25 June 2018

Trying to learn to teach in Welsh

The Welsh Government wants one million people to speak Welsh by 2050. And one of the ways in which they are encouraging people to use (and not lose!) their language is by encouraging them to do (part of) their education in Welsh. So if you do, you get some money back. And we tend to have some two or so per cohort who do. And it's all up to my colleague Dei, who is the only member of academic staff who's a fluent Welsh speaker. And I want to add myself to that list! If he ever goes on a sabbatical or something, I could take over. But I don't feel ready yet. In fact, I feel like my Welsh is stalling. When can I use it? When I talk to Dei (no overly often), when I talk to some of the support staff (even less), when I go climbing (also not overly often I admit), and when I do my grocery shopping (when I say little more than 'hello' and 'there you are' and 'thanks' and 'bye'). So I need to work on this to get to the required level!

Jenny, my Tutor, was already on my case. She gave my name to a lady called Siân from the Canolfan Bedwyr, who support staff with such things. We agreed to meet and we had a chat on what she could do for me. I said I'd like to get practice lecturing and doing tutorials in Welsh. She had already arranged lecturing practice with three other academics (one of which had been in the same Welsh class so I knew him), and it was agreed that I would join them if my timetable allowed.

Regarding the tutorial we agreed I would prepare a tutorial, and she would be my tutees! Or at least pretend to. I do a spiel on plagiarism (llên-ladrad in Welsh) to my real tutees so I figured I translate that and go through it with her. It's tricky but it's fun! And it is interesting to find words for scientific terms in Welsh. The article I used as an example is about ice shelf retreat. My dictionary knows what an ice shelf is, but a grounding line? Not even the Canolfan Bedwyr website knows that! We'll see how I fare. I'm sure Siân won't know either as she is in an entirely different line of work!

 What do I think about the whole scheme of encouraging people to study in Welsh? Well, I like it, of course! I think it's weird, and not in a good way, that this country barely speaks its own language. But I'm not sure what the financial incentive will do. I suppose the idea is that Welsh kids tend to learn Welsh in school, but when they leave school the risk is that they don't use it anymore, and lose their skills. If they get paid to continue in Welsh and they do they will retain the language! But I suppose it will be the native language speakers that will take up the offer, not the learners. And I still think it's good that anyone can choose to do their education in their native language (said the Dutch woman who was mainly educated in English), and if that happens maybe that will help keep Welsh alive in the middle of society. But for me it would actually be better if it's the learner category that is attracted by the scheme: if it is Welsh nationalists they will probably think my Welsh isn't good enough. If they are kids who learned Welsh in school and continue for financial reasons, that would make it easier; they probably won't mind my non-fluent Welsh, and might even prefer it to the rapid fire of a native speaker. But this is getting ahead of things. Let's first have some practice!

23 June 2018

Staffing Open Days

Without students no university. Attracting new students is vitally important for any school! Open days are one of the ways of attracting them. And normally we have lots of peer guides to make these open days run smoothly. But the last time I sent the email out asking them to register for it, hardly any responded. Oh dear! I think this is due to the students generally going back to their parents over the summer. As soon as the exams are over they skedaddle! You can't blame them. But it left us with a problem. We have two open days over the summer. Now what?

We sent out a message to all postgraduates (MSc and PhD students). And all staff. We went properly scattergun! And it worked; after the Head of School added his voice to mine (not before, unfortunately) enough people came out of the woodwork. I hope it will go well! The thing is that peer guides are generally doing their MSc themselves, so they know what it's like to be a fresher at Ocean Sciences. But now we have lots of people with all walks of life! Lots who did their BSc somewhere else entirely, both inside and far outside the UK, and only have been here for a year. And a MSc is quite different from a BSc here! For instance, the BSc students are almost entirely taught in Bangor, while the MScs are almost entirely taught in Menai Bridge. Oh well! I'm sure all will do an amazing job! But it does show there's a flaw in the Peer Guide system. We sorted it now, but maybe we should think about how to tackle this in the future. A bit iffy to have to rely, in summer, on people who are generally away in summer!

