University of Glasgow Public Holiday Calendar

After searching for a public calendar with all the University of Glasgow public holiday dates in, I thought I’d share my own in case it’s useful to anyone else.

Simply add this link to which ever calendar program you use.

I’ll endeavour to keep it up to date when the University next updates their list of public holidays.

3 years and 9 months

Submitted PhD thesis

Submitted PhD thesis

Yesterday, I submitted my PhD thesis! The culmination, to the day, of 3 years, 9 months of work, distilled into 145 pages. It means that I can now return to “normality”, having become somewhat of a hermit over the last month whilst I pulled out all the stops to get it completed.

It’s a great relief, and I hope I don’t need to write a document that long again for a while. It’s also not over yet though. For those who don’t live in the academic bubble, I just thought I’d explain what this means, and after what point I’ll officially “get” the degree.

What happens next?

Currently, the university is looking after my two submitted copies, until two people (one within UCL and one from outside) can be found to conduct an examination. They will then read the thesis and after that, the 3 of us will sit down in a room and they’ll question me on it – this is the oral exam or ‘viva’.

The outcome of this meeting will decide whether or not I am awarded a PhD. The most common outcome is “minor corrections”, where the examiners will award the PhD on the condition that various mistakes are corrected or additional information added before the final version of record is produced. This is version that will end up in the library at UCL. Once the examiners have approved those corrections; then I’ll be Dr James. So it’s not over yet, but the end is in sight 🙂

Science is Vital

Supporters at the rally

Supporters at the rally

Yesterday, I attended (and helped marshall, as evidenced here) the rally for an important campaign called Science is Vital. It is a campaign against any proposed cuts to the science budget, when the spending review is published later in the month. I urge anybody who hasn’t already done so to: check out their website which details all the reasons why continued investment in science is a necessity, sign their petition and write to their MP about the campaign. It was a fantastic afternoon and great to meet up with so many people that I’ve heard about or briefly tweeted @ them but never spoken; even if it was under unfortunate circumstances with the prospect of cuts hanging over all our heads.

This campaign is more than just a self-interested group getting antsy about a policy they don’t like. Yes, many of the people who have signed the petition are scientists who are understandably worried about their own careers. I am also worried about what the state of biomedical science will be when I start looking for my first position after finishing my PhD in 3 years time.

This is about more than that though. We are saying

We already don’t have enough money to do all the research we need, with only around 20% of grant proposals finding funding, and yet we greatly ‘punch above our weight’, in almost any metric you pick; number of World-class universities, citations per researcher, papers produced against spend. We can’t get more efficient. We are already at the limit.

And it isn’t the scientists that will be the biggest losers in this. They can move to other world-leading institutions in the US, Japan, India, Australia, Germany and others. It is society that loses out, as we have to become reliant on the work of other countries to fulfil our scientific, technological and engineering needs.

The Campaign for Science and Engineering has plenty more on the economic reasons why science funding is a poor judgment, so if you like facts and figures, head here. The Science is Vital campaign has also collated photos and other reports from the event and the Pod Delusion has podcasts of all the speakers and some reporting from the rally. The rest of my own photos from the event can be found in this Flickr set.

A trip across the pond

Massachusetts State House, on my first day in Boston

Beautiful buildings and trees at Yale

Beautiful buildings and trees at Yale

So this last week I took a trip to the US, staying in Boston and New Haven. This whole America place is still quite new to me, having only been to New York and Orlando previously, but I must say I was pleasantly surprised by both places. Boston is particularly nice, having a great feel about it that takes the best bits from both New York and London compiled into the same place. I didn’t want to leave.

The weather was also fantastic, which combined with the scenery of almost everywhere we visited made for some great fun photography, which I’ve put in this Flickr set. I’d love to put them all in the post, but I think that’d get boring fast, so above is just a glimpse of all the beautiful places in that area of the world. I’ll definitely be going back: good job my host is on a 3-year course!

I also made it my mission to sample as many American things as I could, which I think amounts to the following:

  • Mountain Dew
  • Dunkin Donuts coffee/iced coffee/donuts
  • Nutter Butters
  • M&Ms (to be fair we have them in the UK too)
  • Chicago Uno Pizza

Not bad, I’d say.

