Thursday, 6 October 2011


I'm a student again! I used to enjoy teaching a lot, but somehow it just feels right to be back on this side of the lectern. It seems like such a tremendous luxury to have intelligent knowledgeable people telling me things. On the first proper day of teaching I felt more completely out of my depth than at any time since the start of my undergraduate degree, but both times in a really pleasurable way. There's the same air of people throwing you in at the deep end but with every confidence that you can swim. And I can! I can swim! If by swim you mean write C++ code in emacs and compile it in g++ using a makefile.

So it's going well so far, if exhaustingly, although I think it speeds up once we've done the introductory course and start the full range of languages and courses. (We're going to write in Assembler!) Thankfully Welcome Week is truncated for us masters students, because I don't need all that awkward acclimatisation stuff. All the new postgrads together had a welcome from some senior people on the first day, and it was a bit odd to be exhorted to look after each other and make lifelong friendships. I found myself thinking, "But haven't I already got some friends? I'm sure I've got their names written down somewhere". But I think I felt pretty similarly the first time round. The Freshers' Fair was really horrible, and that's just how I remember it too. (Incidentally, my brother who works at Exeter University was complaining about having to call it Welcome Week not Freshers' Week for no reason he'd been told, and Imperial seems to have gone the same route. Maybe it's clearer for overseas students, who make up a large proportion at Imperial, something like 40%.)

The lecturer who does our introductory course told us that they've recently had a rebranding exercise, and although you can call it "Imperial" or "Imperial College London", it is now forbidden to call it "Imperial College". I found that rather pleasing, not least because it's reminiscent of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, who could be called Princess Diana but never Princess Diana of Wales, and I like to spot similarities to her in everyday life.

The other students seem like a nice bunch. I've not found anyone older than me yet, but I have found one other person with a humanities PhD. There are seven or so women from about seventy students, and between a third and half of the students are from China. Most people have degrees in Maths or Engineering, and some have been earning their living for years as software engineers, which is pretty daunting of them. Some of them seem so young they make me want to take up knitting and start calling people "dearie". But oddly there are only two or three other people who take notes on their laptops. And everything is done on paper. All the departmental registering was done by post, even my ID photo which I had to print out so that they could scan it into their system, and all the lectures come with massive wodges of notes printed off the internet (which at least saves me the trouble of having to scan them in again).

Also much as I love Devon I think it's going to suit me very well to be back in a city for a bit. Hurray! Even the District Line can't get me down.

PS That post title is actually quite clever you know.

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