A Year In Review

So what of 2015? What made it stand out? What were the good bits, the bad bits and the bits in between that are not worthy of particular note?

Conferences – a quiet year actually, attended #VICEPHEC15 in Nottingham in August (Chemophobia presentation), and managed to double book myself for Keele’s Teaching Innovation Day (poster: alternative assessment for information literacy). I also attended the RSC outreach conference in Manchester. Next year’s looking busier already with #HEASTEM16 at the end of January (Infographics alternative assessment), but with Keele’s Learning and Teaching Conference before that (Chemophobia talk, Diagnostic testing talk). Then there are 3 more one day events or conferences on the horizon. So 2016 will be busier.

Travel – I didn’t leave the UK but if rail miles were a thing, I would have serious milage. Multiple trips to London; a one day trip to Edinburgh; trips to Durham, Newcastle, Manchester, Bristol and Brighton courtesy of the Keele Lecture Capture group; the conferences as mentioned above (Nottingham, Manchester); other trips to Sheffield (x2), Manchester (RSC GA), Birmingham… and a couple of holidays to Scotland (x 3) and the Lake District.

Outreach – the year started with the RSC Local Section ‘Top of the Bench’ heat in January then May brought two Salters’ festivals of chemistry. The summer involved several family fun days on campus but I missed the community day because I was on holiday. There were several other Keele based activities for various schools events. October brought the Hallow’een ‘Spooktacular’, November the RSC Local Section Chemistry Week event at Stoke Library, and December ‘Christmas Science’.  I have developed a lot of new activities this year and run them all a couple of times – the second time is generally the best! The first run through feels rough and highlights everything that needs improving. The second run through is when things are still fresh but the improvements are in place. Beyond that, things become more routine. 2016 starts with Top of the Bench, follows up with Salters then a new event for the WI.

Teaching – semester 2 14/15 was fairly stable for a change – highlights included the 2nd year practical exam.  Semester 1 15/16 (the one nearly finished) was harder because of a new course – a distance learning module for Chinese students.  It’s based on the second semester module ‘Sustainable Chemistry’ and involves lecture screencasts, discussion board chat and various tasks. The industrial chemistry module ran fairly well but I plan some changes. I think I enjoyed teaching Multinuclear NMR to the 2nd year the most – I had a nice number of slots to take it at a fairly relaxed pace (think 44 slides over 7 sessions!) with lots of time in class to do problems and worked examples. It’s the course I’ve been teaching the longest (8th time this year – not much in comparison to some but given how many changes my teaching load has seen in 7.5 years, this is a record). First year spectroscopy went well but probably needs another hour or two to ensure a slower start.

Research – on one of my many train trips, I worked out where all of my current projects were. Most were in the early stages. Then I submitted 3 conference abstracts and realised several had to progress somewhat more rapidly than I’d thought. I would love to have made a bit more progress on a couple but I have other stuff to do as well – not necessarily more important but often more urgent and in-your-face-shouty.

Paperwork – if possible, I think the quantity of paperwork for the admin role increased this year. Some documents seemed to develop boomerang properties and just kept returning to my inbox no matter what.  A lot of it is useful and helps structure thinking, some of it helps with accountability, but there’s some that…well…I’m struggling to see the value beyond box ticking.

Well, after writing all of that out, I’m realising why I have the urge to hibernate for a few days this Christmas! I’m currently swimming in excel sheets doing data analysis – quite pleasant when free from distractions. And when I remember to turn off email!

To all, on this shortest day of the year: light always returns. And all the compliments of the season to you.

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