'Sometimes I wish I was a student again'

Tue, Nov 13, 2012, 00:00

My Education Week:Dr Patrick Geoghegan Dean of undergraduate studies at Trinity College Dublin


The week begins with an early-morning train from Galway to Dublin.

On Sunday evenings I present Talking History on Newstalk, and this week we were broadcasting from the Hotel Meyrick, on Eyre Square.

Normally we debate an issue, anything from the legacy of Cicero to the second World War, but this show looked at the history of Galway through the centuries. It was recorded in front of a studio audience. Juggling a rotating panel of experts, a live choir and an enthusiastic audience was tricky but great fun, and a good way to kick-start the week.

As soon as I arrive back in Dublin I head to Trinity for the first of a series of meetings. This is my “real” job, as dean of undergraduate studies and a history lecturer at Trinity.

My first meeting is with the school of pharmacy. I am visiting all 24 of our schools as part of work we are doing to renew the Trinity undergraduate curriculum as we attempt to define, articulate and support the Trinity education and provide the very best education for our students.

In the afternoon I have a meeting with the provost about the forthcoming decade of commemorations, and we discuss some of the interesting ideas that are being developed in college.


I began working in Trinity in 1999, teaching history on the Trinity Access Programmes (TAP), one of our flagship initiatives for widening access and participation in Trinity of under-represented groups, never imagining that one day I would be the college officer with responsibility for its academic direction.

In the afternoon I pop into the TAP history class, now co-ordinated by my colleague Seán O’Reilly. The class is discussing the Act of Union, and we discuss some of the ballads about it, including the scurrilous lines about Lord Castlereagh that begin, “Posterity shall ne’er survey . . .” Since 1999 I have seen large numbers of students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds show again and again that they have the academic ability and potential to thrive at university.

It continues to inspire me.

In the afternoon I give a two-hour seminar class on commemoration to our MPhil class in public history.

We begin by discussing the commemoration of 1798, but by the end we have moved on to 1916 and the decade of commemorations, and we debate how best to capture the complexity of the historical experience in a television documentary or multimedia exhibition.

In the evening I attend a meeting of the Irish Historical Society and hear a paper delivered by our new colleague in the department of history, Dr Susan Flavin. The slide projector doesn’t work, but Susan is not fazed and gives a virtuoso performance.

Afterwards we all go for a drink, and I manage to catch the end of the Champions League games.

My friend Paul, now living in the United States and a huge Celtic fan, texts to discuss the night’s excitement and the American presidential election.


Our university council, which has responsibility for all academic affairs, meets every four weeks.

At today’s meeting the council enthusiastically endorses a proposal for a feasibility study in admissions, to see if there is a better mechanism for identifying and admitting students with the academic ability and potential to thrive at third level. The study is part of Trinity’s contribution to informing national policy in the area and will be launched in December.

In the evening I attend the launch of another excellent publication by the Irish Manuscripts Commission, this one edited by someone who taught me as a first-year student, 21 years ago, Prof Mary Daly.

From there I go to hear Dr William Perry speak at the Historical Society in Trinity. Perry was the secretary of defence in the Clinton administration, but his talk focuses on his role as an analyst 50 years ago, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when he admits that luck rather than good management saved the world from nuclear annihilation.

In his closing remarks Prof David McConnell, the president of the society, reminds us that we have been privileged to hear a first-hand account of the making of history.

Events like these make me wish I was a student again.


Today the Provost’s Teaching Award scheme for 2012-13 is launched.

This is a way of recognising and rewarding our lecturers who have made an outstanding contribution in the pursuit of teaching excellence and innovation. In recent years we have started videoing classes of those who are shortlisted, and it has worked so well that external experts have suggested it will soon become standard practice elsewhere.

One of the unique aspects of Trinity is that every undergraduate is given a college tutor, someone who is there to advise and support them pastorally, separate from the work of the staff who read essays and look after academic matters.

This afternoon I review some of the requests from tutors on behalf of their students with staff in my office.

One is to allow one of our Olympians to split their exams over two years, and we are delighted to approve it, recognising that sometimes flexibility is required to facilitate sporting as well as academic excellence.

In the evening I give a public lecture at the National Gallery of Ireland on the Irish patriot Henry Grattan.

I begin by suggesting that Grattan had the wand of the magician when it came to language but was terrible on details, a triumph of style over substance, and get a good laugh when I compare him to Tony Blair.

But when I read from some of Grattan’s speeches I can’t help being moved by the genius of his oratory, more poetry than prose, and end by noting that Ireland in the current crisis needs the spirit of Grattan to prevail.

Afterwards I watch my team, Newcastle United, win in the Europa League.


As dean of undergraduate studies I am responsible for admissions and the undergraduate curriculum.

I meet with our admissions liaison officer to discuss a new project to recruit student ambassadors, from every county in Ireland.

We have been overwhelmed by the level of interest, almost 200 applications, from students who love being part of the Trinity community but who feel that there is a perception out there that Trinity is elitist and exclusive – a perception that our students are determined to shatter.

I also meet with two of my final-year undergraduate dissertation students and two of my PhD students. The subjects range from Edmund Burke and political economy to the abolition of the slave trade, and it is clear that some first-rate work is being produced.

At the postgraduate level there is the opportunity to completely change the way we view a subject, but it all begins at the undergraduate level when our students get an opportunity to do an independent project or dissertation in their final year.

I end the week by meeting with some old friends to see the new James Bond film, Skyfall.

Bond movies can be hit and miss, but I invite controversy by suggesting that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is one of the best in the series.

This week I was ...

Listening to

Off the Ball on Newstalk, and Gift Grub.


Game of Thrones


A draft of Edmund Burke by Jesse Norman

Sign In

Forgot Password?

Sign Up

The name that will appear beside your comments.

Have an account? Sign In

Forgot Password?

Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In or Sign Up

Thank you

You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.

Hello, .

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

Thank you for registering. Please check your email to verify your account.

We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.