Sunday, 6 October 2013

Golden Memories of Leeds University

It is exactly 50 years ago this week since I started my undergraduate course in metallurgy at Leeds University and over the weekend we had very special visitors to Falmouth. Bob Schofield and his wife Jean, and Graham and Sheila Neate were friends throughout our undergraduate days, and Bob and Jean we only made contact with again earlier this year
Kynance Cove
At Kynance Cove with Bob and Jean Schofield and Graham and Sheila Neate
We naturally reminisced over many things, and had a laugh at a few of the old photos, including our 1966 graduation photo below. What is really noticeable now is the fact that all the graduates were male, and in all our 6 years, as under- and then post-graduates, we never saw a female student in the Houldsworth Faculty of Technology.
Leeds University Metallurgy Graduation 1966
Graduation day 1966. I am back row far right, Graham 3rd left and Bob 6th left
And the lecturers were without exception male. They were also, with a few exceptions, not particularly inspiring. It was fairly obvious that to be a good, inspirational lecturer required a combination of enthusiasm, confidence and deep knowledge of the subject.  Pat Kelly had these qualities in abundance. He taught crystallography, a subject which could have been made very tedious, but he brought his subject to life, as did the very eminent head of department, Prof. Jack Nutting, later my PhD supervisor, who impressed me by lecturing without notes, often wandering off on tangents but all the time communing with the class.

Other lecturers occupied the other end of the spectrum.  Apart from the specialist lectures in metallurgy, we also had lectures on the basics- physics, chemistry and maths. Unfortunately not just we metallurgists, but engineers, fuel technologists, ceramicists etc (all male!) and classes were held en masse in a huge tiered lecture theatre. I don't know how it was decided who would get the short-straw in terms of teaching these subjects, but it was a very short straw indeed.
Chemistry 2T was taken by a ruddy Scot who quite obviously wished that he were somewhere else, anywhere else.  As his lecture commenced, paper aeroplanes would begin to glide towards the blackboard, and the decibels would start to rise as the students discussed their weekend affairs and future plans. All the time his ruddy face would become ruddier until eventually, when the noise had reached cacophony levels he would suddenly stop and below at the top of his voice "FOR GOD'S SAKE, SHUT UP".  There would then be a brief respite before the slow build up of noise levels again.
This, however, did in no way compare with Maths 2T.   A multitude of aeroplanes filled the air, some drifting lazily, others spiraling wildly towards their target, a hapless, young be-gowned lecturer, whose working life must have been a nightmare.  Whenever he turned to write an equation on the blackboard, the aerial assault would be supplemented by an artillery bombardment of rolled up paper and even coins.  While all this was happening, a register was being passed around the lecture theatre. We were required to show our presence by writing our names on the sheet, but of course if a friend was absent someone would sign in for him. It was also evident when the sheet arrived that there were a considerable number of people signed in who were patently not part of the course, Emma Royds, R. Sole etc.  Surely he did not go away after the lecture and log all of these names in some kind of meaningless ledger? 
I found all this hard to believe.  My working class background had taught me to respect my elders and betters, and school had imposed discipline by the cane, the slipper and the Bunsen burner hose. These people were University Lecturers for goodness sake, second only to High Court judges and Conservative MPs in commanding respect!
I have to wonder why I was so enthusiastic about becoming a lecturer, when I joined Camborne School of Mines in 1973!! The students at CSM were also all male, and the first female graduated in 1984, 96 years after the School's foundation. When I left CSM in 1996 there had never been a female lecturer, now the Director is a woman and female graduates in mining and minerals engineering are commonplace around the world. How things have progressed and improved over the past few decades.

With Murdoch University students at Metplant '11

Leeds University postgrads at ESCC '13

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