21 June 2018

Laugharne: the final days

Katrien had decided there was no need for us (the geophysicists and me) to drive back on Sunday; by Saturday, our job would be done, and we could just as well go home. So after the day of surveying I had one more day of showing the students forams, and then the day of coring, and that would be it.

The second day of foram work went well as well! The tides were a bit awful so I would have to go into the field really early or really late. And as the technicians were extra busy too due to the shortened period (with similar amounts of work), they would come out of the field rather late, and so we would eat rather late. Sometimes dinner wasn't planned until half past nine! And that means not being able to go to bed early, and I don't function very well on little sleep. So I decided to go into the field late rather than early on the second day too! And the students were still keen and hard-working.

We even had dinner at a reasonable time, for achange. The drawback was that that meant we could reasonably go to the pub. I tend to not go there at all! But now I was running low on excuses. It it nice to mingle with the students. Except that the only student in the pub were working up their data. No mingling ensued! But I still ended up in bed later (and with more alcohol in my system) than on the other Laugharne days (let alone 'normal' days). I was tired the next day!

The coring day had some ups and downs. When we arrived on the scene the technicians had set up already, as they are used to do. But they looked resigned! It turned out there was an issue with the percussion drill. Oh dear. They tried to core anyway; after some fruitless efforts suddenly the drill came back to life, and drilled a barrel into the ground as if it was butter. Great! We thought. We jacked the thing out again, only to find the show hadn't come up. It had sheared clean off! And with the shoe, the cutter and the liner were gone too. The men managed to dig the liner out, but this barrel couldn't be used anymore. Luckily, they had a spare.

Trying the percussion drill

 They tried again. This time the whole thing came up! Great! But when we took the shoe off, we saw the thread had almost come off on this barrel too. Oh dear! You can't core without a barrel. So we had only one core section. On a good day, we get six! And in addition, it had started raining.

Weather deteriorating; mood staying fine!

Dei and Katrien did their geophysics thing while we pondered our options. We would just have them describe this section, but it might be better to break for lunch first. And so we did! We went to Laugharne proper and had a hot lunch. We wouldn't get hot dinner that day!

When we got back the sun was out again. Good! So we had the first group describe the core section. With only one to go around, they could go into quite some detail. I teamed up with Jaco for it, as he does description of modern sediments in the field, and he could now remind them of what they had seen. Was some of what they saw in the core the fossil remains of one of the environments they had seen at the surface?

 Core description (only one section, but what can one do)

Altogether, it took quite a while for all students to have done a description. The geophysicists were done earlier! We wrapped up and that was it. We drove back to the cottages; we didn't have enough drivers for Dei. Katrien and me scooting off now. We each drove a different vehicle back! I drove on the satnav, which sent me over the minutest country roads, so that took forever. Fortunately I had a nice student in my car so we had a good chat.

Back in the cottage we had some tea and a bite to eat, and too much discussion about the next episode of Laugharne, but shortly after six we set off. I had packed my bags and cleaned my cottage before going into the field that day. And at about ten I was home. I was tired! But I would have a whole Sunday to myself!

19 June 2018

Laugharne new style: surveying

Originally, I would travel up with the geophysicists on the Wednesday, then do my foram work on Thursday and Friday, then do core descriptions on the Saturday, and travel back on Sunday. Things went differently! Dei, the one geophysicist, had an interview for a position in the College of Natural Science on the Thursday. He would have to drive back for it! So he couldn't do his thing that day, and asked if we could swap. We could! I could do Wednesday and Friday. With my reduced assignment, I could fit it on a day that would start after the drive up. So I did! And then I thought I would have the Thursday off. Not so much! That day the students would survey a lot of transects across the estuary. They do that every year, so they can see if anything changes, and if yes, then what. Quite cool! But Suzie, who organises the whole field trip, wanted me to join the surveying. If I would, I would be able to supervise the surveying the year after. I needed to know what they did and how they did it! The last time I surveyed with that sort of equipment was eight years ago. One forgets!

