30 March 2024

Relaxing after Athena Swan

The first thing I did after I finished the Athena Swan work was check on my master student. I hadn't been able to give her a lot of time recently. But after that, I wanted to go home at a reasonable time. I had been making crazy working hours recently!

My first mission was to ride home via an alternative route. The semi-final of the cake competition is imminent, and I wanted to buy an ingredients that you can't buy in my village, and that also didn't seem to be stocked by the supermarket in Menai Bridge. But Bangor has several big supermarkets. I could just bike to the nearest one, and if unsuccessful, continued to the next one, and if unsuccessful, try the very biggest one. If that wouldn't work, I would know I had no option other than buy it online.

You guessed it; none of the supermarkets had my mystery ingredient. And finding that out led to a commute that was only 5 km longer than the usual 24 km (both ways) but took me over a road less travelled. 

View on the unusual part of my commute 

I had also been convinced that there was another working day before the Easter break, but I found out around coffee time that that wasn't the case. I didn't complain! I could use a break.

The next morning I knew I didn't have to go to work. It was great! To my surprise, it did involve having breakfast looking out over the snowy garden. I didn't think we would get any more snow this year! But I was clearly wrong. And it was going to stay sunny for a while, so I went for a nice relaxed 10k run before lunch. It was glorious weather.

The view during breakfast 

It's nice to be able to blog about something that has pretty pictures again! It's been a bit text-heavy recently…

29 March 2024

Athena Swan: the practical issues

Applying for an Athena Swan award is not only about evaluating the progress you have made with regard to gender equality in your Academic department, and philosophies about the progress you will make in the future, but also just about getting the document together. And getting it submitted. Of course there are impediments.

About a week before submitting I checked the website of Advance HE, the awarding body, to see how you actually go about submitting. The information pack I had been sent just said "check the website". But there was no mention of it there.

I asked Alison, my contact person. Luckily, she could direct me. It is a bit like a secret handshake! If you don't know where to look, and what parts of the site to get an account for, you'll never find it. Are they doing this on purpose?

Finding out where the document has to go is one thing; writing it in the first place is another. The reasonable platform to write it in is Microsoft Word. Everyone who has used that for extensive documents knows it is a temperamental collaborator. It makes strange, apparently autonomous, decisions about layout, and if you work it with voice control software, things get worse. It was quite frustrating at times.

My main application is in portrait, but the appendices tend to be in landscape, because they have tables in them that just don't comfortably fit on a portrait page. And I know that in theory, you can tell a Word document that part of it has to be portrait, and part in landscape. This did not work in practice, however. I didn't worry too much about that; you can just do that in PDF. But then I checked the submission requirements, and these said I had to submit in both PDF and Word. Oh no! That would be such a nightmare. And it was a change from instructions given earlier.

The screenshot I sent Alison

This complication solved itself, though; I mentioned it to Alison, who deals with Advance HE quite frequently, and she asked them if that was true. It turned out they had made this change as sometimes, the people reviewing the applications have visual impairments, and depend on screen readers. For some reason, PDF does not seem to always work well with those; hence the request for two formats. However; it seems to already be known who my reviewers would be, and they didn't seem to have visual impairments, so I was okay to just submit a PDF. Phew. 

The last documents I needed came from the Head of School. He had to write an endorsing letter, and a description of the department. Unfortunately he also had to write a lot of letters of endorsement for everyone who was applying for promotion in this round. Including me! And he had recently been busy with hiring people. And it seems he had to write a huge planning document at the same time. And I know he's busy, but he's known for months he needs to do this. And he is probably going to be the first one in the firing line if we don't submit for renewal. So busy or not, he had to perform! And I knew that in the end he would. And he did.

When in the end I had everything that was needed for the application, it was time to merge it all together. And I had to stick quite a number of files together! The application in three parts; the letter of the Head of School with a Bangor University letterhead, and the parts of the application that came before and after that, on a normal background; then something that wasn't technically an appendix but in practice was; then one appendix that came in three parts, and then three more appendices. Altogether 10 files. I don't have the software to do that, so I have to do it online, on the Adobe website, but there are restrictions to what you can make it do. Would it be okay with 10 files? I was about to find out.

When I clicked "merge" I held my breath. And then came an error message. Nothing about the 10 files, but that my merged document would be more than the maximum of 100 pages. Oh dear! Now what? Could I perhaps leave one appendix out and separately email it to Advance HE? But then I noticed I could just download the document. I'm not sure why they showed me that message when they were clearly allowing me to download the full 167 pages!

It felt really good to have the whole document! I did have a check whether everything seems to be in it. It all looked okay. Ideally, you would print it out, and with a big mug of coffee next to you, go through everything one last time in detail. But I didn't! It was the last working day before Easter, and I really didn't want to submit at the last minute. It is way too likely that something goes wrong. And who is going to provide you with assistance if the Easter break has already started? So I wanted to submit that very afternoon.

After several attempts I managed to login to where I needed to be. I first had to jump through some hoops before I could upload my document. But it didn't upload. I tried again. It didn't upload. I tried again. It didn't upload. This was exactly the reason I didn't want to submit any later than I was!

I sent an email to Advance HE. Was there perhaps a page limit that I wasn't aware of? Or a document size limit? My application was 3 Mb! Before I had an answer I decided to go back to the Adobe website and compress the file. I got it down to 2 Mb. Maybe that would work.

