10 April 2019

Dissertation conference

The day came! I had printed out the conference booklets (per day and per room), the feedback sheets, the marking sheets, the room numbers; I had picked up the laptops and projector and card-scanning devices. I had fielded the inevitable last-minute questions by students. It was time to have the actual event!

I drove to the venue. It was so early the receptionist wasn't there yet, but security was. I got in and had a look at the rooms. None had projectors or laptops! Oh dear. I went back to ask but the bloke at the reception said he's come install them once the receptionist was there. OK! I started to install the ones I had brought. And to my relief, that was done without problems! And by then my colleague and sidekick David appeared with all the paperwork (we were sharing the lugging tasks). We started to made sure every room had the booklets and sheets they needed. And I copied all the presentations onto the laptops.

Then, for some reason, I checked my phone. And saw I had a mail from the caterer! He was ill and couldn't deliver lunch. Or coffee, for that matter. What? How does that work? Rather unprofessional to not have some backup for such occasions. I started to wildly phone around at other caterers. And discuss with David, What would we do? The students would be arriving soon! Many would already be on their way. And they wouldn't have food with them. I sent out a message that there was a problem with the catering and that students who were doing their talks in the afternoon should not come in yet. If I couldn't feed them they should arrive after lunch! And the students who were on in the morning would be allowed to go home for lunch. In the meantime, David finished the set-up.

I was still phoning around and sending messages when a trolley with coffee trundled past. I assumed that was for another group of people in the building with a different caterer. But then it appeared in one of our rooms. What? Where did that come from? The caterer still didn't answer the phone but they now responded to email. Yes they were back on! What the...?

I sent out another message to the students we were back on. Come the whole day! I was still nervous, though; if this bloke could change his mind twice he could do it thrice too. But let's hope for the best!

In the meantime the proceedings had started. All seemed to be well! That was a relief. I sat in a session but I was still bombarded with student messages. Could they still submit their abstract? They had missed the bus and would be late! Could they rectify a typo in their presentation? They were ill! Could they present after the main sessions as presenting in front of a group gave them anxiety? And so forth! I wasn't too focussed on the presentations.

After the coffee break things calmed down a bit and I sat in a session, marking. And then it was lunch time! Would something happen? And just when we were starting to despair it arrived. Great!

After the break I had my own session. I shared it with lots of staff (I had lumped several who each had too few students to fill a whole session) and I had asked someone else to chair. Which he did with panache!

After the talks I sought out my students to personally give them feedback. One was quite happy with how it had gone. Another one wasn't at all! And the third hadn't waited for me and legged it. He seems to not be all too fond of feedback.

By then things were coming to an end. Time to gather the marking sheets from the other staff, and pack up the equipment from our room. And steal all leftover fruit (which wasn't all that much.) I was tired! As expected.

The technology works!

The modestly inspiring view

The next morning I was much more relaxed; I knew the catering was back on, and than the previous day the technology had worked. I arrived a bit later this time (still 7:45) and set up the equipment again. I then got out the Friday's abstract booklets, and made sure the rooms had enough marking- and feedback sheets. And started putting the previous day's marks into excel! Unfortunately I also had to try to convince someone to turn the heating up; it was cold in the rooms and students were presenting in their coats. That was weird! It had been cold the day before but now it was worse. I didn't manage; though; the receptionist was as cold as we were and was trying already to sort the situation out.

When all was well on its way I had some frivolous time and popped downstairs. One of the ThursdayNighters, Simon, rents an office in this building. I went to have a look if he was in! And he was. We had a cup of coffee together and caught up. Very nice! Both of us have a bit of a penchant for not coming underground because of work demands. We don't see each other very often! And we also both bought a house at pretty much the same time and that hadn't improved the situation either.

Then I went back. I put the rest of the marks in. Then it was time to scan the students in! We sort of knew who was there as we know who presents, but it's important to emphasise that we check. If you don't, you risk them all coming only for their own presentation, and them all talking in front of an empty room! That would be sad. I also had to try to keep those whose session had already finished quiet so they wouldn't disrupt the sessions that were still ongoing. And I had been asked to still chase up students for the NSS but I managed to delegate that task to someone else.

After lunch I was in another session, with one of my biological colleagues. As these were his students I chaired the session. And timed it. It was quite interesting! And then we were done.

I then had a chat with the students who were done. They were not entirely happy with the module. But some of that was because of the strange twist universities got themselves into! They have to do their dissertation rather independently. But they complained they don't ever do that and are not up to it! But well, if you make them do work without holding their hands they complain so much you get called into the Head of School's office and are made to introduce hand-holding the students the next year. But if we hold their hands through the dissertation then 1) it would be too heavy a demand on our time and 2) would make the dissertation pretty useless. Can we really send them into the world with a degree that doesn't involve any independent work? But because of how universities are funded, we must dance to the students' music. I don't think we'll increase their amount of independent work anytime soon...

Soon all was done. I packed up what I could pack up. I encouraged the students who were still there to take left-over food home; I don't like food waste. And then I sent David home. I was still waiting for the very last student-supervisor couple who were going through the feedback. I felt like the captain; I would have to be the last to leave the ship! Then finally they were done. And we left. It was too late to bring the equipment back to the university. I went home! A big task was done. I think in the end it was OK; the presentations went well! And that was what was important. And next year it will be easier. Like so many things I did for the first time this year!

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