I would like to preface this blog by saying I enjoy my degree. Three and a half years in and I still love physics, still like Imperial. I know the department are trying to give us a well-rounded education by making all its fourth year students take a compulsory business course.
Yesterday this was our timetable:
This block of time was the end-of-course RI presentations and party!
Except it isn’t the end of the course. There are still two tasks to complete.
The presentations got off on the wrong foot really, because we’d all just got our twenty page business proposals back, and there was, let’s say, some slight controversy over the marks, which seemed to be a large spread, with many people feeling hard-done by. Our team did too, to a certain extent. Although our mark was actually OK overall, some of the sections had been marked really low (50% for some!), especially low for a coursework. You can get 50% in labs for instance if you just put the correct experiment title into LaTeX and then fill the rest of the space with a semi-articulate rant about why Isaac Newton predicted the world will end in 2066 and why you agree with him.
The comments, we felt, didn’t really explain the marks and not having a chance to explain why we had gone the direction we had in some of the sections was frustrating.
There was also another controversy about how the groups had been chosen. About half of them were all male, and the other half equally split between male and female. Not that there’s anything particularly odd about that.
However rumours started spreading that this gender split was a deliberate experiment to see how teams performed. Despite the staff initially being very angry about us suggesting this, it is now confirmed that there was indeed structure in how the groups were chosen, but apparently it wasn’t for an experiment.
This is strange. The only reason I don’t think it is unethical is because I am sure there will be no correlation between how well people did and the gender of their group!
If they had split it theoretical/non-theoretical students or something, then that would have been actually interesting/unethical because that probably does have the potential to shift the marks a bit. I genuinely have no idea what’s going on with this—with a sample size of fifteen groups how huge do they think these gender disparities are going to be for them to be visible? Also the people who organised the groups are marking the projects and presumably have some opinion about which groups should perform better.
If it is an experiment, it is a horribly designed one.
On the day of the presentation, people were confused about when it started and confused about how we were going to send over our PowerPoints. Lots of people were wearing suits for the presentations which added to the air of discomfort!
Once we got in and assembled ourselves alongside our teams, the computer wasn’t working. It was quite clear from our side of the seats that it wasn’t plugged in to the projector, but I think 200 palpably angry physicists shouting ‘plug it in’ from the front rows and the back rows who couldn’t see, shouting other technical instructions was a bit too stressful for the staff.
So we all changed rooms.
The first room was cold—I think they’d had the air con on all day in preparation for this long, packed stint. The other room was hot and fair to say people were even more angry by this point.
We of course had to change back halfway through anyway, because the other room wasn’t free, and someone had come and checked out the computer and found out that it was indeed just unplugged.
The presentations finally got underway, and I thought they were actually all actually very slick and well-presented business cases (even if some of the ideas for products weren’t the most innovative/grounded in reality). I was actually quite shocked when one of the judges said, to sum up ‘it is clear which teams have put in lots of effort and who needed to put in a lot more’.
I think all the teams who hadn’t done as well as expected in the 20-page report were all pretty put out by that comment, as everyone I know has put in what they would consider far far too much time and thought into this course.
Then there was food and drink on the 8th floor common room which was very nice, and the winning teams were announced. It was a really strange day.