I got a quick reply from Advance HE; they said they had 'an intermittent problem on the platform'. So at least it wasn't my fault! And they offered to receive the application by email. But by then I had my compressed file, and tried again. It went through! It was done! 

It was 15:30. The university would close for Easter at 18:00. So I had time to email the news to the people who had worked with me; let them know the work was done, and thank them for their contributions. And that was it. The thing I had been most nervous about for the whole year was done! And now we need to wait for the outcome. At the earliest I will hear in May; at the latest, in mid June. I will report back!

28 March 2024

Athena Swan: the social aspects

I had taken over the role of School EDI lead, and thus the person responsible for Athena Swan accreditation, from my colleague Katrien. She had been mainly responsible for the previous application. And some of the work had been done when she was on parental leave, and Martin had been at the helm, but as soon as she was back he handed the whole responsibility back to her.

With me writing the new application, in a way my job was to assess whether she had done a good job. The main parts of the application are an evaluation of to what extent the promises made 2018 had been fulfilled. And then, of course, the new action plan.

The old action plan didn't have any promises that reached beyond 2019 (except those on continuous processes), so it should have been clear quite a while ago how much of it we had actually done. But that was not documented anywhere. Hence that it had become my job to find out how many of these 70 promises we had kept several years ago. Quite laborious! A lot of responsibilities for these promises were laid at the feet of the Head of School and the Director of Research, and people like that, but we had new ones since, and I don't think these were even aware of what had been promised in (by now) their name. So it was a bit of a searching game.

This had made me a bit annoyed. Why was this my job? That part of the applications should have been ready a long time ago. And then I could just focus on the new action plan.

Katrien hadn’t been sitting still over the years, of course. She had achieved all sorts of important things; progress with respect to promotion of part-time workers, decolonisation of the curriculum, etc. But that was largely outside the 70 promises. And an application has a rather tight word limit! Once you have explained how many of your promises you have kept and why, and what your new promises are and why, you have run out of space. You can't really go on about what additional stuff you have done. At least not in the main part of the application.

That lead to some friction. I was grumpy that I was doing a lot of work with difficulty, that she could have done with ease four years ago. And she was grumpy that I wasn't giving her credit for all the work she had done. Not in the application; not in meetings. I suppose we both had a point. She totally did great work; it was just that I had to focus on the requirements of the application. And I may have overdone that a bit. The situation also arose that she started editing her own work into the draft application. But she had misinterpreted the word limit, and I had to take it all out again. As I write this, I don't think she is aware of it yet. Once she does, this might not help the situation. But I don't set these word limits! 

I also came up with a trick; the one place where I figured quite a lot of her text actually would come into its own was in the description of the School. That part was written by John, but I sent him the bits of text Katrien had written. Could he find a home for them? And he did! So I did managed to save a fair amount of it. 

It's Easter break now and I won't see her for a while. We'll see what the damage is when I do again. I think we will be okay. We have had friction before, and we always solve it again. I’m sure we will this time as well. We’re just flawed people both striving for better conditions in the School! Let’s focus on that. 

27 March 2024

Athena Swan: the collation stage

Don't expect to read much about things other than Athena Swan on this blog for now! It is quite all-consuming, as I already mentioned. 

I thought I’d update on the process of asking six people to contribute, and then incorporating their contributions into one coherent narrative. It worked! At least, I think it did. We will, of course, only know whether it did when the whole thing has been submitted and judged, and we are informed on whether the submission was successful. I'm not sure how long that takes. But anyway; how did it go so far?

I had asked six people to look at one priority in our action plan. I had written a draft, and Alison from HR (although she does this as the Athena Swan officer, not as HR staff) had provided feedback. I had included all the data the draft was based on in the document. So then people were asked to see what I had done, make improvements if they saw fit, and provide 300 words of accompanying text. The application has to explain why the action plan is what it is.

I had asked for that to be delivered to me just short of a week before the deadline. I knew I would have to work hard to then incorporate it all into the greater narrative, but so be it.

Of course, that week, two of the six were ill. That didn't bode well. The other four delivered on time. And the ill ones managed to get it done before the end of the weekend. I had offered to write their bit too, but they didn't take me up on that. But these contributions meant that that Saturday, I could already incorporate most of their texts into the full document.

It was difficult to do the streamlining! I had asked for 300 words, but some people got a bit carried away and submitted considerably more. And the application has a fairly strict work limit. And the problem was, as well, that I had to make it all rather similar in format; that sometimes required me adding things. So I first had to make their texts longer, and then start culling and pruning. I have the feeling this might make me unpopular! But so be it. I'm not writing this application to become popular. The important thing is that we get the award. 

There are clear differences in style between these six. And also of approach. Some people had largely rewritten my action plan. Some had pretty much left it as was, and only written accompanying text. I don't know if that meant that they thought it was marvellous, or whether they wanted to spend a minimum amount of energy on it. But either way; by the end of the weekend I might not have had a full application, given that there are also contributions needed from the Head of School, but apart from that, I had something I was largely comfortable with. And I needed that; I had promised Alison the draft. Although I did some editing after I had sent it in. 

