion of our research activity as the contribution of MPS to the University’s Strategic Plan and am looking forward to turning that into reality over the next year or so.

I’ve tried to ensure that MPS is a friendly and open place for all staff and students, where everyone has a say and everyone feels valued. It’s not for me to say how well I’ve succeeded in that, but I’ll carry on trying.

I should mention some of the frustrations. One is that I became an academic in the first place because I enjoy both teaching and research. When I became Head of School here I found I had so many administrative duties that I had very little time for either of those activities. I got especially depressed about not being involved in teaching because I didn’t see how I could properly understand how things work in MPS without working at the coalface.

Against the advice of several colleagues I decided to teach a full module this year on Theoretical Physics to a class of about 50 students. It’s been a struggle to find the time to prepare everything, as I’m doing this for the first time, but I’ll persevere. Hopefully the students will bear with me while I get my act together. I’m very impressed with their engagement with the material so far, but then they have chosen the Theoretical Physics option so are obviously the intellectual elite of MPS; obviously, that’s my theorist’s bias speaking!

Oh, and in my spare time I grew a beard:


I suppose that will have to do. I’ll be heading up to campus shortly to spend Saturday afternoon in the office. A Head of School’s work is never done..

A picture from the past!

Posted in Biographical with tags , on December 12, 2013 by telescoper

Well, here’s a blast from the past! This is the School Photograph for the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex, vintage 1989. The School was called MAPS in those days; over the years we’ve lost an A and are now called MPS. Anyway, see if you can spot yours truly in this picture; you can click on the picture to make it larger. I did my PhD (actually DPhil) there from 1985-88 and then stayed on for a two-year postdoctoral position until 1990; so if you can spot me that’s what I looked like as a PDRA!


The Grand MPS School Away(half)day

Posted in Education with tags , , , on October 30, 2013 by telescoper

Very late posting a blog today because I’ve been busy all day, preparing for and then hosting an “Awayday” in the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS) at the University of Sussex. Actually, it was only half a day, and it didn’t really going that far away either, but I hope we won’t be prosecuted under the Trades Description Act..

This event is something I started thinking about just as soon as I arrived in Sussex in February this year, and we’ve been preparing for it actively for quite a long time. The background to it is that the School has expanded dramatically over the last few years, especially in the Department of Physics & Astronomy. The Department of Mathematics has grown too, but at a more modest rate. Here, for example, is the annual intake of undergraduate students for our two departments over the last few years:


To cope with this growth in student numbers our complement of academic staff has increased by about 50%, from around 40 just a year ago to a present number of 60. We have also increased our research income considerably over the same period. I hasten to add that none of this is my doing – it’s all down to the hard work of staff who were doing their stuff brilliantly long before I arrived.

Of course it’s great to be Head of a School that is doing so well, but I am very conscious that we need to ensure we continue to provide a good experience for students during this period of growth and also to make sure that has we get bigger, all staff and students feel that they still have a voice in how the School is run. To that end we set up an event in which most members of the staff were invited – academics, administrative and technical support included – as well as our student reps. Kelly McBride, President of the Students Union, also came along. In all, over eighty people attended; there would have been more had we not scheduled it during the local schools’ half-term, which was the only available slot.

The event, held in the spacious Conference Centre in Bramber House, was mainly focussed on teaching and a large part of it involved staff forming groups to discuss various themes: lectures, small group teaching, assessment, feedback, and so on. Before that there were presentations from myself (giving some background, including information about the School’s budget and how our finances work as well as how we measure up in the dreaded League Tables), from our School Administrator talking about issues relating to our admirable office staff, and our Technical Services Supervisor giving a perspective on the challenges facing our technical support staff. Each group comprised a cross-section of the School and each was given a theme to discuss. We then reconvened en masse to share the results of each discussion.

I was a bit nervous beforehand as to how it would all work, especially as there has never been an event of this sort in MPS. I was more nervous before this event than I have been about anything for ages, actually. I wondered how engaged staff would feel and whether the event would turn out to be as inclusive as I’d intended, i.e. whether everyone would feel able to contribute on equal terms. In the end I think it worked out pretty well. In fact we ran over by about an hour, primarily because the discussion was so extensive.

It’s not for me to say whether the day was a success or not, but although there were some things that didn’t work so well overall I was quite satisfied. In particular I was impressed with the number of good practical suggestions that came forward in the final session. We’re going to be working hard to synthesize these comments into a form we can work into our plans for the future.

Most of the comments I heard from people who participated in this event after it finished were positive too. If anyone present happens to read this blog I’d be interested to hear their views through the comments.

Without anticpating the feedback too much, I’m pretty sure that, with a few tweaks (mainly to focus things a bit better with fewer “themes” for discussion), this will become a regular fixture in the MPS calendar. As we get used to such events we’ll probably get even more out of them. I also hope that other Schools of the University of Sussex might find this event a useful model for similar activities they could hold themselves.

I’d like to end with a public “thank you” to everyone who took part and made it so enjoyable and stimulating, to Oonagh and Steve for their input, to Catering and Conference Services for all their help (and yummy food) and above all to the inestimable Miss Lemon for the huge amount of work she put in to the preparations (especially the monopoly theme for the groups, which was inspired..).

Now, however, I am completely knackered and will be going home to have a glass bottle of wine to recover. Busy day tomorrow too. Toodle-pip!