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Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

Nothing works properly.

Everything takes much longer.

Flabbiness in places it’s increasingly difficult to hide.

Is that really what I look like now?

Pervasive sense that I used to have much more energy.

Increasing tendency to use the phrase “in my day…”

Occasional thoughts that buying a really expensive new webcam might bring back the mojo.

Powerful suspicion that young people are smirking condescendingly behind my back.

Enormous sense of relief that I don’t have to worry about remembering names.

Waking in the early hours to agonise about all of this.

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I could honestly weep. This is our ‘welcome week’ before teaching starts on Monday, and today I was meeting – f2fip! – my new personal tutees. I have been trying to imagine what it must be like for them, making the transition to university in such extraordinary circumstances, and really wanted to ensure that as their tutor I could offer some degree of calm reassurance, a bit of a community, some essential guidance for the first couple of weeks while they find their feet. Well, it’s possible that I have succeeded in making them feel more confident and on top of things, in contrast to their shambolic tutor. For I was indeed the one to turn up half an hour late for the meeting because I couldn’t find my way into the building because of some very misleading signage…

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This time of year is usually the calm before the storm; the brief pause, full of anticipation and nervousness, between the end of the summer and the start of the new term, when it’s impossible to settle down to any proper research and one falls back into the fond belief – which does occasionally come true – that it’ll be fine once everything settles down into a routine. This year? It’s not the calm before the storm, it’s the frantic rushing around before the flood. The water is clearly, inexorably rising, though we don’t yet know how bad it will be. What to do? Try to shore up defences? Secure valuables? Move livestock and children to higher ground? Try to improvise a boat? Assume the worst or hope for the best?

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Connected

Whether or not anyone noticed, I’ve been less present on the internet over the last few days, as a lightning strike last week took out the WiFi router. While waiting for a new one to turn up, I’ve been discovering the delights of persuading the laptop to talk to the phone and persuade it to share its data, with a moderate degree of panic as I was scheduled to participate in a virtual Open Day this afternoon – and the joys of paying lots of extra dosh for additional data, as my usually ample allowance quickly ran out. And it’s not as if I stream stuff… (more…)

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One of the basic principles of our society is that success and failure are individualised: you are naturally talented and worked hard, YOU are just not good enough, or should have tried harder. This is fair, isn’t it? Places at the Best Universities should go to the Best Students, Important Jobs should go to the Right People, it should all be sorted out on merit rather than attempts at social engineering or quotas or positive discrimination. Just think how awful it would be for someone to know they didn’t get on that course through their own merit, or if they got a job that was better suited to someone else. Clearly unfair. Not everyone can have prizes.

But fairness is not evenly distributed. (more…)

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Ignoreland

Yesterday I marked some essays, did more work on preparing next term’s teaching, produced supporting materials for an ongoing political literacy schools project and had a productive online meeting with a postgrad about his dissertation. I followed a new recipe for green coconut rice, and made some red pepper and tomato sauce from garden produce; I had a cup of espresso by the pond, watching water boatmen, dragonfly nymphs and water snails; I detected six different species of bat. And this is all good, and helps keep me grounded, and helps fend off the VAST BLACK ABYSS FULL OF TOXIC FUMES AND ENDLESS SCREAMING THAT IS EVERYTHING ELSE. (more…)

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In Your Room

Here comes the fear… I continue to be excited and energised by thinking about how to embrace the positive possibilities of teaching next year, and not too alarmed (which is not to say, not also infuriated) by the mismatch between universities’ bold promises about face-to-face-in-person (f2fip?) teaching and what a lot of emerging research is saying – hey, if we suddenly have to switch to 100% online, that’s just more of a challenge, right? – but now I’m also scared. Not about my courses, but about what happens to students in the times in between.

If our answer to the question “where are students supposed to be all week, and who are they supposed to spend it with” is “in their room, alone” we have a monumental mental health crisis coming.

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Our Friends Electric

About this time last year, I think, I was asked to contribute to a PGR training course, for a session covering social media and blogging. It never happened due to the strike action at the end of the autumn term – and that is starting to feel like a really serious gap in those students’ training. It should now be obvious that this topic deserves more emphasis than being scheduled in December (by which time, one suspects, student attention may be dropping off), going hand in hand with a different focus: this is not (just) about public engagement and self-publicity, an optional extra that tends to reinforce the idea that PGRs and ECRs are expected to do more and more to have any chance of an academic career. Rather, in this new world, it looks more and more like THE essential toolkit for networking, in the absence of conferences and the like, since the informal networking element is precisely the aspect of conferences it’s hardest to replicate online. (more…)

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Not just at the moment, while my brain persistently refuses to sustain joined-up thought, but as a career-long habit, I come up regularly with ideas that I’m entirely incapable of realising; not only because of lack of time or energy but also because of lack of skill and talent. That’s my entire musical career, obviously – perhaps I should have tried to become a Malcolm McLaren-style impresario instead, finding other people (and other people’s money) to realise my plans – but also plenty of passing whims that swim into view around 4 am, hang around for a few days and then drift off again… (more…)

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Doubling Down

As the old proverb (sometimes attributed to Solon) has it, gods, give me the confidence of a mediocre white man on the Internet. Am I being hasty and unfair, leaping to judgement on the basis of fleeting interactions with ‘The Mystic’ (brooding headshot with goatee, quote about chaos and perfection, cover image of some heavily tattooed wrestlers) or AwesomeDude (avatar of a dog, cover image of a Dilbert cartoon)?* Yes, quite possibly. But if they not only ascribe that wretched ‘The society that separates its scholars from its warriors…” quote to Thucydides, but firmly reject gentle correction from the Thucydides Bot, they’re gonna get judged… (more…)

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