To my relief, she was largely positive about what I had sent her! That took a bit of the pressure off. Of course I still had things to sort. I was not at risk of getting bored! But it looked like that with this combined effort, we had broken the back of it…

25 March 2024

Athena Swan in high gear

The deadline for applying for our Athena Swan award was getting closer and closer. And there was still a lot to do! So after things such as fieldwork and applying for promotion I would still do the occasional things that really need doing, like dealing with my master student, but otherwise I was full-time on the application. During the day. During the evening. In the weekends. It was exhausting, but at least I knew it would be temporary. And it felt good to have some help.

On the topic of my own promotion, by the way; I figured I would be a fool to sacrifice my own career to that of the School; I basically had done that before by working myself a terrible RSI, only to be threatened with redundancy. And I wasn't keen on repeating anything like that. Hence that when I received feedback from my line manager, I prioritised my own promotion application over the Athena Swan application of the School, and spent a Saturday on that

I would feel so good once I would have submitted the Athena Swan application! And then, of course, the wait is on to see if it would be granted. If it is, that would be fab. If it isn't, we get feedback, and the opportunity to resubmit within six months. But at least these are not the busiest six months of the academic year. In winter, for instance, I was already working on the application, but I was so bogged down with marking work that I got very little else done. And that is one of the reasons why it comes down to the last minute now. With a resubmission I suspect less of that. Wish me luck for the final sprint!

24 March 2024

Improvise office blinds

I was just working in my office when the afternoon progressed so much that the sun started shining through my Velux window onto my monitor, so I stood up and pulled down the roller blinds. Or at least; that was the idea.

My building is from the 80s, and I think quite a lot of things are original. The single pane glass in my window with a metal window frame. The carpet. The name sign on the door. I think the roller blinds were original as well. And they are covering a south-facing roof window, so they must have been exposed to quite a lot photodegradation.

I pulled the blinds down and I heard a terrifying rip sound. I was left with the rod I had been pulling on in my hand, and the fabric tightly wound around the tube at the top. Oh dear!

The first thing I did was try to block out the sun some other way. I managed to hang my jacket up in such a way it took away most of the light from my screen. Then I emailed estates, who are the designated people to do something about this. I hope they snap into action quite soon. I would think this is one of the cheaper repairs they are asked to perform!

On the same day, in my home office, there was another lighting issue. I have a lamp above my computer; it makes working a lot more pleasant, as otherwise the only artificial light comes from behind. And that lightbulb did what seems to be so common in my house; it decided to go very dim.

It's a bit annoying that material failure is getting in the way of my work! This is not really the time when I can take things easy…

23 March 2024

Unexpectedly good morning in the field

After an amazingly sunny first day in the field for my Earth, Climate and Evolution module, the second trip was coming up: the one to Cwm Idwal. I kept a bit of an eye on weather forecast. Two days beforehand, it looked like it could go either way. But the day before, I had my head firmly in Athena Swan business, desperately trying to finish something, and I failed to check the latest updates.

Then an email came in from Jaco. We tend to ask timetabling to keep three days free, in case we have to cancel one trip for weather reasons. Or any other reason, really. So there was a backup! And the weather forecast had made a clear decision: it was going for really bad. Just rain the whole morning. We would only be in the field in the morning! And he suggested we cancel, and use the contingency date. But it was late in the day. Would the students notice if we would cancel? Could we still cancel the coaches? What about students who wouldn't be travelling by coach? I struggled a bit with the decision. I phoned Katrien, and we decided we would just be there in the morning. If the conditions really looked atrocious, we could just turn back to campus. By now, we would have had to pay for the coaches anyway. And the students would all know what would be going on. And have a say in it.

We gathered in the morning and it wasn't particularly bad. So we went for it! It was even not raining when we got to where the coach drops us off. And it was a very still day. It can be very blowy in there, and that makes things a lot worse!

As usual, we split the students up in four groups, and we did our usual circumnavigation around the lake. I really enjoyed the trip. It's a beautiful area, and we have interesting things to say. Or at least, I find them interesting. And I thought I had a pleasant group! They were also dressed so that they were quite comfortable in the weather conditions. That's important, and not always the case.

Starting to walk towards the Cwm

The stream looked good

My group was also not very big, because Lynda had brought her dog; she attracted a disproportionate number of students. But she knew that that would be the case; she had tried this before, and she was okay with it. And by the looks of it, the dog had a whale over time! Whether her group will remember much of the geology I don't know…

It all went well. There was barely any rain! The views were not so good though. I don't think any of the groups saw the famous Devil’s Kitchen syncline. Nor Tryfan, or the tops of any of the mountains. But we pretty much saw everything else!

The lake looking mysterious in the mist

At the back of the valley 

When we got back to the parking lot I was keen to leave quite promptly. Normally there are toilets there, but because of some malfunction of shorts, that day there weren’t. And some students indicated a certain level of urgency.

On this module, I now only have one quiz-style revision session left. All the other teaching is done! Term is coming to an end!

22 March 2024

Application sent in

I have done it! I decided my application for promotion to Senior Lecturer was is good as it was going to get, and I sent it to my line manager for signing. And when it came back, I sent it to HR. They have acknowledged receipt. So there it is! I have taken the step. And now I have to wait a few months to see if it was successful.

