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9:07pm on Wednesday, 4th July, 2018:



One of the joys of having no teaching in the summer is being interrupted with urgent pieces of administration.

For example, I need to provide resit assignment specifications right now — not a week earlier nor a week later. I could have written them at the time I wrote the original assignments (especially as the resit assignments are the same as the originals), but they wouldn't have been accepted. Back in January wasn't right now. This is all the more irritating because some assignments were set by members of staff who have now left, and who would have happily provided the resit assignment specifications back in October. That wasn't right now either, though, so they didn't provide them, so now someone else has to and none of us know what the blazes the module is about.

The thing about right now is that it comes with no warning and has a very narrow time window. This often makes it impossible to achieve. For example, one of our long-standing admin staff reached the end of her contract a couple of days ago and switched department. In her last email, she told us that we need to have supervisory meetings for our PhD students, which must take place either next week or the week after, to be organised by the panel chairs. In the PS for this last email, she told me I was the chair of a panel that previously was chaired by someone has now left. She didn't tell me who was on the panel — I had to ask. Fortunately, she replied even though she wasn't part of Computer Science any more.

So, it turns out that there are three people on the panel: me, internal supervisor and the external supervisor. The external supervisor is away the first week of the two-week window. I'm away for the second week. The internal supervisor is away this week, and probably won't even see the email until he's back from wherever he is (vacation, conference, consultancy, whatever).

Fortunately, years of dealing with things that have to be done right now have taught me that actually, no, they don't have to be done right now. I could hold the supervisory panel two months from now and the admin staff probably wouldn't notice. Sure, I'll try to do it right now, but wolf has been cried so often that if it proves impossible I won't actually care. Besides, if we're following regulations to the letter, I'm on a part-time teaching contract and shouldn't be chairing the supervisory board of any research students anyway.

Oh, and remember I said that my resit assignments are the same as the originals? University regulations say they have to be different. I get round this by saying the student has to write the same assignment, but differently. Our admin staff turnover is so high that every couple oif years I;m told I'm breaking the regulations, and I reply that it's as if a Creative Writing assignment was to write a short story and the resit was to write a substantially different short story. This is invariably accepted, as it's hard to imagine how I could hit learning outcome 5 for this module ("Create an outline design spec for a computer game of their own devising.") without asking the students to create an outline design spec for a computer game of their own devising.

I know I'll be asked to do something right now next week. I just don't know what it'll be.

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Copyright © 2018 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).