Also, I couldn’t resist but buy a cheerleader uniform for my toy monkey Streetleyina, so here is me posing with her back in the UK when I dressed her up this morning!

Streetley with Streetleyina in her New England Patriot Cheerleader Squad get-up

I’m Burlington Bertie…

UCL Mens 1st XV celebrating the Varsity win over the "Poly"

Yesterday was that highlight of the sporting year, the London varsity (well, the only one that counts), between King’s (Strand Poly) and the mighty UC. The rivalry between King’s and UCL is pretty well known and well established (it even has its own Wikipedia entry!) and supposedly stems from their differing establishing aims and objectives. The animosity has been strong ever since, especially during the first half of last century according to the Wikipedia article. It is even mentioned in UCL’s chant of Burlington Bertie:

I’m Burlington Bertie,
I’m short, fat and dirty,
My college portrays my high class. (high class!)
I walk down the Strand,
With my cock in my hand,
And I wave it at King’s as I pass.
Oh Bert, Bert,
I come in my shirt,
At least I go to UC . (UC!)
There’s one thing I’m sure of,
Strand Poly are wankers,
I’m Burlington Bert from UC.
That’s me! And him! And him! And her!

I’m glad to report (as if there was any doubt), that UCL won both matches; Women’s 22-0 and Men’s 15-0, so WELL DONE!

Aside from being a vocal supporter complete with facepaint and yelling Burlington

Wearing some war paint for UC!

Bertie at the top of my voice, I took the opportunity to do a little more sports photography. The results are in the following Facebook album.

Turns out the sports photography in the dark with very bright floodlights everywhere is quite challenging… Who knew!?..</sarcasm> But I did have a lot of fun, am quite happy with the results despite the lens flare and the winning didn’t hurt either!

Strike action at UCL

I wasn’t going to blog about the fact the UCU have balloted members for strike action at UCL, but then I saw this Facebook group and couldn’t restrain the urge to comment and publicise the issue.

Normally I am staunchly against strike action, taking the capitalist viewpoint that companies exist to make money and should do whatever is permissible by law to make that happen with regards to staffing. This is definitely my thoughts on the current British Airways strike, especially as I am due to be inconvenienced by them. However, in an academic context, things are slightly different; the goal is not to make money but to educate. To me this significantly blurs the distinction between condemning and condoning strike action, for to me it seems only right for people to stand up and fight for a high quality of education; something that is not (and should not) be part of the free market.

The issue gets complicated further by the timing of the potential strikes. Calling action in the 3rd term at a university is grossly disruptive of exams and students. This is immensely worrying for those involved who may have future job offers, course offers and careers resting on the exam and more importantly the timely resolution of their grade.

I sincerely hope that UCU didn’t have a huge amount of choice of when to call the strike, given the obvious effects it would have for their students, but I am worried by one sentence on the UCL UCU website which says:

it could also include refusal to mark and submit examinations results

Now I know the point of the strike is to be as disruptive as possible, but there must be other ways that don’t effects students so strongly. Going out there with such a controversial statement sure undermines their message of “fighting for education”, especially when UCU really needs student support to continue the fight against cuts.

In short, I’m not really sure what I think of this potential strike action, which is massive departure from my normal politics. One thing is for sure, it will be a very interesting term ahead. Leave a comment and tell me your views, or even try and persuade me to one side or the other.

UCLU Dodgeball 2010

Dodgeball in the UCL QuadToday was the annual inter-society dodgeball tournament at UCL. This is one of my favourite events of the UCLU calendar (others being the MODO Fashion Show and the Summer Ball) because the atmosphere is great, the weather is always great for it and I love what it says about UCL and UCLU. It is so much fun to watch and play such a fast-paced and rebellious game in such fantastic surroundings and the fact that UCL tolerate is to their credit. This juxtaposition of fun and frivolity with ostentatiousness and occasional pretensiousness is captured neatly in the tournament and sums up what I like about UCL; it is both progressive and world-leading, but with the right amount of tradition and ceremony as well.

