Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Endowed lectureships

One nice thing about being in a good department that rarely gets discussed is the quality of visitors. We're able to get a good stream of top-notch speakers for colloquia and seminars, and that is very important for maintaining an intellectually rich atmosphere for both the faculty and the students. On top of the usual calendar, we also have a couple of named, endowed lectureships. For example, every year we have a public lecture (followed the next day by a physics colloquium) in honor of William V. Houston (pronounced "how-ston"). The Houston lecturers are usually Nobel Laureates and their visits are very fun. This week we had George Smoot of cosmic microwave background fame, and once again I was reminded how much more we know about cosmology now than when I entered college.

3 comments:

okham said...

We're able to get a good stream of top-notch speakers for colloquia and seminars, and that is very important for maintaining an intellectually rich atmosphere for both the faculty and the students.

Good for you, especially if you can get faculty and students to show up. I am sure it is not the case at your department, but in many "middle-of-the-road" departments attendance of colloquia and seminars is becoming a serious problem. Sometimes it is downright embarrassing.

Doug Natelson said...

We really only run into problems with attendance during the spring if we have too many faculty searches going on. Basically we end up with "seminar fatigue", where attendance can fall because people feel like they're constantly getting seminar announcements. It can be painful.

I have seen some departments evade this issue by making the colloquium or seminar a 1-credit class for students. I'm of two minds about that. Compelling people to go to talks doesn't seem like a good way to get an ineterested audience. On the other hand, I took a course like that as a grad student, and it was great - the professor handed out a copy of the relevant paper(s) a couple of days before the talk, we read them, saw the talk, and then had a class session discussing the science as well as the presentation style. This requires actual work, though.

Dr. T said...

My experience with colloquia is a little difference.

At my UG institution, low ranked for good reasons, we always had packed colloquia.

In grad. school, despite having 1 credit a class demanding attendance (with no research/follow-up!), I rarely went. Other students slept.

The main difference was how enthusiastic the faculty were about the colloquia. The first institution had a core group of faculty that really enjoyed the lectures, and at the second, only the specialists in a particular field ever seemed interested in a particular lecture--if anyone seemed interested at all.