Life at uni, revisited

By Gordon Rugg

If you’re about to start your first year at university, and you’re feeling unsure and nervous, then you’ve got plenty of company. Most new students feel that way, though not all of them show it. This is a re-post of the first in a short series of articles for people in your situation, about key information that should make your life easier.

This article is about roles at university. The American cartoon below summarises them pretty accurately.

academic muppets

Image from Twitter

So what are the roles other than “Elmo the undergrad” and how are they likely to affect you?

Grad students: In Britain, these are usually “PhD students” or “teaching assistants” or “demonstrators” in practical classes. They’re usually cynical and stressed because of their PhDs. They usually know the university system well, and they’re very, very useful people to have as friends. (Really bad idea: Complaining to the university that they’re not real, proper teachers.)

Post-docs are next up the food chain. They already have their PhD, and they’re working on a research project until they can land a job further up the food chain. You might see post-docs around the department, but you probably won’t have much direct contact with them.

Assistant professor: In Britain, these are lecturers and Senior Lecturers and Readers and (in some universities) Principal Lecturers. These are the people who will deliver most of your lectures. Lecturing is just one of the things they do; they also do research, and income generation, and university admin, and a pile of other things. (Classic embarrassing newbie mistake: Calling them “teachers”.)

Tenured professor: The image says it all; lofty, often scary figures who give the strong impression of wisdom beyond mortal imagining. That impression is often true.

Professor emeritus: Again, the image is all too accurate. Emeritus professors often have ideas so strange that ordinary humans wonder whether they’re brilliant or completely divorced from reality. I make no comment on this.

The other articles in this series cover the main sources of confusion for students, including useful information that would be easy to miss otherwise, but that can make your life much better. I hope you find them useful.

Other articles in this series that you might find useful:

A couple of other articles on this blog that you might find useful as starting points:


Logos, emblems, symbolism, and really bad ideas

By Gordon Rugg

I’ve been working on logo design recently. It’s a neat example of how concepts that we’ve blogged about fit together. There are no prizes for guessing what the topic of this article will be…

Symbolism and reality; some examplesbannerv1Images from Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons; full attributions at the end of this article

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Beyond the 80:20 Principle

By Gordon Rugg, Jennifer Skillen & Colin Rigby

There’s a widely used concept called the 80:20 Principle, or the Pareto Principle, named after the decision theorist who invented it. It’s extremely useful.

In brief, across a wide range of fields, about 80% of one thing will usually come from 20% of another.

In business, for example, 80% of your revenue will come from 20% of your customers. In any sector, getting the first 80% of the job done will usually take about 20% of the resources involved; getting the last 20% of the job done will usually be much harder, and will take up 80% of the resources. The figure won’t always be exactly 80%, but it’s usually in that area. Good managers are very well aware of this issue, and keep a wary eye out for it when planning.

Here’s a diagram showing the principle. It’s pretty simple, but very powerful. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s perfect. It can actually be developed into something richer and more powerful, which is what we’ll describe in this article.

eighty twenty

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Instrumental and expressive behaviour

By Gordon Rugg

There are a lot of very useful concepts which are nowhere near as widely known as they should be.

One of these is the concept of instrumental versus expressive behaviour. It makes sense of a broad range of human behaviour which would otherwise look baffling. It explains a lot of the things that politicians do, and a lot of the ways that people act in stressful situations, for instance.

This article gives a short overview of the traditional version of the concept, and describes how a richer form of knowledge representation can make the concept even more useful.

Humans being expressive and instrumental

bannerv1Sources for original images are given at the end of this article

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