Aside from my waxing lyrical about my alma mater (and soon to be my current institution as I begin a new course in September), the real reason for this post is that I went down there to photograph the event. I haven’t had a proper outing with the camera for ages, so it was good to get out and take some photos, which you can find on my Facebook, as well as my obligatory establishing shot at the beginning.

For those wishing to find out more about the tournament; I gather around 50 teams entered and the almighty winners were the UCLU Snowsports Society. More photos, information and results are on the UCLU website. From what I could see, it was definitely the most successful Dodgeball to date.

More on homeopathy at Birkbeck

A little while ago I wrote about the set-up of a homeopathic society at Birkbeck and my concerns about it. This prompted me to write to our Student Union to try and understand exactly what was going on, what the size of the operation was and if we were financing this (in my opinion) ethically dubious behaviour by students of another university on our campus. I never heard back, despite chasing.

However my point did appear to have struck home, at least for a brief while: posters were removed from the lifts and corridors and their original website was torn down and replaced with this one. I’d like to class this as a small victory as it appears I have at least cleared the name of my College from their website and so we are no longer associated with such drivel.

I suppose the next stop is to drive them out of using College rooms by showing the College what nonsense is being harboured within our building. I think that shall be my next port of call.

Homeopathy closer to home

In the last post, I mentioned that the evidence and perception of homeopathy is becoming a “great interest of mine”. I thought I’d better explain why, rather than just leaving it as some ambiguous waffle.

The main reason my interest has suddenly just shot up is that homeopathy has just merged two of my hobbies: grumbling about science and student politics. This has happened in the form of the Birkbeck University Homeopathic Society which formed earlier this year at Birkbeck, where I study, and has been advertised in the lifts for a while now.

Now, I’m aware that the NHS spends around £4million every year on homeopathy, and that is alarming, but somewhat abstracted from me: I wouldn’t choose to do it and by virtue of not having a job, I don’t pay taxes to help support it. However, when it starts to occur in the same building as me, associated with the name of my university and in a place where many of us are practising a real science, with the scientific method, it becomes a lot harder to swallow. Made even worse (or maybe better), by the fact that their website proclaims them to be Middlesex Uni students – so what opportunity the society creates for Birkbeck students in beyond me.

So that is the reason behind my new found interest and I’m definitely going to be doing a bit of digging and maybe even start a little campaign of my own.

For more information on homeopathy, I can’t recommend enough the 10:23 site, particularly here for a quick overview of what the fuss is.

British Media Coverage of the Christmas Day Bomber

I’d love to write a long critique of the media coverage of this terrorist attack on a Detroit-bound flight from Amsterdam on Christmas Day, but alas, I think it would probably take me the rest of the day and I have an essay to work on. Instead, some short thoughts will have to suffice.

Understandably, the British media are focussing on the perpetrator’s time in the UK, in London to be precise and the changes Britain is making to its airport security. What I don’t understand is the efforts of some (the Telegraph, basically) to appear to lay the blame squarely at UCL’s door.

This shown best in this Telegraph article. At the time of writing, some of the later comments have the right idea, but the article appears to suggest that UCL should monitor the activities of those that attend it. At first pass, that sort of seems reasonable, drawing parallels with a school or other welfare oriented organisation. And then you realise (or don’t in the case of the Telegraph), that isn’t the purpose of Universities. They exist to teach adults advanced concepts without the nannying or fussing of a school.

This sentiment is put perfectly by a comment by Ross Anderson on the above article:

we have neither the skills nor the management structures needed [for monitoring students]. Monitoring troublemakers is the special branch’s job (whatever it’s called this week) just as putting out fires is the fire brigade’s job.

This something I totally agree with: why isn’t more blame (or at least scrutiny) being given to both our security services and there American counterparts. I’ve travelled the US recently and they ask for a lot of data before you even get to the airport, so it does beg the question: what are they doing with that information?

Other recent Telegraph articles inciting a backlash against universities are here and here. The first one, and perhaps the most outrageous; accusing UCL of being “complicit” in the attacks is here.

Malcolm Grant, President and Provost of UCL had his say in the THE, a brilliant article which I wish more people would read.