Why Not Be A Polymath?

At rather short notice, I received a mass email telling me that Geoffrey Bond (OBE DL FSA), alumnus of this university and star of Antiques Roadshow, would be returning to his alma mater to give an evening lecture about the heritage business and the importance of engineering.

A graduate of the class of 1963, Mr Bond told us that he had initially been offered a degree in geology, but turned down what he predicted would be a lifetime of travelling to remote areas of the world with no access to womankind. Bond choose Hull over the London School of Economics because of his preference for a campus environment over an urban one. He lived at the recently-destroyed Needler Hall, where once a week the warden required students to dine in formal gowns. Philip Larkin was a frequent guest.

Early in his media career, Bond worked for East Midlands BBC Radio, presenting the Sunday program “The Antiques Shop” in which he took telephone calls from the public and identified objects based on their descriptions. He also presented “The Man Who Came To Breakfast” with Kate O’Mara. He served as Sheriff of the City of London 2003-2004 and was once a consul for Norway. He shared rooms with Frank Field MP for some years and now resides at Burgage Manor, childhood home of the 6th Baron Byron.

We were shown videos relating to the Lord Mayor of London’s Cultural Scholarship, which Bond established in 2010. Bond spoke of the need for more art in public buildings, and the need for more young people to go into engineering. He noted the expansion of higher education since his own undergraduate days (from one fifth of young adults to about half) and suggested that many would be better off doing apprenticeships so they could actually get paid rather than take on debt. Admiration was expressed for the German model of technical and vocational education. A point that our visitor keenly emphasized was the danger of over-specialization. He found that dabbling in multiple fields allowed him to escape being stuck in the same career path for his whole life, and meant he had developed a web of contacts in many different sectors, which comes in handy when two different industries have to work together.

I think I can say that I meet his ideal. It’s not as if I only blog about mathematics, after all.

FURTHER READING

Tower Talk At Haven Arms

Simon Tower

Tonight my father gave a presentation at the Haven Arms in Hedon concerning the ongoing restoration work at Paull Holme Tower, attended by the Hedon Viewfinders photography club and some extended family.

My father acquired the tower in the early 1990s, when it was little more than a pile of old bricks. My childhood was sprinkled with the occasional visit to this mysterious ruin, with its decaying castellations, its perilous stairs and its grass-covered roofline.

In this decade my father stepped up his efforts to effect a restoration, including opening the tower to members of the public. I was roped in to produce visual aids and, on occasion, dig out decades of dung from the ground floor.

In 2015 my father began efforts to produce a documentary series about the restoration, often enlisting me as cameraman. In 2017 we met with Estuary TV and secured a broadcast deal. At tonight’s presentation we were shown extensive clips from upcoming episodes.

The moment of triumph came late in 2016, when Historic England gave us a grant for the restoration work. Even so, the process of rebuilding took a long time to commence, due to seasonal weather difficulties, the need to produce a very specific type of brick, and unpleasantness from neighbours. The most significant changes have occurred since last summer, which annoyingly means that I was not around to see them. The tower now stands noticeably taller than it did for most of my life, for there is at last a roof as well as restored castellations. We also have a new entrance gate and gravel driveway for ease of access.

After the main presentation, attendees showed off their own photographs of the tower, some dating back centuries. There was even a brief discussion about my pet topic of heraldry, as historians tried to date the tower by the display of the Holme-Wastney arms surrounded by Tudor roses.

Though there has been much dithering with authorities, my father still intends to open the tower again once work is complete. No doubt I will be roped in to film that as well.

USEFUL LINKS

 

Course Representatives Forum (February)

(Left) Chris Turnock (Right) Rebecca Dennison

My third forum of this academic year began with an apology by the education officer Salman Anwar, who had promised at the previous convention to entice us back with cake, but instead had only biscuits.

Today’s meeting had two guest speakers. The first was Chris Turnock, Head of Technology-Enhanced Learning. He gave a presentation about the Teaching Excellence framework. Universities are assessed on thirty-five subjects, of which Hull teaches twenty-seven. The university as a whole must submit a fifteen-page report, and each subject will submit five pages. We were advised that the latter would include contributions by student representatives.

The second speaker was Rebecca Dennison, Head of Customer Service & Administration for Student Services. She reported that consultations had found students were dissatisfied with the service they received in the hubs, which had recently been reorganised. Many students, particularly those in later years, were still going to the old locations rather than the new ones. A representative complained that students in the Faculty of Arts, Culture & Education were taking on a storm of irrelevant emails, which Dennison put down to a technical glitch.

Mr Anwar then took the floor for general questions. He mentioned the approach of Sexual Health Advice & Guidance Week, and the prizes available for sports teams or societies which got all of their members tested for venereal disease. There were some complaints about the universities numerous intranets and virtual tools, most notably the iHull application which was, in his own words, still rubbish.

