You might tell a student off for doing that

Mountain Goat Mount MassiveThese were the words of a father of a prospective student to me, as my feet hit the ground with a bit of a thump next to him. It was said jokingly but I had just come down a raked lecture theatre by jumping from desk to desk in an extremely poor approximation of a mountain goat. We had open days to for prospective students and their parents yesterday and today. I had made a mistake. I asked the visitors in the lecture theatre to leave to begin their tours of the Department, while standing at the back of the lecture theatre. This caused a bit of a problem as I was standing right at the back of the lecture theatre at the time.

As I found out more-or-less immediately, this meant that I had around 100 people (half of them still in the lecture theatre aisle) between me and the head of the tour of prospective students making their way to the Department. This led me to abandon the aisle in favour of the desks, and to zip along and outrun the head of snake of people. Then it was easy to divide the 100 into the required 3 groups of 30 odd. Panic over. I am not sure what the visitors thought of an academic leaping from desk to desk. Some people have the idea of academics as stuffy staid people, if so then I think I was moving fast enough not to appear staid.

Over the two days I guess we had more than 500 visit the Department. That’s a lot. And I think it must be a record, we had about 400 on the comparable days last year, which I thought at the time was a lot. We are more popular every year (as is Surrey generally). This is great, until you see the queue of people lined up for physics in the piazza, and note that it goes halfway across the piazza. Then it is both great and scary. But with the help of excellent tour guides (without whom it all would have been impossible) it worked out OK. Our tour guides are undergraduates who guides the visitors around, and talk to them about life from a student’s perspective. They are great.

Overall the day went well, I think we helped and informed a lot of people. And it was a pleasure to talk and help such nice people. But I think there things we could do a bit better. I answered a lot of questions along the lines of what is the difference between physics degree X and physics degree Y. With the new Physics with Astronomy degree, we have 10 different degrees, counting BSc and MPhys degrees, and our joint degrees with maths.

Except for the joint degrees with math, all the degrees have identical first years, and you can switch between degrees then. So for 8 of the 10, it really makes little difference which one you choose. I think we need to be clearer in how we communicate this. We have created choice for the students, to allow them to tailor their studies, but have also created confusion. We need to fix this. We have a neat new video¬†on the difference between BSc and MPhys degrees, but this still leaves the confusion between our Physics with … degrees, as a problem to solve. We have spent 2 days telling 500+ people that physics degrees teach problem-solving skills, we physics graduates should be able to solve this problem.