Start of a new semester at the university – time to teach and have some fun! (please don’t tell the Dean)

A university in southeast England, where a new academic year and semester started this week, bringing with it the post-summer challenges and joys of teaching young adults again in an undergraduate BSc(Hons) program.  Last week we had some fun and a few laughs.20151001_161522_Richtone(HDR)During Fresher’s week, I started with small cohort on the Biochemistry programme (about 40 students) and later ran a laboratory introduction for the complete first-year cohort (>300 students).  Many of the students seemed somewhat nervous, understandably; I hope that they will soon become more confident in their abilities.  The demonstrators, in blue lab coats were great!

Tuesday afternoon brought a double lecture with the first-year students. I was planning to show a video during the lecture, which made me somewhat apprehensive; my relationship with audiovisual equipment is a little rocky. Off I went to the lecture room, not my favourite, and it did not start well; the previous lecturer was running late and when I started to set up I could not get the audio to work. This was vital! I called the helpdesk and an AV colleague got the system working, kind-of.  As soon as he left the system started to play up again. Sounds of deep breathing to start with, then ghostly voices. Were the students having a laugh at my expense? (I’m fine with that, as long as it is not personal and works both ways)? Not first-year’s, in week one, semester one! My AV colleague returned – somebody had switched a wireless microphone to another room!

20150930_150400Thursday morning, 9:00 am, a beautiful morning on campus.  Always a tough lecture as Wednesday evening is party night in the Union and therefore lectures can be a little empty and quiet the next morning.  I had the new first year students, thus was not sure what to expect.  They have made a good impression so far (3 lectures of chemistry) and I was not entirely surprised when I had a relatively full class.  I started the lecture and slowly it became clear that the fresher’s flu was early this year – it usually rears its head in weeks 2 to 3 – I was constantly interrupted by coughing and sniffles.  Eventually I stopped and gave them a cough-cough break, which they accepted with good humor; I also remembered that I had throat lozenges in my bag, so these were also passed around. Today I was definitely a bit of a “dad”! I hope the “fresher’s flu” does not cross the student-lecturer divide, my timetable is rather busy for the next few weeks (I am tempting fate, no?).



The first laboratory practical with the first year’s was relatively straight-forward and designed to increase the confidence of students in using pipettes (i.e. liquid handling). Basically, the students dispensed different volumes of a food coloring solution onto filter paper and then plotted the diameters on a graph. Many students found it a bit difficult to get circular drops, so I allowed elliptical shapes as well. This practical should increase confidence in the use of pipettes and after the first 30 minutes the students settled down to complete the tasks. I then challenged the students to come up with some artistic impressions, in an attempt to make them recognize that laboratory classes are necessary and can also be fun! Above are some of the “artistic impressions” that were produced.  Even ET made an appearance – how do 18-year old’s know about ET?

This week we will move onto Spectrophotometry in the laboratory and lectures. One point of discussion will be “Weird chemistry – fish that make their own sunscreen”; “How Do Some Animals Make Their Own Sunscreen? – National Geographic (

Weird-Chemistry-20-Fish-that-make-their-own-sunscreenThe graphic above is shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives licence, and is attributed to Compound Interest (

I have not mentioned the year 2 and 3 undergraduate classes. Last week we discussed diabetes, feeding, fasting… metabolism in health & disease. Fantastic classes both, more about them soon.

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