Some Good Things

We had an 89.2% response rate for the PRES! We were number 1 across the university and smoked Maths (at 81.2%). I’m really happy about that! No one else really cares 🙂

I hope the data are useful. Obviously, the best out come is that everything’s great. The alternative is that our students are experiencing problems! But any which way it will be good to know.

I’m moving on to the next task which probably is revamping the employability support for PGR students.

The other good thing this week was that I got official notice of an award!

Dear Bijan

I’m delighted to inform you that you are the winner of the Manchester Doctoral College Supervisor of the Year Award 2019 (Faculty of Science and Engineering)

The Supervisor of the Year Award recognises an individual who has created the most supportive, stimulating and inspirational research environment for doctoral students.

I can’t tell you how much this delights me at a fundamental level. I really enjoy teaching of all kinds but PhD supervision has a special place for me. I’ve seen some really joyful transformations as students first approach, then understand, then enact research. I spent a long time as a PhD student and a lot of what we do as academics is closely related to what PhDs do.

I give it my all but that doesn’t always work. That my students would put me forth for this makes me hope that I’m doing something right.


I Hate Waiting

I clearly have a bit of obsessiveness. I hate waiting.

For the past 5+ weeks I’ve been working in my new role as Deputy PGR Director (i.e., Deputy Director of the PhD program) to get our students to respond to the Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES), For those in the biz in the UK, it’s basically the NSS for PGR students, but much less abused. Our school uses this data to make real changes, we hope for the better. Good things have already come from it.

Last time (2017) our response rate was about 54% which put us amongst the lowest. Maths had ≈90%. The director tasked me with getting our rate up and I really went at it.

I emailed. I spammed the research symposium. I held contests. We contacted supervisors. I tracked our numbers obsessively (we get them each week). I knocked on doors.

Our last official rate (on Monday with 5 days to go) was 78% and my current estimate is 83%. The rest of the university seems to be lagging over 2017 (they were seriously lagging on Monday). We have a reasonable shot at the number one spot.

The survey closes in 45 minutes but I won’t know how we did until MONDAY!

Gonna be a long weekend.

Spreadsheet Errors Deep and Shallow

Spreadsheets are almost certainly the most common form of end user programming. And they are both cool (enabling amazing systems to be built by all sorts of people) and dreadful (those systems are even more buggy than we fear). There’s lots of cool research on them…even inside Microsoft!

But I’ll tell you right now that the thing that fucking kills me with Excel for Mac is that scrolling is just the worse. It’s slow, buggy, and just plain hard to use. I switched to Numbers for dealing with a spreadsheet of less than 10 columns and less than 200 rows just because the scrolling was KILLING ME LOUDLY…

…of course, Numbers doesn’t let you delete specific cells…only whole rows why for the love of every sort of sanity on this good green earth WHY?!?!?

It just boggles me that these simple things are so broken. For generations of versions.

These Weeks In Zoe News

Woof, that was a long blog hiatus. First my WP app broke. Then I was sick. And then anti-momentum set in.

Plus, Google broke ordering by date. This is a bad and dumb move for a bad and dumb reason (and just incoherent since they let you search by recency or by a search range…screw you Google. Screw. You.)

But, there was some Zoe news in the past 6 weeks or so. Most of it is bits from trailing reviews or reactions to the tail end of Joan’s Fare Thee Well tour without a lot of new in them. (The song is great!)

I did like this bit:

Her reading of Zoe Mulford’s post-Charleston church shooting ballad, “The President Sang Amazing Grace,” was cheered wildly. The lyrics (about Barack Obama) seem fantastical in the Trump era.

I’m not sure why I find this weird, but the lyrics showed up in a column (“Journey in Faith”) in The Catholic Times by Chris McDonnell:

Reflecting back to the attacked on a church in Charleston, South Carolina, where nine were killed when a visitor joined in their prayer I was reminded of a song recently released by Joan Baez:


May this Lent bring us all to a greater awareness of our need to pray, not only for ourselves but for others who find it hard to pray.

I mean, it’s a perfectly fine column and a perfectly fine use of the song.

Someone posted the tabs to “Sister Sail”. HOW COOL IS THAT!

And, while hardly scientific or even well put together, I love this list of top 10 songs that mention other songs:

9. “The President Sang Amazing Grace”, Joan Baez. An Obama-themed song on her latest album, nominated by William French.

April Fools!

A PhD student that I let hang out in the group office next to mine likes to play pranks hence the ballon related one that greeted me this morning:

How they have the time to work on their PhD escapes me.

I, of course, launched a counterprank by emailing them that it was a fire safety issue and that there were escalating consequences. That was working until one of my PhD students pointed out that I had done that trick on them. The original prankster was only half fooled. Boo!

So I ran the same prank on the snitch only adding a forged email from Health and Safety for added verisimilitude. Worked a treat!

We are Very Serious People at the University of Manchester.

Music Monday: Turning My Heartbeat Up

I’m a bit of a sucker for songs which are self describing ie mention specific instruments which kick in as they are mentioned. My favorite of the genre is “Turning My Heartbeat Up”:

Argh…there’s another Motown classic that has a similar schtick but I can’t recall it right now. Boo memory!

“Pull Shapes” has a bit in the middle that does the same thing:


Memory finally dredged up “Dance to the Music”:

Which really is the archetype of the genre.