I know most applications are successful, but that doesn't guarantee anything, of course. And what if it isn't? That would be annoying, but I'm sure a rejection would come with feedback, and then I can have another go at polishing this up this coming summer. And just submit it again in the next round. I'm sure some of it might be sorted with some editing, and if the substance isn't good, then I have another promotion round to work on that. I feel like I am on quite a roll, so another six months or year could make a substantial difference. So either way; I have faith that this will get sorted in the not too long distance. And I am sure to report back here!

21 March 2024

4 species of moss

I mentioned I had found a moss specialist at an event I attended. I had driven in, so I saw an opportunity. I asked if she was happy to try and identify the mosses on my car. And she was! 

She brought out her hand lens and set to work. And she was impressed by the biodiversity. She thought she recognised four species! And she was a bit envious; she set her own car couldn't match that level of biodiversity.

I was hoping I would find out one day what species I would have! And now I do. She wasn't entirely certain of all of them, but this is the best I have. See below! All species identified. And having looked at pictures I am quite confident in the identifications of the two Bryum species. If anyone reads this blog thinks is anything wrong with this taxonomy, then shout!

Bryum capillare

Bryum argenteum

Brachythecium rutabulum

Racomitrium fasciculare; notice a lichen in the background

20 March 2024

Day out in the south

There was yet another Sustainability event in the diary; this time in Penrhyndeudraeth. I think it’s important to maintain that network, so in spite of being busy I said I’d go. But I figured I could combine it with other things. It was in the direction of where my both new and old colleague Martyn lives. I could pop by! And, of course, I could go for a run somewhere unusual. 

Martyn and family would be home. And I figured I could run near Rhosgadfan. So in the morning I set off in my running kit with some extra clothes over the top. It was good weather in Bethesda, but I soon drove into a cloud. And I was still in that cloud in Rhosgadfan. But so be it! I ran a nice loop around the hill there (Moel Tryfan). Views were limited, but the quarry remains (of Alexandra Quarry) looked suitably gloomy in the fog. And I had seen them in clear (and even clearer) weather before. 

When I got back to the car I had a wash. I wanted to appear at Martyn and Malen’s in a presentable state! And then I headed for Talysarn. 

I hesitated a bit at the top of Martyn’s drive. It’s narrow and steep. But the road is one small car wide and I had little choice. I chanced it. 

I was greeted by both adults. Dylan, the boy, was shy and kept his distance. Soon Martyn showed me the house. It was less ready than I had imagined! But clearly beautiful. Then we had coffee and a bit of a catch-up. It was really nice! 

Then I had to be on my way. I really struggled to reverse back up the drive, but managed in the end. And then got to Penrhyndeudraeth without issues. The meeting was in a big memorial hall. I joined a table with acquaintances and got myself a cup of tea. 

Soon the talks started. All five regions gave an update. That took an hour and a half! Then it was time for coffee, bara brith and Welsh cakes. One lady had been identified as a moss specialist. I made sure to liaise with her! 

Soon after it was time for soup. A band was setting up. And it struck me I could actually leave. Nothing useful was going to happen from then on! And when I said that, I immediately had two passengers. I wasn’t the only one who figured it had been enough. 

The essence of the day had been the meeting, but the other parts turned out to be more interesting. But it was good to have a day mostly off. I hope I’ll be back at Martyn’s place reasonably soon! And a run in that neck of the woods is always a nice bonus. 

19 March 2024

Another book read: a Waugh

I think I'm on a roll now! I finished yet another book. My ostentatious ‘to read’ pile in the living room is getting smaller. After the non-fiction of the previous book, I decided to go fiction again. And a friend had lent me a book by Evelyn Waugh when she heard I had never read anything by him. She offered me ‘Vile Bodies’. The cover suggests it is the British answer to the Great Gatsby. 

As soon as I started reading I disagreed. The author starts introducing a lot of characters to you, and the majority has completely ludicrous names. Mrs Ape? Mr Outrage? Lady Metroland? That sounds a bit facetious to me. I also didn't think he was making them anything other than superficial sketches.

I did see the Great Gatsby connection, of course; the characters in this book are continuously skint, but in a way, always rich. They have the connections. They can just borrow some money from a gullible rich friend. They rarely seem to need to work, they seem permanently drunk, and food is something other people cook for you. It is very upper class.

Something that is quite different between the two books, other than the jokey tone, is that in the Great Gatsby, of course, the main story is driven by an obsessive infatuation. Nobody is obsessively infatuated in Vile Bodies. The protagonist has a love interest, but he is decidedly half-hearted about it. And so is she. The sparks entirely refrain from coming off the page.

The whole book is some privileged young people being feckless and drunk, all the way until on page 265 of 271, the First World War breaks out. And then the final pages are dedicated to the protagonist, who is in the middle of the war zone. It is quite a contrast. It does lend a bit of gravity to the whole book. But, of course, even in the devastated wasteland of trench warfare the implausible encounters continue.

I don't think I have a big urge to read more of his work. But now at least I have read one, and I know what it's like! And it read rather fast. The next one will be non-fiction again!

18 March 2024

Renewed family links

Every year, we have a family reunion with all family from my father’s side. I try to make it; it’s special to spend time with people you have either known your entire life, or their entire lives. But I don’t only have a father, of course. What about my mother’s side of the family?

That family meets every year as well. It’s a bigger group; my dad has only two siblings, while my mother has eight. I remember attending these meetings as a child. And I once went as a teenager. But my mother herself hasn’t been going since my childhood, and then you get into the habit of not going yourself. And when you don’t go, you lose connection. So hence that you won’t find a report of such a family gathering on this blog. 

