Tag Archives: Astronomy

Today: The £9000 Niggle

7 Jun

Tuition fees go up to a maximum of £9000 a year, and it has raised quite an important question:

Is it all really worth it?

A good question, however it is one that has been raised before, in the 2006/7 entry year the fees went up to £3000, this was the year before I went to university.

Alot of my peers decided they would go, on account of all the important people telling us that it was worth the money. I have to say that I agree with the prediction, it was worth the money – overall.

There are many of my university colleagues  however who thought it wasn’t worth it. Many who only get 3 hours of contact time a week, 36 hours of contact a semester, 72 across the whole of one academic year.  £42 (ish) per lecture attended. This is mainly speaking for the BA people out there, yes I know you had to put as much work in as I did (in your final year at least) but we are talking about financially worth it.

See, doing a Physics and Astronomy degree, I had about 20 contact hours. With lab time. so in one month I had out stripped the BA people for an entire academic year. So in the 12 weeks of one semester, I have had more contact time than they will get in their entire degree. Worth it?

One of the things that a recent report has brought up is that the teaching hasn’t improved.

No Shit.

I was lucky, I had a spectrum of different lecturers to give me a great insight into my degree, I had great ones, I had shockingly uninterested ones and I had those who just gave enough to get enough.

Now the shockingly uninterested ones really couldn’t charm a prostitute into bed, they dragged on and made the lectures feel like they went on for about 4 hours (5 if you were hungover).

I had lecturers who were really knew their stuff. Like they knew more about it that the wikipedia article could ever explain. But they just wanted to talk… alot… and we didn’t really learn much, we ended up having to question spot. Which was unfortunate because I really really enjoyed the subject that this one lecturer taught.

The lecturers who could get me to do the work for the lectures I hated (Maths… any maths and horrific particle Physics. ) I admired. I found it interesting that they left parts blank, meaning I asked questions, which got me to do the work. I hated it, please don’t think I enjoyed it, but I found it interesting and satisfying when I could finally answer a question.

The great lecturers took what I was already interested in and  blew it out the water. They really mixed up what I thought was happening and it was like they opened up a whole new world.

I’ll name my top 3 modules for my degree and why I like them. This is purely on how it was taught to me, and how I reacted. even if I hated the subject – and what’s surprising is that none of them are practical ones:

3. High Energy Astrophysics – I had heard ominous predictions about the lecturer of this course, but it turned out to be one of the most interesting lectures I have ever been in. The topics we covered were all brand new to me, and every question that I asked I got an honest answer back. I didn’t get a watered down “Well.. you know what a photon is” lecture, I got a scientist to scientist response. Any help I needed all I had to do was ask. It definitely wasn’t my best mark. But it was an enjoyable to lecture to sit in. Even if the lectures were on a FRIDAY BLOODY AFTERNOON.

2. Statistical Mechanics – I hate maths. I really don’t understand what the hell went through any of the great mathematicians minds when they came up with the crap we have to learn, but for me I was sleeping. I can do applied maths stuff, I can use maths to solve a real world problem, but as for maths for maths sake? No thanks. So this lecture course was a struggle for me. With one difference. I have no idea how this guy did it, but I was fascinated in how many things this one bloody method could be used on.  I was panicking like mad before the exam, but I came out of it with a high 2:1. That is the result I am most proud of. I managed to get 50’s in my other maths modules, and high 60’s in this. I just enjoyed figuring it out!

1. Physics of Stars – This was a module like no other. It had all the Astronomy you could ever imagine, and it was taught like a maths module. Wait – yes I am aware that I said above that I hate maths, but this was astronomy maths. This was maths that you could build from the base up, you could build from addition all the way up to calculating the gravitational strength of a star. So much information was suddenly opened up to me from this one module, it was honestly like I had absorbed a book by fusion. (Was going to say osmosis, but thought I would stay on-topic).

So is university worth it?

I can say that 60% of my modules I enjoyed enough to remember them.

The rest I just turned up to to pass, whether this number is the same for others out there I’m not sure on. But I didn’t just get a degree out of my university experience. There are more things to life.

£9000 doesn’t count against you, the 4 x £9000 some will pay won’t count against them. I’m currently in £27000 worth of debt, and I don’t even pay off the interest I earn on that a month. Which is a failure of the Students Loan Company, as well as the Govenment for mot regulating it properly. A graduate tax? Maybe, but My debt should be getting smaller. Not bigger.

That is another blog entirely however.

Go to university, If you want to expand on what you know, or get the professional qualification you want, then go. It will build a hell of a lot more life experience than you expect, much more than living with your parents will for 3 years.

As Nike would say: Just do it. 



Today: It’s Bloody Freezing

17 Oct

Those who reside in the UK (mainly those who reside in Wales) are used to the cold/wet weather conditions that frequent our beloved island. However the recent warm ish spell has had us all surprised.

That is of course until about Tuesday just gone, I’m not sure about other people but it felt like i was going to shiver to death. Walking home from the foam party held at the student union on wednesday night was also…. rather chilly. I slept in ALOT of clothes.

These freezing conditions (when i say freezing i do tend to mean single figures above zero) however carry some advantages for the Astronomers among us. Cold temperatures and no wind tend to mean that the air is still enough NOT to distort the light as much as in warm windy conditions.  It’s meant that me and a friend manged to get my rather dusty 6″ reflector from my room to my back yard and have a looksie around the sky.

Being in the centre of Cardiff holds its usual problems of light pollution, However since i am surrounded by terraced houses, the bit where the light pollution holds most true is blocked out. Which means that the stars i do see look very impressive.

My friend and I managed to train my poor telescope in on Jupiter (this is quite hard when your view-finder isn’t linked up with the main tube). We saw the 4 Galileon Moons, and with the highest magnification my lens’ could manage, we could see the main bands. Very pretty stuff.

After staring and going “oo pretty” at Jupiter for about 15 mins, we decided to look for other things. Now as Astronomers in training, you would think we had a basic grasp of where things were in the sky, but since it took us 20 mins to find the North star (Casseiopia was being particuarly awkward and the Plough was behind my house), things weren’t looking up (no pun intended).

We receeded back to what we had a small idea of, books. We looked up the constellation Andromeda, which is next to Casseiopia and contains the Andromeda galaxy in the middle. My telescope SHOULD have been able to pick up the fuzzy blob and we were going to name it Andromeda, whether it was or not. But not having a lined up view-finder and tube made this thing difficult. It was also difficult because we totally got the orientation of the constellations wrong, and stars move – go figure – so we just pointed and hoped for the best.

Needless to say, our method didn’t quite work out. We found a diffuse cluster of stars, nothing on the scale we were looking for (a fuzzy blob), but thought it was cool. The hunt is still on for the Andromeda galaxy. I’m sure it’s still there. Somewhere….