Sunday, February 7, 2010

Good opportunities

Several good opportunities have come my way this week.

Opportunity #1:  On Saturday, 6 Feb, a group of students, faculty members and "hanger-ons" (spouses) traveled to London for a day visit.  It was a pleasant train ride into the city and lasted about an hour and a half.  It also allowed me to spend some one-on-one time with my progamme director (Tony).  He's a great guy, very supportive, and an expert on social contexts of death and dying.  Anyway, we made our way from Paddington Station to Westminster Abbey where we received a private tour and got the low down on the historical coronation site.  After hangin' with the remains of Edward I, Richard II, Elizabeth I and Mary, Newton, Handel, Chas Darwin, Charles Dickens, and others...

Note: I must admit it was a great deal of fun.  I mean, I touched the tomb of Edward I!  
Well, it means something to me.

we moved on to  the National Portrait Gallery where we spent quite a bit of time in the Tudor wing.  After analyzing some of the "ars moriendi"(art of dying) from the 16th and 17th centuries, it was on to the London Museum of Art.  Lunch was held in Chinatown, but don't ask me where we ate.

*I certainly recommend a thorough tour of London.  Everything is fairly close together and I'm sold on returning as soon as possible.  Although only a brief taste, it was quite an experience. 

The rest is all academic- but pretty exciting to me as I feel like I just passed GO and received my $200.

Opportunity 2:  This Tuesday, I will assume the role as a undergraduate social science statistics tutor at the University of Bath.  It's a nice gig and only requires an hour of my time every two weeks.  It pays well too.

Opportunity 3:  There is a conference at the University of Edinburgh in June where I can present one of my papers from this past fall semester.  It's titled: Lost but not found: the case of the missing dead.

Opportunity 4:  Tony has suggested that I further develop and submit another one of my essays to the Journal of Death Studies.  Yes!  This one is titled:  Violent death: reconstructing the Colloseum.

Opportunity 5:  Tony has asked me to write a 500 hundred word book review for publication in the journal: Mortality.  This is a peer reviewed journal that is chair edited at the University of Bath via the Center for Death and Society (CDAS).

Opportunity 6:  I became the student representative for my degree programme back in October and have upgraded to the Chair of its departmental committee meetings.

Opportunity 7:  Tony just invited me to participate as a student reviewer for a committee designed to assess and evaluate the Masters of Science in Death and Society Programme in April.  Every graduate programme receives a 5 year annual review by a committee composed of various administrative officials, external colleagues and prior students.

So things seem to be going quite well after my first semester and I have some nice opportunities that in all actuality won't take up too much time or overwhelm my schedule.  Still, Sarah and I are looking forward to our upcoming move and visit to Rome.  We're psyched!!!

Getting grades...hmmm....what the heck man?

Early in December, my first semester came to an end.  I had three weeks to complete my written assignments and another three weeks to wait for their results. 
The grading process here in the UK is a bit odd.  Upon submitting my "essays", I had to provide two separate hard copies for review and grading.  I was further required to upload each essay to the university's "elearning" database called: Moodle.  This was so that essays can be run through a plagiarism detection computer program in the case that plagiarism is suspected by the markers. 

Temporary Rant: Remember everyone, that you and only YOU can Prevent plagiarism.  Plagiarism is BAD.  It's like terrorism, butter on a sunburn, or taking off your space helmet on the moon.  Is that clear!  Apparently people don't get this!  And now I have to put up with all of the !$&*?!.....I mean, appropriate bureaucratic procedures that will guard against the 8th deadly sin of plagiarism.  It's a very serious matter that I wish less serious students would try harder to avoid.  Thank you for your consideration.

Now the grading is not simply conducted by the course "convenor" or instructor.  Rather, each essay is read by the instructor and an additional faculty member.  This is to guard against the possibility of an instructor's inflationary bias.  It also helps to moderate grading.  For instance, some instructors might feel that marks should be determined with emphasis on originality of argument and evidence of literature review.  Others may weight the written analysis more heavily.  Either way, as long as there isn't any great discrepancy between the two separate marks (say, within 5 points or so), then the primary marker can negotiate/determine the final mark.  Mark results are then sent along to the student as "provisional grades".  At this moment, I have my "provisional grades"and they are right where they need to be in order for me to continue confidently towards the PhD.  Phew!
What happens next?  Well, on Wednesday, Feb. 10th (Oh excuse me.  I mean, 10 Feb) my department will sponsor a panel of academics/experts from other universities, who will read through a host of written samples extracted from the students' essays.  These readers will then have an opportunity to weigh in on the grades provided by the primary and secondary markers.  As long as all goes well, I can rely on my now "provisional grades" to be documented on my student record/transcript.  This process of "external review" is essentially conducted to protect university standards and to protect against institutional biases.  But of course, it's really all a bunch of bureaucratic puckey because all of the professors know that an essay submitted at Oxford or Cambridge will not be assessed on the same standard with those submitted at lesser ranking institutions.  I am happy to report though, that overall, Bath currently ranks 8th out of 117 universities throughout the UK.  Again: Phew!

This week, I return to school to begin the spring semester and complete several unit courses entitled: Ethics in Research and Social Science, Dying and Mourning in Social Sciences and the Arts, and Dissertation Planning.  Such courses should set me on my way to becoming more familiar with other faculty and should sure up my base for completing my first piece of substantial (an hopefully, original) research (i.e. my dissertation).