EDITORIAL IV – Four Weeks In

We shall call this the four week introduction. I have now completed week 0 through 3 of my physics foundation year and it has certainly been hectic. When I first moved in it was somewhat of a bizarre experience. I have four international housemates and they are generally very reclusive. International freshers week runs the week before the normal one so many students that arrive make friends and form social groups before anyone else gets here. I can’t see how this is anything other than a bad thing as it promotes international segregation. I can’t count the number of times I have walked into my kitchen to be confronted with five or six Brazilians sitting, chatting with absolutely no intention of interacting with me; instead sitting in an awkward silence or exchanging vague pleasantries and waiting for me to leave.

University is meant to be about meeting new people from different walks of life and different corners of the world. But the university, by organising these events have facilitated the isolation of national and international, which is the polar opposite of the above sentiment.

It turns out that my computer technically isn’t allowed in my bedroom as the sockets in the rooms are only rated to 350W. This was not mentioned before and the note on the wall states that offending electronics will be confiscated until the end of the academic year. I hope no-one notices and that that is an empty threat. It advises that hair straighteners are used only in the kitchen & I am fairly sure that is universally ignored. The room is of a good size although there is a strip of wood that sticks up over the level of the desk at the back, meaning my mid tower has to sit diagonally on penalty of falling off.

Socially, I am certainly older than the average although within the physics community it has not caused too many issues. There have been occasional moments where I have felt out of place but they are fleeting and I remember why I am here. Canterbury nightlife is good and varied. There are venues to suit all tastes, although I have made a point of generally avoiding the student union. That place is a bastion of immaturity and close mindedness as those within are generally fearful of exploring the attractions the city has to offer. I know of several students who have gone there pretty much exclusively three nights a week since arrival. One cannot moan about the drinks prices but the queue is obscene and the place is frequently overcrowded.

Academically the course is great, although I do have a couple of points of contention. Firstly there seems to be a smattering of different conventions in use algebraically. All methods of vector demarcation are accepted and were demonstrated, rather than setting an official standard. Further there was no effort made to discuss the difference between continuous and discrete variables; specifically relating to mechanics and the use of t representing time. Secondly the mathematics and physics components are asynchronous. Considering only one of the subjects as an A-level was prerequisite, there are many students who are struggling as calculus is appearing in the physics side without being covered in the mathematics lectures. Theoretically the concept should be introduced in mathematics first in a pure form before we start moving onto the applications. This point has been raised with the mathematics lecturer and while he understands the problem, he feels that there is little that can be done to rectify it before the subsequent academic year. He however understands and seems willing to help as much as possible.

I also had the pleasure of travelling up to LSE to see a guest appearance of Yoram Baumann. For the uninitiated Yoram has a Phd in economics and is known as the world’s only stand up economist. His material has been floating around online for several years and this was only his second venture to the United Kingdom. His material was a mix of old and new and there was some entertaining discourse at the end in an impromptu question and answer session. If you want a taste of Yoram I have embedded a video of his most famous segment below. It was interesting to note the ethnicity of LSE with English being a marginal minority. I think there were three or four English students in a room of 150. I’m not sure if this is telling of admission bias or of underperformance among UK natives academically. I fear it is the latter as the mean work ethic of UK students is among one of the poorest in the world; although is based solely on anecdotal observation.

The other significant extracurricular event I attended was an introduction to the IOP. The Institute Of Physics are a scientific society in the UK that fulfils a government advisory role, an employment opportunity advisory service and a publishing company all rolled into one; there website can be found [HERE]. They are one of the largest societies of their kind in the world. This is great but they fell afoul of an antiquated view of gender. “There are not enough girls doing physics!” they decry, “There are not enough men becoming nail technicians!” they do not. Science will interest those who want it to. While there may be fewer girls going into physics from co-educational schools, but if you choose to bow to social pressure, that is entirely on you. Men and women are all people; consequently the best the IOP should be aiming for is to try to appeal to people. Publishing kitsch papers such as “It’s different for girls” will only alienate women as they feel targeted and thus disenfranchised. Until this baby boomer era mentality is eradicated from positions of outreach, this idea will be perpetuated that appeals need to be tailored to specific genders, wealth groups, minorities.

Well, I have an old power supply now so there should be an interesting post coming up soon.

As always if you enjoyed reading please follow in the sidebar or on twitter (@scientificmoust)

Regards

John

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One comment

  1. An interesting post? Oh really? Sounds like a good plan.

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