Two students made complaints about the behaviour of security guards in the Brynmor Jones Library. One had apparently barred a group of students from discussing the Iraq War (which was the subject of their upcoming politics examination) on the grounds that it would offend international students. Another had responded to a complaint about students in a reserved booth noisily watching a football match on the large computer monitor by sitting in and joining them. There ensued a brief discussion on the practicality and acceptability of sleeping in the library.

A representative complained of lectures running the limit of their timetabled slot and leaving no time to travel from one venue to the next. Another raised concern with lecturers who failed to upload slides used in their presentations, and a shortage of electronic textbooks.

FURTHER READING

Chris Turnock

Teaching Excellence Framework

Rebbeca Denison

A Temp’s Lament

An old woman with thick white hair sits in a sunny garden with a cup of tea.
I am a temp,
I’ve no desk of my own.
When you’re on holiday
I answer your phone.
If I am lucky
You’ve left me your key,
But many a time
You couldn’t forsee
You wouldn’t be there
And they’d phone to Charlotte;
Help! we need a temp,
Please you have you got?
I’m having a bath
Or cleaning a floor,
But I drop everything
And I dash out the door.
I arrive at your desk
But can’t open the drawers.
With what do they think
I can do all my chores?
But I am a temp
And I have a large bag.
Its certainly heavy
And that is the snag
But in it I keep
All the tools of my trade,
Pens, pencils and rulers,
No typewriter I’m afraid.
For that is one thing
I’d love of my own.
Two months on a QWERTY
Now AZERTY – don’t moan.
For I am a temp
With you only a while
And whatever the problem
It’s done with a smile.
Written 15th June 1982
by Pauline Taylor (1927-2018)

Course Representative Forum (December)

Not much was discussed on my second trip to this forum that had not already been said at the November forum – or at yesterday’s.

Again there were issues with timetabling and rerouting of lectures around the building works on some of the campus’s more dilapidated dwellings. As with the student staff forum there was a lengthy discussion about the placement of January examinations in the Lawns dining hall. Representatives demanded that the university provide free transport for the students affected.

The student officers still hope to organise some kind of informal mass gathering. Again questions were asked as to what might tempt our attendance and again the response was that they should offer free pizza.

I still don’t have a badge to wear!

Student-Staff Forum (December)

My second time in the chair had a somewhat greater audience than the first. We now have course representatives for the third and fourth years, although the second year is still without a voice and the foundation delegate was absent.

The end of year report and National Student Survey data were again unavailable and we were advised to drop those items altogether. Running through the concerns  which were raised at the previous meeting we learned that course handbooks and past examination papers had been made available online.

We struggled to think of an objective, finally agreeing to push for notes to be kept consistent within subject areas

With winter examinations looming, there were concerns raised about the non-appearance of the test dates, which made it hard for some students to establish a revision schedule. Students living around the main campus area were less than pleased to discover that some of them would have to sit their papers in the dining hall at the Lawns, which was requisitioned because the university’s on-campus sports hall being closed for reconstruction.

Architecture seems to be a recurring problem in these discussions, as complaints were also relayed about heating failure in the computer suites of the Foss and Fenner buildings. Some students also said the Brynmor Jones library was getting too loud as it reached full capacity.

There is little else to say, but it is encouraging to see that more students have gotten involved.

Careers Fair at Canham Turner

Though I stood in and around the Canham Turner building six days ago to catch a glimpse of Her Majesty’s emergence, this is my first major event inside the spacious lounge since the revision conference six months ago.

Representatives of thirty-nine organisations had set up stall with the hope of attracting Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics students to apply for job opportunities.

There was no buffet lunch this time, but nearly all of the stalls gave away small pieces of confectionary along with the usual branded pens and glossy leaflets.

I guess it beats Trick-or-Treating.

This being my first term, I am a long way off making a firm choice of career path, but events like these are useful for showing me what my options are. Having spent the last few years of my life and education pushing towards a chemistry degree, the late-stage switch to mathematics means that some recalibration is in order. Events such as this are helpful in devising a new strategy.

Snapping a Sovereign

Many times on this website I have logged my encounters with notable individuals,including so far an astronaut, three MPs, an MEP a baron and a bishop. In recent weeks I have repeatedly made reference to the reconstruction of the campus of the University of Hull. Today those threads intertwine as I recount the opening of the Allam Medical building by Her Majesty The Queen.

