07 December, 2009

The End of Term

Phew. That was a heavy term. Here in Blighty, we'd say "Gorblimey".

I feel exactly like this:

"Hobbes at the end of term"

I hope that your autumn has been a little easier on the nerves.

Term is very short here - just eight weeks.  The university is a catalyst; the reaction is performed quickly, and at high temperature.  It is a high-energy, exothermic process, and, while it's pleasant to bathe in the heat for a while, it can't be endured for too long.

We have a strange system here.  The senior academics are responsible for lecturing in the central departments, where lecturing is famously described as being "the transferral of course material from the notes of the lecturer to the notes of the student without passing through the brain of either".  It is the task of the junior academics (such as your exhausted correspondent) to provide actual teaching to the students, in the colleges of the university.  As one of my students recently put it, "I don't know why I attend lectures - I just sit there, look vacant, and then leave."

Dragging a small cohort of students up to a standard where they can pass (and, less commonly, excel in) final examinations is quite a heavy task.  My tactic is to be overwhelming enthusiastic, which seems to work, but gets tiring after three hours.  "O, heavy deed!" a Hamlet-loving colleague recently sighed as he slumped into his common-room chair at the end of the day.  He looked much like the above bloodhound, too, I was pleased to observe.

Despite the teaching, I amuse my students my revealing that teaching is supposed to form 20% of our workload, with the remaining 80% being research.

This hasn't left much time for drinking tea!  Add to that the fact that our house is, literally, an unheated building site, that the conservatory roof decided to collapse under the record-breaking rainfall of last month, and that the greenhouse and garden sheds were recently burgled, and you can understand the picture of the bloodhound.

And my DPhil viva (final examination / inquisition) takes place on Friday.

Thanks for the continued patience of those to whom I owe samples, and thanks also for the care packages that have been landing throughout the term - I look forward to trying them when I can unpack my tea-table, and enjoy tea again.

Half-Dipper updates will remain quiet / non-existent until mid-January, as my dear wife and I are flying to Beijing for a Christmas month with her family.

Be good, for goodness' sake!

Ding-dong merrily on high


sp1key said...

Christmas in Beijing? That's something new hahaa do have a safe and enjoyable trip! =)

Hobbes said...

Thanks, Kenny - I'm not expecting "Christmas", but am planning to (i) eat lots, and (ii) make a sound like a deflating tyre as I relax throughout the vacation.




Unknown said...

Sadly I fear its not going to be much different over here in the states, I am in the middle of applying to Doctorate programs, of which I can only hope that tea will sustain me through the rough times.

Hobbes said...

Dear Adam,

You know, I think it is actually quite different in the US, from my very limited understanding. Here, we just have 3-4 years of intensive research, with typically no requirement for (and, usually, very little involvement in) teaching. I understand that doctoral programmes in the US include class attendance, the taking of graduate courses, and, sometimes, work as a Teaching Assistant? (I suspect that MarshalN and Corax would be the best people to ask!)

A "TA" is a bit different to college lecturing here - probably in a good way!

I wouldn't wish this system on anyone :)

Good luck in your applications, and toodlepip,


P.s. What course would you like to study? (The correct answer is, of course, "engineering"!)

Scotto said...

I can affirm your assumptions about the US graduate system in engineering. There is a required course workload, a research/dissertation requirement, and often teaching as well depending on the particular grant you are receiving. It was five years of absolute hell for me at a fine Ivy League institution. I feel your pain!

Good luck and get some rest over the holiday.


Hobbes said...

See? All the cool people studied engineering.

(Little-known fact: Scotto is the doppelganger of a young Alec Guiness.)

Thanks for the words of encouragement! I'm hopeful!

Best wishes for the Yuletide season,


tieguanyin said...

Hello Hobbes,

Your students should feel blessed to have a diligent and witty (and sometimes purveyor of tea to ease the tension) young academic like yourself teaching them.

American graduate school PhD tracks are brutal. My wife almost went that route. In a sense I am glad she opted for something else rather than sanctioned educational slavery.