I would join Suzie and her students, Charlie and Freddie, on what was known as line 4. We walked to the start of the line and started the survey. Suzie showed the students (and me). We we on the salt marsh; it was on the eroding side of the estuary, so it ended in a steep cliff. From the bottom of the cliff to the channel was steep, short and muddy. The channel looked big, deep, and fast! Oh dear.

We did a measurement on the channel edge and then it was time to try and cross. Suzie and Freddie would cross, and Charlie would take a measurement of the elevation on the other bank, and then we would cross too. So the two got into the channel. It got deep quickly! And then Freddie slipped and fell over, and was immediately swept away. Oh dear! He swam back to shore, and Suzie decided we should see if we could cross somewhere else. Freddie checked the contents of his bag (no damage worth mentioning) while Suzie slopped upstream through the mud.

Charlie taking notes while holding the surveying pole

Starting to cross the channel


She came back. It was as bad elsewhere! We would have to wait for the tide to go even further out. But I was scheduled to come out of the field early; a student had to go to the railway station, and I was the designated driver. Suzie figured maybe I should bring the girl a bit earlier, and then be back to pick Suzie and the students up a bit early too; it was rather windy, and there was a risk of them getting cold. So I was off, after having only surveyed a few meters. Oh well! I drove back, found the girl, waited for her to get ready, drove her to the railway station, and drove back to where I had come from. I saw some dots on the other side of the estuary; I figured that was them! I headed towards them. But after a while I saw dots on my side of the estuary too. That might be them instead! And it was. So no heroic river crossings for me! I brought Suzie back to the cottages (the students went in another vehicle) and that was my surveying adventure.

In the evening I tried to do some work (I have to review a book) and I helped Suzie with dinner. She hadn't sat down the whole day! She was cooking for nine while simultaneously teaching the students either Excel or Matlab. She's some sort of superwoman! But one that tends to be shattered at the end of the fieldtrip.

We ate late, as the technicians weren't back any earlier, and immediately after dinner I went to bed. In a way, a successful day!


18 June 2018

Laugharne new style: the first day

With the university apparently being continuously out of money there is continuous pressure to cut costs. And a 10 day residential field course is then the first place one would look. All that transport, all that accommodation! So it was decided that it should be only a week long. That's cheaper! But that means what we teach there has to be toned down. And as I am the biggest user of time, it was my stuff that had to be reduced.

I used to take the students into the field in the morning, to take surface samples in the salt marsh. Back at the cottages they would process the samples and put them in the oven to dry. Then after lunch they would be back to analyse them. They would pick 100 forams and identify them to species level. That takes a while! And I could take six students per day max. Otherwise it wouldn't fit into the improvised lab! If you then have high student numbers (our max is 39) you have to do many days. And you hope feverishly you have days with fewer than six students, as it's nice to be able to have at least a tiny amount of room to breathe.

Now I was given two days in total. In this case, it means I needed to do eight students per day, as we had a year with anomalously low student numbers. Eight is still a lot! I had to do it in the bigger cottage where we eat together. We could set up enough microscopes there. But you can't do the 'identify 100 forams' thing with so many students so I had made a plan (based on an idea of Katrien, who would have been in charge if my contract would not have been extended) that involved data from an earlier year, and the students only drawing the forams. That would only take a few hours!

Aside from what I did quite a lot of the field trip had stayed the same. It is quite nice; you get into the field every day, you get to know the students, you get to know your colleagues a lot better as you pretty much live together, and it's all very pleasant. And this year it was neither a wash-out nor a heat wave! So that was great.

The plans had been made, but now we had to actually do it. The first day was a bit weird; firstly, I had overslept; I woke up at the hour I should have met the people I would travel up with. I jumped into my clothes, threw my bags in the car and was off. No time to make a coffee! Luckily we had quite some margin. I met them, was given some stick (which I deserved) for being late, and off we went. We arrived in good time. There was time to bring the bags to the cottage, have a series of coffees, and get the microscopes ready. The cottage that used to be the microfossil lab, that I would still sleep in, now was some filtering lab. And a computer lab for Matlab and Excel purposes.

