Thursday 25 October 2007

I found out the other day that I would be giving my first tutorial next week. This feels like a somewhat bizarre rôle reversal, because it’s not all that long since I was on the receiving end of tutorials, and sending out an e-mail telling my prospective students where and when to hand in the work…was just…weird.

However, I know from experience that undergraduates are pretty curious about their tutors (I was an undergrad once—approximately five months ago, in fact). It’s normally possible to play with Google and at least turn up a few pictures of your prospective tutor and, if you get really stuck, you can at least find their name on a paper and laugh at how minimal your understanding of its title is. We struck gold in second year when we found out that our quantum mechanics tutor’s parents run a yak farm, which can be found at The Yak Man jokes were never-ending. How fortuitous that our tutor should have parents farming a hilariously-named animal! Ah, university; yours were the best days of my life.

Consequently, I wasn’t going to make it too easy. My usual e-mail signature contains, amongst other details, a link to my website, and that just encourages undergraduates to be lazy. Also, not yet quite at ease in my new position of authority, I didn’t want my e-mail to the tutees to be too quirky and mental. I wanted to project an image which was sombre and calm, yet not too scary. So, I wrote an e-mail hopefully fulfilling that brief, and updated my signature, for my Oxford Physics e-mail address at least, to something a bit more serious:

I was actually quite pleased by how impressive that e-mail signature makes me sound. “Correlated Electron Systems Group” is a sexy tagline. And there’s cachet to be had by adding the international dialling prefixes to your ’phone numbers, just in case one of your many collaborators from abroad should urgently need to get hold of you. Does the fact that I’m currently sharing my office with a Spanish guy count?

I sent the e-mail at 14:33:14. It was 15:10:53, less than forty minutes later, that someone with an IP address from the college my students are at had Googled ‘"andrew steele" oxford’ and found me. They actually found my profile at first—a slightly disappointing Google record when I’m number one for ‘andrew steele’—but it was only one click before they were here, and checking me out.

Unfortunately, my parents don’t have a yak farm, though I am a raving greenie nut job, have co-written a driving theory test which nearly got me sued and keep a ’blog which now has an entry on it about being Googled by people. So, just to pre-empt the Googlers’ assumption that it’s fantastically vain that I care, I would like to point out that the joke on you, unknown Googler, stalking through my life, because I know you’re reading and I put this stuff here with the intention that it would be read!!! (I say this particularly pointedly at the idiots who put enough personal details on websites like Facebook that they need to make their profiles private—if it’s on the Internet, (or, frankly, if it’s written down pretty much anywhere at all) it’s not private.) You have been satirised on your own territory and, though you may not be predictable like a physics undergraduate, you’re predictable like a nosy git human being.

Now go and read some more ‘blog entries and feed my humongous ego.


  1. Never considered that you’d be a tutor… oh dear. Are we so old?

    So what kind of personality are you going to try to project in tutorials? Eccentric? Evil? Unhinged? Deranged? Action Parker-ish? Hippy? Rice? I think I’d pay you to do the latter…

  2. Oooh, oooh, ‘total bastard’, please!! It’s all about keeping the tutees on their toes with a slightly crazed side which is brought out by lack of effort or understanding; the carefully-crafted scathing put-down scrawled in red pen across question four; always asking the kid who couldn’t do it to go up to the whiteboard and show us how to do that bit about the structure factor…that kind of thing.

    I’m also working on a patronising grin which says “You’ll never pass finals, but it’s OK, your mum will still love you. Probably.”

  3. That’s quite worrying, but be thankful your internet residue does not consist of begging French/German (delete as applicable) people on completely unrelated forums to translate your overseas work experience personal statement for you…. hmmmm….

  4. I’m impressed enough as it is, but if you’d gladly tell me you’re now a christ church admissions tutor i’ll be pretty happy…

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