Then my sister phoned, and said she had connected with a cousin of that side on LinkedIn. And that had lead to them, plus an additional cousin, going for lunch. They all live fairly close together. That helps! 

I had told my sister that I was interested in jumping on the bandwagon, and not much later, I got an invite from my cousin, Jennifer, as well. And we started exchanging messages. The plan is that we will go for lunch next time I'm in the Netherlands. I'm quite excited about this! I feel there is some untapped connection there, and who knows what will come from it…

17 March 2024

Field days battling tides and weather

It's another fieldwork tradition: a day on the beach with the first year students and my colleague Lynda. This always falls in February or March. The weather can be interesting! This year, though, our first concern was not the weather. It was the tides. They would be unusually high. And low water would be at awkward times. And that led to an unusual situation: we would go out on two afternoons, rather than one whole day. Normally, we split the group in two; half the group first go surveying at Gallow’s Point, and after lunch join us on the beach, and the other half does it the other way around.

Not looking good

My task is to get to the beach before the students do, and demarcate nine sections on the sediment cliff they will have to log. So I travel independently.

This year I had kept an eye on the forecast. It looked absolutely awful! Luckily, the first day, which had initially been forecast to be rain, rain and more rain, became a bit drier. So that was good news. Regarding the tides; I knew that the students would reach the beach while water would still be quite high, so I depended on Lynda to do a sizeable introduction, while I would do what I needed doing.

An hour before I would get there, a student who would drive himself sent us a picture of the flooded road. Oh dear! But I would travel up in a big truck that isn't scared of a bit of flooding. But by the time I arrived, you could tell the road had indeed been flooded in places, but no longer was. Good enough for us! And together with that student I waited for the coach to arrive.

The plan worked! By the time we had given all the students the materials they needed, the tide had dropped so much it was physically possible to get onto the beach. And I could go around and create my sections.

Access (or lack thereof) to the beach, looking back 

Some of the crazy sediment 

The students listening to Lynda’s spiel; notice how far out the tide already is 

It was mainly dry and not particularly cold, but there was a rather chilly wind, and if you were out in it, you would get cold sooner or later. But the students were in fine form, and promising logs were created of the nine sections. When we noticed the first group had done them all, though, we got ready to gather everyone for a bit of a spiel at the end. This was not weather to hang around doing nothing! And I left the sections as they were.

Lynda talks to a student while a fossil coral attracts my attention 

The next day I would pick up a student who had reasons to not travel on the coach with the other students. We left a bit after the coach. The coach would get there when the water levels would be even higher than the day before. No point getting there before them. But that did complicate things!

Shortly outside Beaumaris a man was blocking the road. He said there was a flood, and we couldn't go on. I didn't think my car would struggle with that. And he said he had let the coach through! If a coach can go through, surely my rugged big-wheeled pick up truck would be fine? But I think the point was more that I could physically take a detour over narrow windy country roads, and the coach couldn't. So that's why he had made an exception for Lynda and her crew. I would have to go around.

Me and the student then hit the tiny little back roads. And it wasn't long until we hit a logjam! These roads are not made for traffic going in two directions. Normally, you wouldn't get so many cars there it would be a problem. If you encounter another vehicle, someone just reverses into the nearest passing space, and the problem is solved. But get too many cars in a heap and it doesn't work anymore! So it was a bit of a struggle to make it. But in the end we did.

Lynda had to start talking on the part of the beach where there isn't an exposed cliff face, because we couldn't yet get to the next part of the beach. I splashed through; I've practised this, and I was wearing welly boots. Quite a lot of the students were wearing hiking boots. Not a good idea to wade through seawater with those!

Access to the beach: day 2

I could check the state of the first three sections, and then I had to Wait a bit before I could go around the promontory. Then I could check two more sections. Some needed touching up. And then I had to wait several minutes to make it to the last part of the beach. It was not even unpleasant. The sea is quite mesmerising. I was just standing there, looking at the misty hills of of Gwynedd, listening to the lapping waves. Could be much worse!

Second bottleneck; I had to get past that promontory with the flat rock on top

I then checked the last sections and went back. It turned out I had failed to notice one section had completely vanished. Oh dear! I quickly improvised new one. 

Because the weather would be a lot worse than the day before, we had told the students to only log half the sections, and then do a bit of a data exchange. So we were quite fast this time! Which was great. When Lynda did her spiel, it was raining. So we were glad to get away while we were still relatively warm and dry.

Gloomy skies

We got back without traffic hassle, as by now it was getting closer to low tide.

I must say, I quite liked doing it two different days. Both us and the students used to get quite tired in the morning, and then had to do and afternoon session as well. And for me the challenge always was to bring enough water for the entire day. Maybe we will do it on two different days again next year. We'll see! But at least I was glad we had somehow managed to pull this off in spite of the spring tides and the awful weather forecast. And of unexpected travel challenges…

16 March 2024

Promotion application progress

It was somewhere when I last spoke of my intention to apply for promotion to senior lecturer. These things take time, and there is little! So I took the opportunity of the summer lull to write the bulk of the application. In early December I sent it off to the Head of School and Dei. HR had said there would be a January promotion round. But in January they declared it would open in February, and close in March. Fine! It's a bit awkward that the deadline is about a week before the deadline for the Athena Swan application. I think I feel like how the students are feeling when they have bunched deadlines!

