Life at Uni: Why is my timetable a mess?

By Gordon Rugg

Every year, huge numbers of new students start university, and are surprised to discover that their timetable is very much a work in progress (and sometimes, a work of fiction). Every year, understandably, huge numbers of new students react to this discovery by wondering why universities crammed with alleged geniuses can’t sort out something as simple as a timetable. It’s not an encouraging start. This article is about the reasons for this state of affairs.

The main reason is that timetabling actually isn’t simple. In reality, it’s hideously complex. The timetable for a single university has to handle thousands of students, hundreds of modules, hundreds of academic staff, and hundreds of rooms. Very few of those students want lectures first thing in the morning or last thing in the afternoon, or on a Monday or Friday, so some slots are much more in demand than others.

Reconciling all of these issues is a huge, messy problem, but it could in principle be resolved by using smart software; some universities already use cutting-edge software that can perform impressively well, if other things are equal.

Unfortunately, the big spanner in the works is that other things usually aren’t equal. Here’s a classic example of why timetables are often fluid until well after the first week.

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Life at Uni: Lectures versus lessons

By Gordon Rugg

A lot of things at university look very similar to things in school, but are actually very different. Lectures look like lessons to a lot of new students at university, but they’re very different beneath the surface.

One major difference is this:

  • In a lesson, the teacher is someone who knows the textbooks.
  • In a lecture, the lecturer is often the person who wrote the textbooks.

It’s a rule of thumb – some teachers write textbooks, and many lecturers don’t write textbooks, for various reasons – but it brings out a key underlying point. Lecturers do a lot of things in addition to delivering lectures, and a lot of lecturers are world class experts in their fields.

Student reactions to this vary.

  • Some students view this as an opportunity.
  • Some students view this as intimidating.
  • Most students either don’t know this, or haven’t thought about the implications.

academic muppets

Image from Twitter

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What’s it like at Uni? The people…

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 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 muppetsImage from Twitter

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

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