Summer Schools in the making: back in the swim of things

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The sun is rising on a new tide, and the ‘Summer Schools in the Making’ blog returns after too long a break. Sorry for the long silence, but all creativity has been channelled into the Summer Schools themselves, the post-summer meetings, and – for the past many weeks – the arranging of college space, fees and courses for summer 2012. For those hungry to apply: the paper version of the brochure has arrived here today, and mailing will begin from tomorrow. We’ve updated the web pages, and the brochure and application are already available to download. (The link takes you to a page where you can choose to download the brochure in full, or programme by programme). We will let you know as soon as we go live for online applications. The first applications have already arrived as email attachments!

As always, ‘creating the brochure’ sounds so simple, but it is a substantial part of the year’s work. All of the feedback from summer 2011 is reviewed, there are meetings and endless calls and emails with the Programme Directors (the academic heads of each Summer School), and the curriculum for each programme is carefully crafted, to try to get a good balance between weeks or times of day. Just putting all the courses in place, finalising the titles, formulating the very short descriptions and checking the ‘forms of address’ of all of our contributors is a painstaking task. Then creating the brochure itself is a mammoth operation, with hundreds of hours of design, copy-writing, proofing and checking. Everything’s done in-house, so that we keep a very close eye on deadlines and finances.

But beyond the nuts and bolts of preparing the programmes, the brochure and the web pages, the excitement comes from communicating with course directors drawn from an incredible pool of talent: not so much a pool, rather than a crashing tide of talent*. We are enormously fortunate to have on our doorstep, and on our list of lectures, a wonderful group of people who are immediately willing (or can be quickly convinced!) to contribute to the teaching for our Summer Schools. Some are early in their careers, bubbling with enthusiasm. Some are mid-career, enjoying the opportunity, perhaps, to try out a new course idea which fits really well with our needs. Some are returners: those whose courses have met with great approval in a previous year (or two). Some are absolutely at the top of their field or already have a tremendous career record behind them. Many fall into more than one of these categories. Some have taken or are taking the traditional route (MA, PhD; lecturer, senior lecturer, reader, professor); others, also exceptionally gifted teachers and also with the required level of scholarship, come to us from different backgrounds.

As a result, we have completed a list of a staggering 174 courses spread across eleven programmes and will work in the coming weeks on completing the longer course materials, and adding links to our web pages so that you can find out more about our teaching staff. For those students returning to us, there will be several familiar faces, and no fewer than 24 course directors who are either new or are returning to us after a number of years’ break. I think this is one of the most exciting line-ups I’ve ever seen. And we haven’t finished: for some programmes, we already have several plenary lectures planned, but there are whole new waves of expertise rushing towards us in the next few months, as we complete and advertise the list of plenary lectures for each programme. Keep watching the web pages, and you will be able to see those plenary series develop and grow in the New Year.

As to the brochure: this morning we took delivery of the first pristine copies. (The team in the office is split: some love the smell of the newly printed brochures, others don’t like it at all.)

We have some great photos in the brochure which have been submitted as part of the competition we opened to participants. Some will appear on our website in due course. Returning students will, perhaps, see people they recognise. For those new to the Summer Schools pages this year, and who look through and see groups of friends posing, often all dressed up at the end of the programme, ready for a ‘Closing Dinner’, remember these are just a handful of our students. Considering a third are not the traditional undergraduate student age, we’re remarkably low on photos of the mature students who make up a vital part of our audience. I’ve been pondering why that is. Perhaps it’s because the younger ones take more photos, or love to have their photos taken. And perhaps, too, getting past 25 means we’re more involved, rushing to immerse ourselves in the programmes, and don’t take the time to take the photos!

Still on the matter of photos, I’ve been asked why there isn’t there a photo of the Summer Schools’ Director in the welcome section of the brochure, as there is in so many other brochures of its kind. As a keen photographer, I’ve always disliked being in front of the camera, instead of being behind it. Whilst I am extremely proud and honoured to write the welcome in the brochure that summarises the vast majority of the International Programmes which I direct, the programme overall represents the combined input of seven programme directors (excluding yours truly), 85 course directors offering those 174 courses, and an entire year’s work for me and my six other hard-working colleagues. So ideally, it should be a group photograph of a great many people.

But, okay then, bowing to pressure, I have found a photo that shows the exuberance I feel as the wave of teaching talent (*see above) – and the tide of brochure-related administration - hits home. Vanity allows me to publish something (ahem) a few years out of date, and I am in my swimwear.

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 And, in case you are new to our site, and wondering what kind of person is ending a blog about our University of Cambridge Summer Schools in such a light-hearted manner, and indeed, what kind of people organise, teach and attend the Summer Schools, I will close with the words of one of our late, great teachers: ‘Learning can, and should, be fun!’ (As was this personal study of tides and British coastal geology, undertaken on a sunny January day. Brrr.)

We have a wonderful range of courses to tempt you to attend in summer 2012. Sign up as soon as you can.