Wednesday 27 February 2013

Hardy and Turing

On today's Unpacking Your Chair module, we had an fascinating conversation with Newcastle's VC, Professor Chris Brink.

He started by giving his view on the role of the professoriate: 'to profess.'

But he proceeded to expand and explore this by discussing two mathematicians: first G. H. Hardy and then Alan Turing.  He read a number of extracts from Hardy's apologia, in which Hardy argues for the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, and goes on to boast of the fact that nothing he has done is of any practical utility, and finally to lament that fact that, as creative research in Maths is a 'young man's game' his life is, to all intents and purposes, over: having reached middle age, there is nothing more he can add to his life's work.

Professor Brink was quick to agree with the pursuit of knowledge being worthy in its own right, but challenged whether Hardy's account was the whole story.

To make this point, he then told us a part of Turing's story of which I, at least, had previously been unaware.  Before the war, Turing (another pure mathematician) left Cambridge for Princeton. There, as the war-clouds gathered, he realised that code-breaking was likely to be of great importance, and decided to investigate the computability of de-coding - including building his own rudimentary kit (illicitly) in the Physics workshop in 1937.  The day after war was declared, in 1939, he reported to Bletchley, and the rest, to coin a cliché, is history.

Professor Brink's point was that interest in, and engagement with, the world beyond one's discipline or institution is also of high value: Turing's work on codes and the machinery to decode them was a direct precursor of his involvement in the Manchester computer.  His engagement with real world problems, as well as winning the battle of the Atlantic, also reinvigorated and informed his continuing research.

And as for Impact...

Tuesday 12 February 2013

Heart Warming

It is always good to receive emails that say that an event left someone feeling 'both enthused and energised.'

It followed last week's Cardiff Futures workshop, which left me, too, feeling enthused and energised.  This module was on building and academic career and focused a lot on research.

As usual we had a series of invigorating conversations with a mix of high-level internal guests and an external speaker, Guy Orpen, the PVC for research at Bristol, as well as an opportunity to reflect on time management and the practicalities of applying for promotion.

We also heard from the participants how their projects are going, and how they plan to develop them further: this was done in a Dragons' Den format; so they presented and were then quizzed by a panel of senior colleagues, who decided which team to award further funding to.  I was impressed both by how much they have already achieved and by the scale of their ambition.

We are now just over half-way through Cardiff Futures, and it is apparent that the group has really gelled. I look forward to the remaining modules being equally enthusing and energising.

Saturday 9 February 2013

Time Management Reminders

On a recent event when we discussed time management, someone asked if I could suggest a few reminders they could email to each other to help stick to their good intentions.

The idea is that an ‘external conscience’ is often more powerful than our own internal commitments. 'I could email myself a reminder,’ as one person put it, ‘but I’d just hit delete.  But if it’s from a colleague...’

So here are some one-liners you might like to send (or receive) to remind you of good time management practices. They range from simple reminders to more thought-provoking questions.  You will notice that I like questions!  (Incidentally, I highly recommend 'The Interrogative Mood - A Novel?' by Padgett Powell - entirely in questions, and it works!)

Anyway, back to the Time Management reminders: 

How is your Perfect Week coming along?

How well are you resisting urgent trivia this week?

Have you planned this week well?

How many interruptions have you refused today?

How well are you conquering your email addiction

What did you learn about your time management when you reviewed last week?

Have you worked on something truly important today? (or this week?)

How are you getting on with important, non-urgent, activities?

How can you build on your successes so far?

How well are you rewarding yourself for sticking to your good resolutions?

... and so on...