First notice of the event was given nine days in advance in an electronic message by the vice-chancellor. More information came in stages, with the exact timings revealed only the night before along with a list of suitable vantage points for people not directly involved. Security was visible yesterday, with police cars appearing intermittently on the forecourt. Today crowd barriers were erected at key points and several hundred people swarmed behind them. Having had a long morning lecture I was unable to stand on the front line, so went into the neighbouring Brynmor Jones Library. Even there it was crowded, but I found a spot of empty window space on the third floor. This turned out to be far more advantageous than standing by the barriers – firstly because I could sit down at a computer desk instead of standing in the cold air, secondly because my window was parallel to the southern face of the Allam Medical building, and through two layers of glass we could see the official party moving around inside. We spotted the bright blue flash of Her Majesty’s dress as she emerged from the lift on the third floor. We also spotted some of her attachment running down the access stairs in advance of her departure. Finally she emerged from the glass doors to return to her state limousine to be driven over to the Canham Turner building for the next stage of her engagement.

Another dense crowd formed in advance of her emergence, so getting a view was impossible. I tried to find an upstairs window in the Robert Blackburn building opposite but could not see anything useful. From directly behind the crowd I could barely get a view of the door and from the steps of student central my eye line was blocked by the large metal overhang. Desperately I sought a viewing post inside Canham Turner, eventually joining a smaller clump of onlookers peering through a glass door off the entrance lobby. The view was extremely limited – made worse by so many students pressing their enormous smart phones against the glass. Attendance at these events always requires a delicate balance between present and posterity – one can spend so much time trying to record the perfect video or photograph that one defeats the objective of actually looking at the subject in the flesh. Eventually we saw the Queen and other guests go by (judging by their elaborate clothes we guessed one of them was the Lord Mayor of Hull) and then I dashed back outside to see the flag atop the limousine shrinking as it drove away. Briefly I considered that the day was over – then I had another idea.

Rushing around the back of the Gulbenkian Centre and the Loten Workshops I found that the access road behind the campus (beyond which are the old sports centre and the new Courtyard accommodation) was relatively uncrowded. The procession of cars passed barely a metre from me. Upon spotting a small girl with a bouquet of flowers, one of the support vehicles even paused and collected them to pass on later.

This is probably the peak of my encounters. Reigning for more than six decades in sixteen countries, our hexadecimal nonagenarian monarch is as famous a human as is ever likely to exist in my lifetime. I guess it’s all downhill from here.

FURTHER READING

SMAPS Board of Studies

P1020053

Though all sciences are said ultimately to derive from philosophy, the clichéd question “Why are we here?” does not often form the basis of our teachings or deliberations. Today however, that very question was on the minds and lips of all who arrived in Seminar Room A for a meeting of the Board of Studies, for which no agenda had been given. Eventually the document was found and a more substantive discussion got underway.

Attendance remains an issue in certain classes with some tutorials said to have 20-30 students missing. Some staff also reported very low delivery rates for homework assignments.

The issue of academic support tutors returned as the majority of students still have not met theirs since induction week. I was an exception only by virtue of my tutor being present at this meeting. It was agreed that all students would meet their tutors after completion of an upcoming careers training assignment.

We tangentially brushed upon mathematics’ lack of a home when someone suggested creating a student lounge for the subject and suggested that with a new engineering suite under construction we might be moved into the Fenner building currently used by applied sciences. Details at this stage are unclear and it may not take effect for some years.

Other concerns centred around student ID cards: the electronic scanners used to mark attendance at lectures had in many cases malfunctioned, necessitating a return to paper registers. A course representative also complained that the beep noise after a successful scan was too loud and thus anyone arriving late would inevitably disrupt the class.

Course Representative Forum (November)

This was the first of an expected five such gatherings that one is booked to attend over the course of this academic year. All of the university’s course and school representatives assembled in meeting room 1 at Student Central to discuss topics such as timetabling, academic support tutors and democratic engagement.

The timetabling representative informed us that he and his staff were working with technology from 1998 (ironically the same vintage as most of the attending students) and that they had received this year’s student details four days – as opposed to the usual three weeks – before the schedules were due to be published. Several representatives complained about having one lecture per day, requiring a commute to campus to spend many hours idle. There were also reports of problems with short-notice room changes and classes being given venues which had the wrong capacity (some needing to bring in additional chairs, others being lost in a vast void). It was said that only two lecture theatres in the university were capable of seating more than fifty students.

Moving onto academic support tutors, the same points were raised that I heard at the student-staff forum; many had never been seen. Most people in my course have yet to meet their tutor. A third year student complained that his tutor had never even sent an email.

We were finally asked to give suggestions on how to improve the role of representatives. There were musings about turning faculty representatives into salaried positions, as well as changing the school representatives to self-nomination rather than election (since turnout tends to be very low and many positions are co-opted unopposed). Support was lent to the idea of “clinics” between representatives and their constituents, analogous to surgeries with members of parliament. The education officer wondered aloud about creating a course representative society, though the general consensus was that students would only attend for free pizza. I remember two years President Gill saying much the same. Some things never change…