The last day of term

There is always a great sense of satisfaction on the last day of the teaching semester. That great moment on a Friday afternoon when the last lecture is over, the last presentation is marked, and the term’s teaching materials can be transferred from briefcase to office shelf. I’m always tempted to jump in the car, and drive around the college carpark beeping madly. Of course there is the small matter of marking, from practicals, assignments and assessments to the end-of-semester exams, but that’s a very different activity!

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The last day of term at WIT

For me, the semesterisation of teaching is one of the best aspects of life as an academic. I suppose it’s the sense of closure, of things finished – so different from research, where one paper just leads to another in a never-ending cycle. There never seems to be a good moment for a pause in the world of research, just a ton of papers I would like to write if I had the time.

In recent years, I’ve started doing a brief tally of research outputs at the end of each semester. Today, the tally is 1 book chapter, 1 journal article, 2 conference presentations and 1 magazine article (plus 2 newspaper columns). All seems ok until I remember that most of this material was in fact written over the summer. On reflection, the semester’s ‘research’ consisted of carrying out corrections to the articles above and preparing slides for conferences.

The reason for this is quite simple – teaching. On top of my usual lecturing duties, I had to prepare and deliver a module in 4th-year particle physics this term. It was a very interesting experience and I learnt a lot, but preparing the module took up almost every spare moment of my time, nuking any chances of doing any meaningful research during the teaching term. And now I hear that I will be involved in the delivery of yet another new module next semester, oh joy.

This has long been my problem with the Institutes of Technology. With contact hours set at a minimum of 16 hours/week, there is simply far too much teaching (a situation that harks back to a time when lecturers taught to Diploma level only). While the high-ups in education in our capital city make noises about the importance of research and research-led teaching, they refuse to countenance any change in this for research-active staff in the IoTs. If anything, one has the distinct impression everyone would much rather we didn’t bother.  I don’t expect this situation to change anytime soon  – in all the talk about technological universities, I have yet to hear a single mention of new lecturer contracts.

 

3 Comments

Filed under Teaching, Third level

3 responses to “The last day of term

  1. telescoper

    Last day of term? Slackers! We’ve still got two full weeks to go!

  2. Ya, I don’t get it either, we now have 12 week-long semesters. Many lecturers here would like to see this extended by a week or two, it can be crazily busy trying to get all teaching and assignments finished in time

    • Commiserations Cormac. Especially since some of the cosmology you’re having to teach is wrong. For example, one of Stephen Hawking’s seminal papers was singularities and the geometry of spacetime. On page 76 he talked of “such a strong gravitational field that even the ‘outgoing’ light rays from it are dragged back”. It’s clear Hawking had never read Einstein’s Fundamental ideas and methods of the theory of relativity. That’s where Einstein explained that that a gravitational field is a place where “the speed of light is spatially variable”. That means light speeds up as it ascends, and in a strong gravitational field, it speeds up all the more. Hawking didn’t understand the first thing about gravity, so he didn’t understand the first thing about black holes either. He wasn’t the only one.

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