Cog Notes: Three generations of BComms

As the university conferring season got into full swing this month, there was a special celebration for Sophie O’Sullivan, who followed in the footsteps of both her mother Catherine O’Sullivan (class of 1982) and her grandmother Mary O’Donnell (class of 1954) in qualifying with a BComm from UCD.

The 81-year-old matriarch from Donnybrook, Dublin worked for an engineering company and later qualified as a barrister, while Sophie’s mother worked in investment banking before taking up a prominent head-hunting role in recruitment.

The latest graduate in the dynasty has a grá for personal fitness and plans further studies in that area.

Asked whether there was any inter-generational assistance for exams, Catherine O’Sullivan says it wasn’t really practical as the curriculum had changed a lot over the years. “They do a lot more now on entreprenership and ‘business and society’, being a good member of society as well,” she notes approvingly.


Junior cycle muddle works against unions

As balloting begins this week in the ASTI to extend its industrial dispute over junior cycle reforms up to and including strike action, union strategists are somewhat flummoxed about what to do next.

The general thinking is the Department of Education has time on its side.

The longer both the ASTI and the TUI maintain their rejectionist stance the more embedded the new junior cycle framework will become. English teachers have already begun instructing first year students in the programme, and parents will not easily be convinced this is an issue over which children should be sent home from school for a day or more. While there's little doubt the ballot will be passed, some teachers are muttering darkly that they would gladly take the NCCA's reform plan of 2011 – were it back on the table.

That proposal would have meant retaining a state-administered exam at the end of third year at the cost of assessing student portfolios. Compromise is possible – on external monitoring of the now much more radical in-school assessment regime, and the retention of a role for the State Examinations Commission.

However, ASTI and TUI negotiators may have to work hard for these two concessions, and then they’d still have to face the embarrassing admission that they snubbed a better deal for their members three years ago.

What’s in a word? Plenty if the word is ‘university’

After a number of third-level rebranding controversies, Maynooth University was born on September 1st without a hint of consternation from the dons. Asked why there was so little hubbub about dropping the NUI prefix from official communications, Prof Philip Nolan replies: "I am not the kind of president who thinks a rebranding is an achievement". Hence the lack of fanfare.

If only it was so easy in Cork, where local historians have complained about UCC’s decision to drop its motto – “Where Finbarr Taught, Let Munster Learn” – from its redesigned logo. The university says that the motto will continue to be used in “more formal settings, such as on parchments at conferrings and on official invites, etc.” It adds, “the schoolchildren that regularly tour the university . . . will continue to learn about the fascinating history of this saying”, but presumably not Chinese buyers at third-level trade fairs.

The Maynooth move leaves NUI Galway as the last member of the National University of Ireland family not to be embarrassed by the aged title. Its three siblings have stressed the need to have "university" in the most basic form of their name to help with marketing overseas. This argument fails to impress the Corribsiders. "NUI Galway currently has the highest percentage of international students of all of the Irish universities," a spokeswoman says. "A renaming of the university is not an immediate priority."

Science video competition

Another week, another STEM initiative. Primary and secondary students are being encouraged to take part in a new science communications competition Reel Life Science by making a short film on a science, technology, engineering or mathematics theme.

A pilot contest last year was won by Michael McAndrew, a student from St Enda’s College, Galway with an animated video, entitled Astrobiology – Life in Space. He has since launched his own website design and hosting company, while running a weekly technology podcast – and he’s doing his Leaving Cert this year too. Talk about setting the bar high. Closing date is October 17th, for more information you can see

Meanwhile, the Royal Dublin Society is planning to scale up its STEM teacher training project. More than 50 teachers have taken part in a continuing professional development programme for in-service primary school teachers under a pilot phase. Before its further roll-out, however, the RDS is seeking to engage an external consultant to evaluate the success of the first phase. Anyone wishing to tender must apply by September 26th by emailing for more details.

Teachers’ and careers days

What’s the collective noun for teachers? Some 800 teachers are expected to celebrate World Teachers’ Day on October 4th at Féilte in the RDS, Dublin. The day-long event focuses on innovation in teaching. It features over 50 showcases and workshops, a keynote address from Ryan Tubridy. More details on

Dr Adam Ruben is a US-based writer, comedian and . . . molecular biologist. He’s also a keynote speaker at a postgraduate careers event at RCSI tomorrow and Thursday, with a number of international speakers sharing career advice and experiences.