Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The students are back

PhD Comics Image Credit: Jorge Cham

Today is the first day of classes here at the University of Texas. In the past few days, this campus has transitioned from its sleepy summertime state to a bustling hive of educational activity. Monday, things were very quiet, with the exception of some large tents being put up. But coffee carts were closed, lines at restaurants were short, and there were plenty of seats on the bus. Yesterday, the coffee carts were still closed, but the sidewalks were a steady stream of students carrying burnt-orange bags filled with overly-expensive text books, and the smell of barbecue wafted from the large tents, welcoming students back to campus. And today, the buses are overflowing, the sidewalks are full of students trying to find their way around campus, Gideons on every street corner trying to pass out New Testaments, lines for coffee are spilling out of buildings, and new students are riding the elevators up and down, wondering why it won't stop on the second floor (despite the signs saying that the elevator doesn't stop there).

Education is our primary purpose for existence here at the university, so it is hard to complain about the inconveniences when they simply mean it is time to get back to work. But academics and astronomy are an odd mix. Success in our careers is most often defined by the impact we have on astronomy research, not on how many students we teach or how well we teach them. But teaching a course requires much more than the 4 hours a week spent in the lecture hall; trying to teach multiple courses means foregoing almost all research for a semester. So it is in the summer that most research gets accomplished. With the start of the school year, as we re-enter our primary mission, our productivity will now decline. To me, that's a bit perverse. But it's the way of the world, I guess.

1 comment:

  1. I'm a graduate student at SIUE Edwardsville (Illinois), and I was thinking yesterday that it was really nice to see a little life come back to the campus after a very quiet summer. I do a little teaching as a graduate student, but I spent many years as an elementary teacher and it truly is amazing how much "out-of class" work there is for teachers. Also, I love the comic (although the link doesn't seem to work)! For elementary teachers, I would change the first chart to show "administrative stuff" as the largest piece and "teaching" as the smallest. For the second chart, change "research" to "administrative stuff." Of course, the last chart is exactly the same!! ;-) Have a great semester!