Both John and Dei are very busy, so it was difficult to get any feedback out of them. Until one Friday evening. I had seen John's car when I left to go home; he was clearly still at it. (I would work a bit more that evening, but at home.) And he had got around to having a look. Great! It took me a while to get him to support me, but he is doing it.

My intention had been to work on the Athena Swan application that weekend, but I only did what I needed to do in that context to prepare for a meeting I would have Monday. The rest of the time when I wasn't doing weekend necessities such as shopping and cooking and dishes and the recycling and repairs and cave rescue admin, I incorporated his comments.

That Monday I was seeing John about matters of Athena Swan. While I was there anyway, we also discussed my draft application. He said it was all very factual, but that I did a poor job of emphasising what it was I had done. Where I had taken initiative, where I had shown leadership, where I had made a difference. I do mention in the application, for instance, that I am in the University Senate. But he said that I was only the second woman in history to represent the School in that body, and that presenting the results of the Senate meetings to the School is a big responsibility. I should shout that off the rooftops! So after that peptalk I spent a few evenings trying to pump some adrenaline into my application.

Soon I will have to submit it. And then I can only keep my fingers crossed!

15 March 2024

International Women’s Day 2024

When I saw the announcement of the Bangor University International Women's Day celebration, I was a bit underwhelmed. It was basically just one hour in a big lecture theatre; there would be a talk by two speakers, and then the opportunity for questions. The speakers were fabulous; they were both from the School of Oceans Sciences. They were one of our new professors, and one of the students. And they would talk about encouraging diversity in science. So as the EDI lead in the school, and as a person who finds this sort of thing important, and as someone who likes to stand by her fellow female ocean scientists, I decided to go.

When I was looking for a place to park my bike I saw the lady from HR, which is the one who is helping me with my Athena Swan application, approach the building. She had organised the event, so I knew where she was going. So a bit later I walked into the lecture room. I was a bit early, but that was okay. But I was a bit shocked by the big echoing hall, with up until then only two people in it. Ali from HR, and pro vice chancellor for EDI: Andrew Edwards. Only these two! That was not very promising.

Soon a few more people appeared: one of the speakers, the EDI lead of the College, the Head of School… all people who basically couldn't not be here because of their function. And after that, a few people came in who were just there because they had chosen to. But this was one of the biggest lecture theatres in the university!

Something unexpected happened; Andrew is not only the highest authority on EDI in the university, but he is also the father of the colleague who had recently gone on parental leave! And he was bursting with pride when he showed me a picture of the baby asleep on his lap. That was so sweet.

When it was time, Andrew opened the event. Bilingually, of course. Then Morag, the EDI lead of the college, introduced the two speakers: Yueng and Kodi. And Yueng went first. By that time, there were about 25 people in the whole room, and that included everyone who was part of the organisation. I'm not quite sure how many staff and students we have, but my guess is about 1600 and 10,000.

Yueng basically talked us through her life, with her youth in Singapore, her PhD at Scripps, and her landing in Wales. And how her career progressed there. And she talked us through the composition with regard to gender and ethnicity of the communities involved, and what that had meant to her.

Yueng speaking, with Kodi waiting her turn

Kodi, who is from the Caribbean, had a (so far) shorter life and career to reflect on, but she also talked to us through it. And then she, Yueng and Morag sat down on stage for a question and answer session. I kept track, and it its peak, we had 30 people in total in the room. It's a bit sad! And the ladies did an amazing job, but few people were there to appreciate it. The university still has work to do increasing its diversity, but I don't think this event made a noteworthy contribution to that!

The Q&A session: Morag, Yueng, Kodi

Ali takes a picture of the speakers with Andrew and Morag, with the VC looking on

14 March 2024

Checking the exam questions

I seem not to have mentioned we have a new tradition in the School. Between uploading our exam papers onto a OneDrive folder, and letting the External Examiners loose on them, we go through them ourselves. We did that for the first time this academic year. Towards the end of the first semester, we got a lot of academic staff together, got split into groups, and then each took a selection of the exam papers under our wing. And the purpose was twofold: firstly, check if there was anything amiss with the questions. Were they clear? Were there accidentally any confusing typos left in them? If they had several sub-questions, was it indicated what proportion of the grade depended on which sub-question? Would someone with dyslexia struggle disproportionately with this question?

The second objective was to check for questions that would be too easy to answer correctly using AI. However; going through every single exam question in quite a number of exams is quite time-consuming. Pulling them all through AI was a bit much. But at least we could flag up questions of which we suspected it would be too easy to have AI answer them satisfactorily. 

It sounds like a very dull task, but actually, we ended up rather giggly. It can be quite funny to let your full language pedant loose on someone else's exam questions.

This year  we knew the drill. To my dismay, only five people showed up for the session, even though we have about 30 academic stuff! So we split into two groups, and set to work. And, surprise surprise; we got a bit giggly. I was quite enjoyable.

It is also just interesting to see what other people actually ask the students. There is such a range! Some questions go completely over your head if the topic is not your specialism. Questions about the details of certain geophysical pieces of equipment, for instance. If that's not your thing. I noticed my biological colleagues had no idea what I was talking about if I was asking questions about climatically significant geological events/periods back in time. They don't tend to think outside modern times! But some questions you can just do with a bit of common sense and some basic arithmetic.

