09 May 2022

Dissertation presentations!

The day had come! The first batch of Ocean Sciences  dissertation students would give their dissertation  presentations. For the first time (since me organising this) we were using Reichel Hall; a University building a bit away from the main campus. I think I was in it in my first week, as the School had an away day right there.

I made sure to be there early. We would start at 9 am, and I wanted to check that everything was okay. I also had to prep all the rooms; I had a load of paperwork prepared for each of them. But when I got to the door, it will still closed, and my staff pass did not give access to it. Luckily, a lady from catering was faffing with tablecloths; I just knocked on the window, and she let me in. We had a small chat but I struggled with her accent. I left her to it, and started prepping the rooms. And soon I started finding the staff that was going to chair the sessions in the various rooms. That meant I could show them the paperwork I had prepared, and how I expected them to use it. I had sent them an email about this, but you can't take for granted that that gets read, understood, and remembered!

By the time I had explained things to staff in both rooms it was time to start. I had promised to join Katrien’s session; she had a co-chair, but he happened to be in Italy, so was a bit limited in his capabilities. And so it started! There were several talks about the Fukushima incident and its effect on the marine realm, and talks about topics as diverse as reconstruction of continental drift, and scour around marine infrastructure. We had a coffee break in the middle, but I realised I had failed to properly advertise that, so we didn't have it at the same time as the other group. That was a bit of a pity! Something I would get right in the afternoon. And when we were done it was lunchtime.

There were Bangor University brownies! They are renowned...

I quickly shoved some sandwiches into my face, because with lunch came a change of crew; the morning staff and students would leave, and a fresh cohort would arrive to fill the afternoon. So I had to do my rounds again! Go into the rooms, collect to the leftover paperwork, put new paperwork down, explain to the staff what I had in mind. In theory, I should have been agreeing marks with Katrien and Mattias, but there wasn't time and I just gave them my marks to sort it out. And this time I had my own session to run. It wasn't a big session, considering; we were three members of staff, and none of us had a complete group of students. 

Our session was quite diverse in topics as well. We had flooding, marine plastics, corals, sediment distribution and oceanic alkalinity. And a lot more. Quite a lot of our students overran, but with so many students absent, that wasn't a logistic problem. I personally found it very frustrating, though; they know timing is part of the mark, and we have a timer there for them to see, and if they just keep talking you see the grades drain away. I have a problem with that!

This time we made sure to do the coffee breaks at the centralised time. It's great is everyone is in the coffee room at the same time; that is much more social! And I switched two Welsh in my communications with the catering lady; that helped!

The corridor with all the rooms; I didn't want to take pics of actual presentations so as not to stress students out...

This time, I could sit together with my co-chairs after the session ended, and agree grades. That was quick; our individual grades weren’t very different. And at the end of the day, I again collected the leftover paperwork from the rooms, and went home. First day done!

When I got home I quickly inhaled some food. I had Welsh class at six! But I had announced I would be a bit late. I was only some 10 minutes late in the end. But it was a bit hard to concentrate! My mailbox had been entirely swamped with emails from students. Some had asked for permission to not present on the day, but separately, at a later date. Some said they had found a mistake in their PowerPoint slides; could they bring a new version on memory stick? All such questions. I wasn't very happy with that; all these emails that come in after the last working day before the actual event. And I know, of course, that academics don't only work working days, but I had spent an entire Sunday  preparing for this event and I had decided that that was enough. And all the day itself you can't expect me to be available for all sorts of individual queries. Everyone knows I am the module organises; surely I have my hands full on a day like this!

We have procedures for students with issues such as anxiety; they can have a meeting with the appropriate support services, have their special needs centrally registered, and then we can take them into account. Students who suddenly say they suffer from anxiety zero working days before a big assessment; I could see why that could happen, but it also means it is too late for us to take into consideration. Nobody benefits from that! And if it is just general nerves, then I personally think the best way of dealing with that is just plough through it. If you let it get the better of you, it will do the same the next time! I absolutely remember how nerve-racking it can be to give a presentation, but if you do it often enough, you don't care anymore at some point. And being totally relaxed about public speaking is a very useful skill to have.

By 9:30 and I had answered all the emails in my inbox. Anyone who would still be firing anything off from then on was, again, too late. Time for some brief relaxation and then bed. There was another day like this to come…

The next day I arrived early again. This time we had three rooms instead of two, so there was more preparation to do, but this time I didn't have to actually mark any talks so I could just sit in the coffee room during the sessions and catch up on some work.

My office for the day

This day seemed to have fewer students not showing up. There was one session in the morning that overran; they only vacated their room right at the time that the afternoon session would start! (in spite of the numbers it should have fit, by the way). But given that the students from the morning session weren't expected to attend the afternoon session and vice versa, it was no problem. The afternoon session could just have lunch while waiting for their room to become available, while the morning session could just have lunch afterwards. So it worked out!

There was one other issues; there was one afternoon session where the chairs were afraid the talks wouldn't fit within the session. And that was true; I had had to behave a bit like an airline, slightly overbooking the rooms. Otherwise it wouldn't work! I had seen in advance that loads of students had asked for, and been granted, extensions, so I figured it would fit on the day. But this session (only) ended up with one student too many. I didn't think it was a big issue; one student is 15 minutes, and overrunning by that amount of time is hardly the end of the world. But this session struggled a bit with timekeeping, and in the end they overran by about an hour. I had offered to jump in as soon as one of the other rooms would become available, and then just grab one member of staff and a few students, so two students could present at the same time. This offer was appreciated but not taken up. They said they just prefer to crack on. So I left! 

This time, I had neither Welsh class nor an overflowing inbox to come back to. With the presentations now done, there were no panicking students firing off emails anymore. So I got home, opened a beer, and went into the garden. I needed some fresh air now! After a long day in beautiful, but rather indoors, Reichel Hall. I had made it!

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