Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Teaching in India

So, I've given my series of four classes on nuclear structure at this postgraduate school in Roorkee.  Since it was a school, with the idea being to teach early-years postgraduate students about  some rather specialist stuff, I prepared some lectures which I delivered at the blackboard, deriving the Hartree-Fock equations in the case of the Skyrme interaction.  I think they went quite well, with the students asking sensible questions, though I did not have as good an idea about the background level of the students' knowledge (e.g. they were completely comfortable with Dirac notation, whereas many first year UK PhD students seem uncomfortable with it).

Some of the other lecturers are giving more conference-like powerpoint slides, with a effort to make them more didactic than a regular research conference presentation.  I particularly liked James Vary's switch to a hands-on calculation of solutions of the Schroedinger equation via a tool he has put on his web site.  I was the only one working at the blackboard, so I wonder if it was what was really wanted.  People are usually too polite to tell you when you have done a bad job at things like this, so i'll just wait to see if I'm invited back before I judge how well I did.

Last night we had a hands-on computer session.  I created a very simple Skyrme-Hartree-Fock code for the purpose.  There are only around 20 lines of code in it, but it solves for the ground state of 4He, using a very simple density-dependent nuclear interaction.  My plan was to get the students to play with it, get a feel for how to run it, to get it to converge and to interpret the results, and perhaps make an extension to it.  My first shock was that the school organisers told me that I should re-write it from Fortran 95 to Fortran77 (or should that be FORTRAN77?  I think that's the official spelling!).  With some effort, and a little sadness, I did their bidding.   If I wasn't in India, I would actually have been supervising a computational class back home at exactly the same time, ironically.  The students worked hard and, just like students everywhere, variously succeeded with the task to different extents.  I think it was a useful exercise, though, to get involved with actually getting to grips with the nuts and bolts of how to do these calculations, even if it doesn't turn out to be your direct research area.

Being in India is fun.  By default the food is vegetarian, which makes my life easier.  English is very widely understood, making my life easier, too, and they speak a great slightly quirky - to a Brit - version of English.  For example, every morning the guest house puts an English Language newspaper outside my room.  One of the headlines yesterday was about how some police detectives were being investigated for some crime they may have committed. They were described as "sleuths".  A perfectly correct word, but to me it conjures up an image of men in tweed with big magnifying glasses.  It made me smile.  Not as much, though, as when my host, describing the high quality of the students that the IIT institute attracts described them as the creamiest students, when we might have said the cream of the crop.  English is a great language...