I think the previous semester we ran heavily over time. This time, we were more of a well-oiled war machine, and we got all exams checked by the time we were supposed to be finished. All except one exam, that had not yet been uploaded. One of our staff members is a scoundrel!

I hope that now we have had a detailed look at all of them, the external examiners won't have that much to complain about anymore. We will soon find out! The exams are in May. And I think so far we seem to be skipping ahead of AI. But will have to keep an eye on the situation and not become complacent. I don't think any of us will be spectacularly increasing our level of skill, but AI is doing just that as we speak! But I'm sure we'll find a way to deal with that. At least for this academic year I think we're fine. And I'm quite happy with this new tradition…

13 March 2024

Last post of the series filled?

After all the other rounds of presentations associated with job vacancies (like this and this and this and this), we had one more session to finish it all off. My colleague David, the only geochemist in the School, will be retiring in summer, and we need a replacement. So I was glad to see presentations scheduled. There were only two shortlisted candidates. 

Given the small number of shortlisted candidates I figured we would get an email quite soon about the outcome. But a week later, there still was no news. Nothing still two weeks later. The grapevine had been buzzing frantically since the day of the interviews! The first candidate seemed to have accepted and agreed to start in July. But why was there no official news? Especially with David retiring in June already! Three weeks later: nothing. Now that I post it, it’s been almost four weeks. Still nothing. No idea what is going on...

Marine pollution. Pic by Rey Perezoso

12 March 2024

Best possible day for a trip on the beach with students

Every year, my Earth, Climate and Evolution module has two field trips; one to Red Wharf Bay, and one to Cwm Idwal. And I quite like them. But they are a bit weather dependent! The trip to Red Wharf Bay can be a lovely sunny walk on the beach if the weather is cooperating. There are years when it is rainy and windy and altogether not very pleasant. Geologically, there is a lot to see! But it is nicer to see it under comfortable circumstances.

The Cwm Idwal trip is a bit more spectacular, landscape-wise, and I mind the weather a bit less. But it still really makes a difference. 

This year, the trips fell quite early in the season. And then the risk of bad weather is extra big. But in early March, we embarked two coaches going to the Bay, and the sunshine was glorious and there was no wind! It couldn't possibly have been better. Because we have a very large cohort in the first year, we had rather large groups, so it was quite pleasant that it wasn't windy; your voice reaches groups of up to 20 people a lot more easily on a calm day.

It was a great day for it! Everyone seemed to have had a good time. The only disappointment seems to have been that Lynda seems to have been reminiscing about buying ice cream after the trip last year, but this year it was so early in the season that no one in the area was selling any. A pity! But otherwise; great trip! There is no way we'll get similar conditions for the next trip two weeks later, but that's OK!

Red Wharf Bay

Glacial striations on Carboniferous limestone 

Walking back to the coaches

11 March 2024

Spreading the Athena Swan love/work

It was me writing the Athena Swan action plan so far. I had also been the one defining our priorities in the first place. I had spent several meetings trying to drag priorities out of the other people in the Self Assessment Team and the working groups, but that didn't really work. But the whole application is supposed to reflect the whole School. Secondly; ideally it would be successful, and if you spread the work over several people they are less likely to get overloaded, and produce substandard work. So basically, it would generally be a good thing to involve more people in the actual writing of the application.

We had a meeting of the Self-Assessment Team, and my main aim for it was to get the others on board that we would try to spread the load. And they were up for it! So we basically took our six priorities, and thought of a person who would be best place to finalise each one. And we ended the meeting agreeing that I would write a draft email asking them, because I know precisely what it is that needs to be done, and where the necessary resources are, and then the Head of School would send out the emails, as adding his position to the request might increase the chances that people say yes.

Several responses have already come in, and they were all positive. So I hope that has kicked the whole process into higher gear. Watch this space! 

10 March 2024

Car ecosystem

My car is known among my friends as ‘the Ecosystem’. I suppose it is an abbreviation of the original ‘mobile ecosystem’. And there is a reason for that. I don't see the point in washing that car. Maybe letting algae liberally grow where they want might not be good for the car, but I have no illusions that it will be the panels that in the end will spell the demise of the vehicle. The engine will give up before anything else.

The algae on the boot of the car are, in my eye, not very decorative. But I have several species of moss growing in the windowsills. And I think these are beautiful! They make me smile. And recently one species of moss went into flower in its mossy way. So if I'm driving now, I have three fruiting bodies cheerfully waving around in the corner of my right eye. I thought I'd share that!

Winter views soon to be lost

It’s meteorological spring! And it has been feeling like spring for a while. Soon the trees will have leaves again. I really like the longer days, but I always regret losing the beautiful view on the field on the other side of the river. I think trees are really really beautiful when they have no leaves. I'll just make sure to enjoy them while I can.

Unobstructed view, soon to be gone

09 March 2024

Late February resolution

When your standard commute is almost 15 miles and has 1400 foot of ascent, you wear your bike out rather quickly. The bicycle repair man had already told me that if I would just keep it clean, I wouldn't have so much wear and tear. But when I get home from my commute, I just want to put the bike in a corner and not think about it anymore. I see his point, though; having grit stuck in it is not going to help a bit.

