We may have a common love, but no hugging

26th June 2009 at 01:00
Becoming a cuddlier physicist

According to an article in this paper a couple of months ago, I may have made a horrendous professional mistake when I decided to become a cuddlier physicist. Apparently, social skills may hinder maths and, though my preferred kind of physics involves balloons, a laptop and a couple of photodiodes, I do have to work with numbers on a regular basis.

Actually, having read the conclusions to the research paper, I was unable to find anything in them suggesting that being in touch with one's emotions led to a restricted ability to calculate the volume of a sphere. I thought the paper was saying that factors such as prior ability and emotional intelligence affected academic performance, but that in maths and physics the latter was a less significant factor.

Cut to the Institute of Physics teacher summer school. This residential event was held in late May and was attended by 20 teachers from around Scotland. I had a role in proceedings, including organising a workshop which involved teachers running about, firing toys bought from Hawkin's Bazaar around a field, filming flight paths and analysing the resulting movies on computers. There was a lot of laughter, banter and general carry-on.

Over the wall from the improvised rocket range was a building site. Atop a tower of scaffolding, a chap in a yellow hard hat stood, arms by his side, staring. Part of me wanted to shout: "We're physicists! You can take the stereotype and shove . ." But I didn't - too reserved.

Now, nobody, not even a physicist, is forced by his or her school to go on residential courses, so the sample is, as it were, skewed. Nevertheless, it is worth mentioning that, at any such event I have attended, physics teachers seem to excel at getting along, making friends and having fun. If it's a common love for the subject that brings them together in the first place, what's wrong with that?

I was there at the close of the summer school and felt I should be the last to leave. In the end, I just went. I hadn't time to wait for all the hugging to finish.

Gregor Steele would also like to mention the last SSERC physics course cohort, who were not averse to a hearty Christmas singalong.

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