On pre-term buzzes and cursed projects

The University is just entering my favourite part of the academic year - the start! In about 3 weeks, the place will be alive with students again and I'm really looking forward to it. This is undoubtedly the busiest part of the year for most academics - prior to term starting, we have to get through the marking of replacement examinations (these are when students have Exceptional Circumstances and can't sit their summer examinations and, if the Exam Board agrees, they can try it again as a first attempt in late August), which have a remarkably fast turn-around; sorting out Module Handbooks and Programme Handbooks, lecture content, tutorial content and so on - all ready for when term starts - new signage (we're a new School after all!)...and we're still on the tail end of Clearing and accepting the odd person here and there at the moment.  A lot of academics are still cramming in a last-minute holiday before term starts but the bulk of my colleagues leave shortly for the annual field-trip to the Azores for our second year undergraduates. At present, I'm physically incapable of managing it and so I'm not involved but I would love to be and I hope in future we may be able to find a work-around that will allow me to be more actively involved - I'm speaking to my Access To Work Advisor on Monday to see what options we have - they've been pretty amazing in the last 18 months with helping me backstage to enable me to do the same as everyone else, more or less. They'll all be back from the Azores just in time for my favourite week of all - Induction Week.

Plymouth Sound. This is the view we're treated to during Graduation each September! Copyright © 2007 Kate Jewell (CC-BY-SA 2.0).

Plymouth Sound. This is the view we're treated to during Graduation each September! Copyright © 2007 Kate Jewell (CC-BY-SA 2.0).

We have one week for our new Undergraduates to get settled, which begins on the Monday with us spending the day with our old  Undergraduates! We have a day of the Graduation Ceremony - the one day of the year you'll see academics in suits. We're very, very fortunate here in that ours has the spectacular backdrop of the Plymouth Sound as it's all done in an amazing venue on the Hoe. It's always nice to get this final goodbye to our graduands as they become graduates and to see how proud their families and friends are. We sit of course on the stage and are watching the audiences as much as they are watching us. Whilst it's a long ceremony, every smile and clap from us is as genuine as those from families and friends - we're enormously proud of our students regardless of their degree result - if they've worked hard then that's enough for us. You get out of university what you put into it and the same goes for the staff - the more you give, the more rewarding the job is, in my opinion.

After that, the next morning we meet our new students for the first time - this is the point when our Tutees are assigned to us and we're then their first port-of-call for the three or four years - it's a very valuable relationship and I wish more students understand that we are almost always  on their side and want what's best for them, but, like parents, they may not always agree with us at the time, but might thank us later, I find! Sometimes years and years later. The rest of induction week is a range of activities arranged to teach basic lab methods and a bit of introductory bonding and then we take them all over to Mount Edgcumbe in Cornwall to do some observations of wildlife and some basic ecology experiments to help ease them into university-level science. After that, it's wall-to-wall teaching-and-research for us until next June, really.

On a final note, I think MAsC is cursed. Every postdoc on the project has managed to get a permanent or long-term post within days  of joining my team! One's gone to Australia, one's going to the USA and the other's off to Bournemouth very soon. Thankfully, I've someone waiting in the wings and as MAsC hasn't started yet, it's not a big deal. But, if you're a postdoc and want a permanent post in an exotic location, simply join the MAsC team and you'll get one the next day, it seems!