When I realised I had almost run out of bike oil, I knew I had to buy some more. Not cleaning your chain is one thing; not oiling it is another! But when I was in the shop that sold the bike oil, I saw they also sold a chain cleaning device. And I bought it. I don't think I am going to use it on a daily basis, but I think I could manage a weekly rinse. It might give both my chain and my cogs a longer life! And that is a good thing.

“Keeping my bike clean" sounds like a New Year's resolution. It isn’t New Year anymore! It was February when I bought the device, and it is already March now I have used it for the first time. But I hope I can convince myself to make this a fairly regular habit. Maybe then I can space out my visits to the repair shop a bit more. Could I manage twice a year? I'll find out!

The kit

Ready for action!

Clean chain, dirty kit

08 March 2024

Plant overhaul

I don’t really have time for plant care! I have to write an Athena Swan application. But plants are living beings, and they have needs. I had neglected them a bit! But it was weighing on my conscience. Several were in pots that were by now too small, and some had ended up leaning against the window, and couldn’t stand up unaided anymore. And one seemed to be needing more support (from sticks) than it got.

On a Sunday morning I gathered all the plants I thought needed an upgrade. And I cut some rampant stems from overgrown sedums. I put it all in my conservatory. A material to do list. 

The plants that needed attention 

A strange succulent with climbing tendencies 

I repotted several money plants, an aloe vera, and an unidentified plant. The aloe vera also yielded three babies! I hope they all survive. One of them should go and live in my office. I propped the succulent above with more bamboo rods. (It’s a strange plant! Why can’t it support itself? And bits broke off - should I grow these into more plants that look weird and need help? Philosophical questions!) And I cleaned the windows sills they came from. 

I’m really happy with the results! My plants look better-housed, and a lot healthier. My window sills look good again. And one should sometimes just do stuff like that, and not work. 

One succulent, two money plants and one window sill looking tidier

07 March 2024

Sophie Kilburn and Melys

Neuadd Ogwen was back in business! Does that mean the renovation is finished? No, of course not. But they have already celebrated their reopening. And since then there was a Palestine support gig, and a Saint David's Day concert. That was spread out over two days.

Martin had messaged to see if anyone wanted to come with him to the Saturday gig. There were three musicians playing; I didn't know any of them. But I have my Spotify working these days, so I could easily do something about that.

The main act was a band that harked from nearby Betws: Melys. I wasn't aware of them, but they had quite a big back catalogue. And I liked what I was hearing! So I said I would go with him.

After that I also checked out the support acts. There were two: Sophie Kilburn, and Pys Melyn. The former only had a few EPs out, so it was easy to get up to date with her oeuvre. I really liked it! This was going well. I then checked the latter. That really wasn’t up my street. But two out of three is fine!

When Martin showed up he said there was nothing going on yet. If any of the acts would have already started, he would have been easily able to spot that from outside my house. As a matter of fact; I would be easily able to hear it inside the house. He was right; there wasn't anything happening yet. So we had a small chat before we headed in. We ordered drinks, and not much later Sophie Kilburn appeared. I dragged Martin to the front. I wanted to be close to the action! And he let me.

Sophie Kilburn 

She was great! It was just her and a guitar, but that was all she needed. And I felt I already know the songs. I hadn't spent that long listening to them, but for now she doesn't have that many. It was fab! If anyone is curious now gone check her new single "Body on the inside".

A few minutes later the second band, Pys Melyn, was ready to start. I knew I didn't have high expectations. I knew Martin had no idea what to expect. So when they were about a minute into their first song I just looked sideways. What was his judgement? He turned his face towards me and I had the answer. I suggested we get another drink and just sit down in the space by the bar. He thought that was a good idea. So we spent the while on a sofa just having a chat. Briefly interrupted by a very drunk guy desperate for a chat. Until we figured the main act was about to start. We went back in!

Melys is a much bigger setup than Sophie Kilburn; it is a five-piece band (maybe not always, but that night they sure were). The singer showed up in a beautiful shimmery dress. This was going to be a bit more showbiz than a lady in denim with a guitar. And they said they had had a five-year break and might be a bit rusty. But I wouldn't notice!


I don't find it easy to categorise the band. Quite often, they contrast the somewhat ethereal voice of the singer with a sound that has hints of the industrial in it. I think it works well! And I also liked it when they combined the much deeper voice of the rhythm guitarist with that of the lead vocalist. It became clear they are also a married couple. Extra important the combination works well!

I recognised several of the songs as I had been listening to their Spotify page. But they have a sizeable back catalogue, so I didn't know everything. And they also played a new song. That was quite good! So they clearly still have it. If anyone is curious; check, for instance, their song "Chinese whispers".

By the time they did their last time they went all out. I was really glad I was in the room, and not in my bed, trying to sleep! That wouldn't have worked. I really hope one day Neuadd Ogwen gets doors for its porch. I think the whole building malarkey started with them trying to become better sound-insulated! And building a porch over your outside doors helps, but only if that porch has doors itself. And it still doesn't. I had been forced to listen to that concert before from my bed. And now I was in the room, at least in the position to enjoy it, but also wondering if maybe I should have worn earplugs.

When the band left Martin and I decided to skedaddle. Neither of us is a veritable nightcrawler. But it had been a good gig! And I'll keep an eye out. Maybe these bands will return…