View from Crimea Pass early in the morning


The cottage and its new use

I was also again sharing the cottage with Tasha and her two dogs. They remembered me! And remembered I am easily persuaded to give them cuddles. Every time I went to or from the cottage I suffered death by love! That was great. 


When we went into the field I did my usual spiel. It went well! The students were interested and the weather was great. The tide was fine too. When we got back from the field I sieved one sample as an example; then I sent everyone away for lunch. And myself too!

The microscope work went well too. I had imagined some sort of musical chairs; have a sample per microscope, and have the students just move one microscope up every, say, 20 minutes. But the students suggested they just exchange samples. That was a good idea! They could leave their microscope set up to their demands, and it also meant they could swap as and when they were ready for it.

In a few hours they were done. I was happy with the new set-up! There was one student who was drawing the drawings I had provided rather than the forams themselves, but otherwise, all went well. A successful day! And I was tired but that was to be expected after a day that started at 4:45 (it should have been 3:50). I was now confident the rest of the trip would be fine too!

17 June 2018

Civilised on a Thursday Night

The previous week, I spent my Thursday Night upside down and in an uncomfortable position drilling holes in rocks in an uninviting corner of an abandoned slate mine. That's normal! This week was different. It was the end of the academic year, we had the External Examiners sweating away on assessing our curriculum, and their work was coming to an end. The School would take them for dinner, and I was invited. So I went!

I thought I had been invited as one of the examiners is Bill Austin, who is a foraminifera man who I had met before in St Andrews when I had been there on tephra business, and for proper foraminifera reasons. But he wasn't coming! He is from North Wales so if he's around he has more important people to meet. But the others, Paul and Dave, were there, as well as the David, the Head of School; Hilary, the exam officer; and Martin, who will take over from Hilary when she retires this summer.

It was a bit strange to be eating nice food in Dylan's on a Thursday night! But it was nice. The externals are nice chaps and the locals are nice too. And I am a bit of a basic cook, so eating in a fancy restaurant once in a while is a nice break from habit. And I do get to dine with Martin every year in Laugharne, but I never dine with David or Hilary.

A disadvantage was that I decided to go on my slow bike; I didn't want to leave the fast one outside for hours, and I didn't want to walk back to the office to retrieve a bike either. And a fairly heavy meal with wine to go with it isn't the best preparation for a bike ride! So I was home a bit late. But not as late as I often am on a typical Thursday Night...


NB this post got left behind! It pertains to Thursday the 7th and would probably have been posted on the 12th if all had gone as usual...

Rare climbing

I hadn't been climbing much recently! One night I had an appointment with the plumber, and one day I had some work stuff going on late and it would have been a right hurry to make it. So it had been three weeks! But I could make it out again. We would go to Gwern Gof Isaf. I had been there before, in August 2016, but that never made it to the blog. It was a hot day in Menai Bridge, so I expected sunburn and midges, but when I got to the campsite it was very windy. Soon I was wearing long trousers and a jacket! Who would have thought. And no midge was to be seen.

The crag with Tryfan in the background

Tony (who we hadn't seen for a while) and Eifion rigged two pitches. When the first was ready, Janet tried to climb it. It wasn't easy! I think it was 'Bulge'. Then the second was ready and I tried that; that was more doable. Not sure what this one was; Canol? Llech?

Janet (left) and me trying the routes. Pic by Eifion

Eirian and Charlotte tried it too but weren't feeling it. They weren't all that keen on the Bulge either. So while the men were trad climbing around the corner, Janet and I swapped routes. Then the men reappeared.

They didn't like how the rope caught on the easier of the routes; it gets stuck in the crack. They both just did the Bulge while I de-rigged the other route. Then I could take all out! It hadn't been a long climbing night, and I had only done two routes, but the company was good, the weather lovely, and no midge to be seen. No complaints!

Eifion on the Bulge

 Almost there!