I spent 24 hours in Newcastle, New South Wales. I went to the University of Newcastle to give a talk at the School of Psychology, and spent most of the rest of the time with two social psychologists who live there. I visited Newcastle once before, in 2001. It is the largest coal port in the world. At dinner at a wonderful restaurant along the harbour, my hosts and I watched large ships with Chinese flags lining up to fill their holds with Australian coal. Australia's economic boom in the past decade has been largely due to China being a hungry customer for its natural resources. Any downturn in China's economy will in turn have an impact here.
Last weekend we took an early Saturday morning ferry to Stradbroke Island, which is about 40 km due east of our home. I was attending a cognitive neuroscience workshop, made up of researchers at UQ, at the university's marine research station. Meanwhile, V. and Will spent the time over at Point Lookout with my colleagues' families. We stayed at a small resort that had a kitchen and washer/drier, etc. for two nights, and then left early Monday morning so that we could get back to work and Will could go to day care. What a great place! The beaches are huge, sandy, and beautiful. And they were nearly empty. The 40-minute ferry ride was easy for us and fun for Will. It's becoming increasingly clear why so many SE Queenslanders stay in the area during the holidays. We live in paradise!
In the midst of this traveling I was also marking (grading) thirteen 40+ page honours theses. In Australia the mark on an honours thesis has nearly the same importance as GRE scores in the U.S. At UQ a score of 80 or higher indicates the thesis is 'first-class,' which, as long as their coursework is also first-class, means that a psychology student can get a scholarship to become a Ph.D. student, or it could also mean that they are admitted to a clinical psychology program. Thus, I felt great pressure to be fair and accurate in my marks, as I was (partially) determining the future of the 13 students whom I was marking. Of those 13, my marking partner and I gave three a first-class designation.
I had also scheduled to take my four honours students to dinner this week as a way to celebrate the intense year we had been through. Unfortunately, on the day before the dinner, the co-ordinator of the honours program announced that we could tell our students their final marks (by the way, supervisors do not mark their own students' theses). I had planned to tell my students the day after the dinner, so that we could enjoy our meal in peace, but that plan was disrupted when I began receiving email messages such as "my friend just found out her thesis mark, can you tell me mine?" I was able to hold off the announcement of those marks until the next day, much to the disappointment of a couple of my students. Then, I had the 'pleasant' task of giving the news the next day. Some were more disappointed than others, but no one ended up with an especially tragic mark.
On Thursday afternoon I received a call from the U.S. Consulate in Sydney. My first thought when the caller identified herself was, "how did they find me?" It turned out that I wasn't in any trouble. Instead, the Consulate invited me to speak on Friday to a group of 30 Australian students who will be going to the U.S. for study abroad in January. I was asked to address certain points (e.g., the grading system, living on campus, the drinking age), but the students themselves asked questions that were more specific for the particular university they were going to (e.g., "can I list my friend as my preferred roommate?", "does it cost money to use the gym?").
Then, of course, the whole week was overshadowed by the election in the States. At work a large group of department staff and students spent several hours in one classroom watching the returns. I heard one Canadian grumble, "our election last month didn't receive this kind of attention." The other Canadian responded, "there was an election last month?" As I hinted in an earlier post, Australians are overjoyed with Obama's election. (Unlike some of my relatives, who think that Obama's secret socialist, Muslim-based, Black conspiracy will now ruin the country).
Now, as the temperature starts to go up, there's a short lull before I have to mark 250 exams next weekend. Right now we are trying to sort out whether we want to move to a house with a yard in a more suburban locale.