I know you have been busy. Did you have to catch this year's distinguished speaker at the Oxford Union =D ?

Enjoy your holidays in Beijing. Given your recent state of affairs, they are well deserved (despite all this engineering chest thumping going on ;)! + 1 for the folks in my field - Public Administration - who fund the basic research going on at universities =P).

By chance will you be dropping by Maliando. Ah I forgot... this trip is for relaxing (not haggling with stern tea vendors).

Auf wiedersehen!


corax said...

hobbes -- you are spot-on about US graduate programs. it is getting quite out of control -- most institutions have had to impose 'time-to-degree' stipulations, as otherwise students tend to get mired in graduate school for up to ten years, sometimes even more. i regularly tell my graduate students: 'we don't want it perfect. we want it tuesday.' [of course they may then feel the burden to produce it perfectly *and* by tuesday, which is the more painful.]

anyway. you have come a long road yourself! 'knock em dead' as they say. i know you will do splendidly. what time on friday is the viva?

Jack M said...

Dear Hobbes,

May you have a well earned relaxing Christmas break, with plenty of good food and most importantly, good tea!

As someone about to begin a history doctorate in January, I will certainly be taking it fairly easy for the next few weeks!

Seasons greetings!

Jack :)

Hobbes said...

Dear TGY,

I didn't attend that lecture - but something tells me that I should have! It's nice to see that they're keeping up the level of discourse... ;)

I hope to visit Maliandao, but it's not a great place (for me) to buy tea, given my intolerance for bartering. That said, MarshalN's friend, Xiaomei, runs a great shop that sold me some very fine cakes, and I hope to return.

Dear Corax,

A post-prandial session - fingers are crossed. The pub (Turf Tavern) is booked for 5 p.m. :)

Dear Jack,

Thanks very much for the kind wishes - I hope that you have a good time, too. Get those batteries fully charged in readiness for the beginning of your impending sentence!

Toodlepip all,


corax said...

the turf! the oldest pub in oxford! [established a few months prior, i'm told, to the bear]

friday post prandium. so i will be thinking of you early friday morning. sending good thoughts of calm and clarity and resourcefulness. all of which you already have within you!

let us know how it goes.

Hobbes said...

Dear Corax,

I'm very impressed that you're familiar with our local pubs!

Thanks again for the kind wishes - I'm secretly rather looking forward to it.

Today, I bought a shirt from my tailor, the eternally-charming Ede & Ravenscroft:

"I'd like a white shirt please, 15-inch collar."

"Certainly sir." He rummages in a drawer. "What's the occassion?"


"Ah, then I'd better make it a lucky one then!"

...you can't ask for more than that. :)



janneman said...

Grin: dragging students forward by enthusiasm can be exhausting. You could try kicking them forward, but from what I learned over the years: kicking is more exhausting and less fun.

Good luck, Janneman

speakfreely said...

My condolences on the burglaries, and the loss of your conservatory roof.

Glad you'll have a chance to decompress!

Hobbes said...

Thanks, Carla and Janneman :)

Unknown said...


Sorry not quite engineering for me. I prefer Maths. I'm still young in graduate studies, but I'm thinking about doing work in Graph Theory. I don't know what type of Engineering you do, but Graph theory is often used in Computer Networks and other Computer Science and Computer Engineering fields.

Hobbes said...

Dear Adam,

Graph theory is rather useful for us - these days, it is finding application in Probabilistic Graphical Models, which (as I'm sure you know) is a useful framework in which to perform Bayesian statistical analyses.

At the doctoral level, there's lots of overlap between disciplines - so much so that it becomes almost irrelevant to partition oneself into engineer, computer scientist, statistician, or applied mathematician. I have colleagues in each of those departments at my university, for example, who do very similar work to me, and who attend the same conferences.

You don't often hear of people picking graph theory as a unique subject of study, however, so I look forward to reading more about your progress - and of course wish you all the best. :)