April 27, 2005

Today's essay: discuss the meaning of the word "no".

*knock* *knock*
Despite having an imminent lecture to prepare for, I answered the door because I thought it might have been someone who was going to bring something I needed for the lecture and I thought there might be some kind of last-minute communication needed. But no, it's a student, specifically it's Persistent Diligent Student (PDS), who wants to see me NOW. Never mind that I've already answered email from PDS earlier that day asking for when I'd be free for an appointment, no that's not enough, my door has to be knocked on instead of checking whether there are any replies to the email.

I'm sorry, I'm not available right now.
I have some questions -
I have already answered your email telling you when I would be available.
I am not available right now.
- but I have some -
I SAID, I'm not available right now.
I have a lecture right away, I've got to get changed, I do NOT have time to see you right now.
Just five minutes?
I said NO!

I give the lecture. I return to my office in order to prepare for another lecture that will follow shortly. Happy Smiley Student is there lurking outside my door:

Ah! Lossy! The very person. You'll help me, won't you?
I'm sorry, I'm not available right now.
Can you just -
No, I'm sorry, I can't right now. I'm busy.
look at
No No No.
No No No No NO!

(auricular steam, you understand)

April 26, 2005

Student foibles

In a few weeks, some of our students will undergo the final exams of their degree. Judging from these observations, maybe some of them are just a teensy bit stressed out?

  • One student made an appointment for 12.30pm, proceeded to knock on my door at 12.15pm, and on getting no reply at 12.15pm, did not try again at 12.30pm (when I was in, as arranged), but sent me an email at 12.45pm, and later tried knocking again at 1pm. What the...?

  • Another student, whom I was supervising for his final year project, got into a mad panic before his project report was due. He started giving me more and more progress reports which increased in frequency until I got six of them in one day, each report delivered in person to my office. And his visits weren't of the sort where he needed any kind of problem solving or advice, they didn't need any supervisor input, they were simply reporting on where he'd got to in his project work. It was a good job he didn't return for a seventh visit - my fuse had fully shortened to zero length and I don't think he'd have enjoyed being chased down the corridor by a roaring supervisor wielding a rolled-up newspaper. Though the rest of the department might have quite enjoyed it...

  • And then there was the student who handed in their final year project, which had been beautifully bound.
    And no, he didn't notice before handing it in.

April 19, 2005

A Word about assignment submissions

Most students carefully submitted their program code for a recent assignment by carefully following the instructions I gave them: they renamed their (plain text) program files using their surnames + student identities before submitting them. The idea of this is so that I don't end up with a huge folder containing files all labelled with a variation of "Assignment 2".

One student, however, had to be different. Rather than submit the file in its natural plain text beauty that compilers find so easy to read, he/she (*) had carefully converted it to the Microsoft Word document format!

Did this student think he/she was being helpful? That it was somehow easier for me to print out this way? Since said student was also obliged to submit a paper copy, this presumably wasn't the intention.

Did it occur to the student that I might want to compile the code? And thus, actually run the program? Actually, I don't, I want to submit it to some plagiarism detection software, but from the students' point of view, running the program would be a perfectly reasonable thing that a marker might want to do with the assignment code...

One would think that if the student had actually written the code him/herself and compiled & run it on a computer to test it (as opposed to, say, trying a spot of plagiarism), then it would be obvious to the student that it is impossible for the compiler to take Word documents as input.

The mind boggles. What was wrong with the lazy option of sending the code as plain text?!

(*) Yes, I don't know whether this student is a man or a woman. Considering the class size is small and I know the names of those who attend, this isn't a good sign.

April 15, 2005

How to tell if a lecturer is seriously stressed from overwork

Some recognition tips for you. The seriously stressed academic:

  • ...may be found hurrying past any students lurking in the university corridors, lest they try and develop the theme of "Hello" into a fully-fledged query.

  • ...finds lectures and seminars are a delightful relaxing time of the day, a welcome break from the continuous downpour of small urgent administrative tasks.

  • ...is less annoyed by the refusal of the computer to start up Powerpoint (after all, what's one more thing going wrong amongst so many?)

  • ...is majorly annoyed, way out of all proportion, by the nearby car park filling up by 9:01am, necessitating a WHOLE TWO MINUTES EXTRA to walk from the further away car park.

  • ...considers root canal treatment at the dentist to be a relatively pleasant way to spend an hour at the height of exam marking season.

  • ...receives some emails from his or her spouse, in an attempt on the spouse's part to get some kind of contact,... any kind.

  • ...will froth and explode into orbit at the suggestion that university lecturers don't work very hard really, because they have really long "holidays" in between terms.

April 14, 2005

Administrators vs Academics (Round 1)

I heard a good one today, from a lecturer friend at another university.

Apparently the examinations office was getting officious, as officers are wont to do, imposing the same fixed length of time for every single undergraduate exam.

Several of the academics didn't like this. It wasn't that they minded there being an upper limit on how long an exam could be, after all students might get two exams in a day, and this can be very tiring, particularly for some students with specific disabilities that need to be addressed when providing appropriate exam conditions (SENDA obligations and all that).

No, the problem was that some of the academics wanted to have shorter exams (the exams were used in conjunction with other forms of assessment, so it was suitable that they were shorter).
"Can't." said the examinations office.
"Please?" said the academics.
"No." said the examinations office.

Now the academics didn't want to mark more questions than they had to, nor did they want to impose more examination time than was necessary on the students, when a shorter time was perfectly appropriate and sensible. So, the academics simply set their exams as they would want them, that is, with questions taking time one hour less than the standard exam duration imposed by the examinations office, but the exam was still invigilated for the standard imposed duration.

The result? Lots of students leaving the exam early. The examinations office was collectively furious! "Very disruptive, all these students leaving early!!", they said.

Well, *duh*.

April 13, 2005

De-stressing an Academic

Lossy's top ten ways for the modern academic to de-stress:

10. Go to bed early and forget about it all for a few hours.

9. Get a foot massage (requires a willing volunteer, but hopefully this shouldn't be too difficult to request from the nearest spouse if you're seen to be stressed and you offer to wash your feet beforehand).

8. Get some nookie, preferably using a selfish position where your spouse has to do all the work :-)

7. Get far far away from everywhere, and wear yourself out walking. (Also see 9.)

6. Move some really heavy things. Not heavy enough to do yourself an injury, you understand, but heavy enough to make you concentrate on what you're lifting.

5. Destroy some vegetation that has no business remaining intact. This is especially fun if it involves:

  • Uprooting trees or shrubs armed only with a spade and your bare hands
  • Chainsaw and a very large tree
  • Big bowsaw with really REALLY big teeth, and a trunk to take out your frustration on
  • Industrial-sized shredder (the noisier and messier the better)

4. Make a huge mess and laugh yourself silly at all the mess you've caused (works better if it doesn't take too long to clear up).

3. Make a LOT of noise. (Also see 6.) This works even better if it's not likely to land you with a ASBO.

2. Smack the living daylights out of a small rubber object (preferably with minimal risk of it doing any harm to anyone else). Works even better if you win the game.

1. Float on your back in warm Meditarranean waters off a quiet beach.

I got to do four of those over and around Easter. Such a pity the effect lasts such a short time once back in the office...

April 12, 2005

Mine's bigger than yours, and I wish it wasn't

I got back from my Easter holiday to find 452 emails sitting in my inbox awaiting my attention.

And no, they were not mostly spam, only about 60 were spam. And they weren't just for information, either, most of them required some kind of a response, preferably speedy.