June 17, 2005

The Joys of Administrative Roles

Once upon a time, a few months ago, I got landed with an administrative role. This is not news, all academics get landed with significant administrative roles (the sort of administrative role that needs academic input, and thus has to be done by an academic) sooner or later. Dodging with creative excuses will only get you so far in avoiding such jobs, and the best you can hope for is to dodge some of the more vile admin jobs, and get landed with something that is a little more tolerable. Not that I'm any good at thinking of creative excuses, the best I can manage is "Ah but I'd be really really bad at it!".

The major admin role I managed to acquire (after dodging the first two that came sniffing around) never looked like the rosiest job around, but I wasn't really prepared for the aspect of the job that is this: lots of responsibility but insufficient resources and power to meet that responsibility. The result? Lots of cockups that aren't my fault (honest).

A few weeks ago: collective cockups served on a platter by several other members of the department, despite maximal organisational efforts on my behalf to prevent such things. Result? The deputy dean of the faculty rings me up to give me a bollocking, I shout back (not a smart move), and then I disconnect my phone for the next 24 hours whilst I calm down. Meanwhile, I can't in turn give relevant members of the department a bollocking because they are my colleagues, I have to work with them, and fuming overly much in their direction is not only going to get me a frosty work atmosphere, but is also going to mean they land me in it even worse the next time. So they get off scot-free.

Latest hair-tearing episode: an administrator makes a mistake on a spreadsheet, the data of which I rely on. Now I don't blame the administrator for making the mistake, mistakes can happen to anyone. But then it takes me an hour to clear up the mess. And it has to be me, because only my signature on the umpteen forms will do. So one little mistake on the administrator's part, and once again the perpetrator gets off scot-free, and it's me who has to pay for it. Grrr.

Waaaaah, I don't like this admin role. I want to give it back.

I have tried.

The head of department sent out feelers to six people who might be suitable alternatives for the role, the result of which was for six people to go very quiet and keep their heads down for the next two months. Oh great, just great. How many years before a greater muggins than moi comes along?

June 08, 2005

The Wheel of Academia

Sometimes working in academia feels like being on a wheel.

When the work is coming in fast and furious, it feels like a hamster wheel, when you work harder and harder and you're running frantically and getting absolutely nowhere, because the work (particularly little administrative tasks) is piling into your in-tray considerably faster than you can get through it. And the wheel keeps spinning and spinning...

Other days, it can be like it was yesterday, where the wheel is a like a horizontal fairground ride, and you're clinging onto the rim of the wheel tightly trying not to fall off. The work whizzes by at a frantic pace and you're going from meeting to meeting without pause for thinking or even breathing and you're actually getting somewhere; the wheel is going round and round and you're getting through more and more work, and you're almost dizzy with the pace of it. Then at the end of the day it spins you off, and you're flying through the air, your head still spinning with the last item of the day, that one that needs to be dealt with first thing the next morning.

I had been anticipating a crash to earth today, but all seems to have gone vewy vewy quiet...

June 04, 2005

What to do with a sleeping student?

I love the recent article in the Education section of the Guardian about how to deal with a sleeping student:

Some students are having to work all hours to pay their way through university, which leaves them permanently exhausted. You need to be careful how you raise this, though. The handbook of university pastoral care gives no definitive guidelines on best practice here, but one thing some academics have tried is to shout out "Burger and fries" mid-lecture. If your student has got another job, he will wake with a guilty start.

I say leave the poor student alone. At least he turned up to the lecture!

June 01, 2005

Are you being serious?

Sorry, life keeps getting in the way of blogging.
Must do better.

Maybe a recent tutorial tale will amuse...

I was trying to help students follow the procedure for insertion in tree structures that use a balancing mechanism. At one point in the insertion, you need to figure out whether you need to do a rotation on the tree or not (a rotation being a restructuring manoeuvre on the tree that rebalances it), and if so, what kind. To figure it out, you have to look at a certain bit of the tree, and see whether it is in a straight line, or whether there is a bend in it. So I was happily describing these two options as "straight" or "kinky". I wasn't putting any sexual innuendo in there at all, nothing at all inappropriate was said, I was simply using the terms straightforwardly and in their non-innuendo sense to describe the two cases for rotations.

The reactions of the students were funny. One or two of them I could see were reacting slightly to the words, and it's as if their thoughts were saying

"Straight or kinky? Does the tutor realise the usual context of those words? Sniggger.... oh actually the tutor is not laughing, the tutor is taking this all really seriously, oh ok, we can be adults too, we'll concentrate on the trees"
Watching them try to smother their giggles and act all responsible was funny (and also good, it's good that they did concentrate on the material). I played it entirely straight-faced and didn't let my own laughter (at their reaction) surface. To add to the merriment, one of the students whose first language is not English asked me what the word meant, and I explained about "kinky" meaning "bent".

With any luck, they might remember insertions better that way!