Category Archives: Staff profiles and activity

The realities of university life with mental health problems

13-19th May 2013 is Mental Health Awareness Week, the Mental Health Foundation’s annual campaign. The Students’ Union and the Disability Team at Goldsmiths have organised a series of events around this, including an information stand in the Loafers café and a movie night, showing Lars and the Real Girl. Prior to the film screening there will be a Q&A panel on mental health issues. I’ll be one of the panellists, talking openly about my role as a departmental Senior Tutor, my own experiences as a mental health service user (I have bipolar disorder), and the problems and practicalities of being a student with mental illness (my husband is an undergraduate student at a different university and also has bipolar disorder). Everyone is welcome to attend.

Academic life and mental illness is not a smooth ride but it can be done. For me, academic life with bipolar disorder is both a blessing (when my mood is elevated I am incredibly productive and creative) and a curse (if I’m too high or low I can’t focus or concentrate). I know I can do my job and I can do it well – I just sometimes need a little more time or a different way of working. From a student perspective the same applies. My husband is now in his second year of his degree after two previous attempts at undergraduate studies prior to his diagnosis left him burnt out and on antipsychotics. This time round he has support in place. Goldsmiths offers the same support for any student with a disability: there are reasonable adjustments for assessments, we can help with your application for Disabled Student Allowance to fund further support, we strive to raise awareness and understanding amongst staff and fellow students, there is a counselling service on campus, and where we can’t help we’ll refer you to someone who can.

I’m the Senior Tutor in the Department of Computing, which means that any student with a non-academic issue such as illness, personal problems, welfare, etc., can come and see me so that we can plan a solution. That solution may be as straightforward as arranging extra time for courseworks, through to more complex strategies like taking a break from studies for a while, or helping people get access to the right services. For my students, I hope that I can offer not just advice and adjustments but empathy and understanding. I know what it’s like to hang on to normality by the fingertips. It’s not always easy and sometimes it can be downright awful but I also know that it’s possible, and that a life often turned upside down by mental health problems needn’t be a barrier to a successful journey through university. Help is there. We want to see people succeed. From my own experience, the best advice I can offer anyone facing mental health problems is “talk to someone”.

Kate Devlin, Senior Tutor
For more info about the film screening and Q+A on Thursday please see the SU website here.

Meet the staff: Prof Robert Zimmer

In the run up to the new academic year in September, we’re conducting a series of quick-fire interviews with some of the lecturers so you can meet them before you arrive. It would be only right to kick off with the Head of Department, so here you go…

Professor Robert Zimmer in 60 seconds!

What five words would you choose to describe the department? Welcoming, innovative, relaxed, creative, unique.

What do most enjoy about being Head of the Computing department? Being a head of department at Goldsmiths has enabled me to work with world class researchers in arts, humanities and social sciences to build a unique and exciting intellectual environment in the Computing Department

If you weren’t an academic, what would your dream job be? Presenter of a daytime TV.

What do you most like doing when you’re not at work? I would say…drinking wine and cooking!

What piece of advice would you give to applicants hoping to take up a university place in September? Be yourself. Be somebody better.

‘Our Correspondent’, Dr Kate Devlin – BBC Expert Women

Our lecturer, Dr Kate Devlin, was one of 60 experts selected out of over 2000 applicants to take part in a scheme to tackle gender imbalance in the media. Here she talks about her experience.

Tuesday, 4pm, at the BBC Academy: I was so busy chatting with three other women about computers, 3D printing, robotics and counterterrorism engineering that I forgot I was in a radio studio in the middle of a broadcast. I was taking part in the BBC Academy Expert Women day as a participant in the second cohort to be put through their paces at White City. Considering I had started the morning panicking that maybe I didn’t know enough, and that maybe they would think I was a fraud, the training had worked.

In four all-too-short sessions we were shown the ropes, getting a taste of how to confidently share our knowledge and research with a wide audience on TV and radio. But it wasn’t just the new skills that were so fascinating: the twenty-nine other women experts and the industry women training us were among the most interesting I have ever had the pleasure to meet. From astrobiologists to actuaries, and from to vulcanologists to feminist historians, everyone had something compelling to share and the opportunity was there to share it.

Women are vastly under-represented in the media and the Expert Women campaign seeks to redress the gender imbalance. This imbalance is also echoed in our own discipline – computing – where women are often discouraged by the “white male geek” stereotype. It’s estimated that the number of UK technology jobs held by women is just 17%. Seventeen percent! And yet we are all using and interacting with technology daily. Research shows we often assume that because we see stereotypes, we feel we ought to conform to those stereotypes in order to be successful. In other words, if we see a geeky male computer scientist, we think we can only be a computer scientist if we are both geeky and male. Not true! It was women who drove many of the early developments in computing and, hopefully, it will be women who contribute more and more in the future. Through initiatives such as these where women talk about what they do and share it publicly, we hope to encourage other women and girls, and show that a career in computing is both possible and desirable.

Dr Kate Devlin

Game engines, Indie development and BSc Games Programming

As we are having two exciting new degrees starting next year (Games Programming and Business Computing) I will blog about the work we are doing to develop them, so that you can keep updated about them.

At the moment I am working on deciding what development environments will work for BSc Games Programming. The rise, in the last few years, of indie game development has been fantastic for students. It means that professional game engines aren’t just targeted at high end studios any more, they can be used by anyone. That means that you, as students, can use the same development environments as the pros, and who knows, you could be releasing your first indie game before you graduate (maybe even that is a bit late, we’ve had students release mobile games in their first year).

I’ll talk about some of the game engines we are thinking of using.

Unity3D

Unity is the hot game engine for indies at the moment. It is easy to use, with built in 3D modelling tools that integrate very easily with the scripting engine. The free version has plenty of features (physics, terrain engine, lightmapping, custom shaders) that make it possible to develop professional looking game for PCs, macs, consoles and web browsers (you have to pay a one off fee of $400 for iphone and android development).

Unity is a great engine for beginners. The only drawback as a teaching tool is that you can’t directly write code in C++ the hardcore programming language that the real pros use.

Unreal Engine

Unreal has been one of the most important engines for a long time, but it doesn’t shine for me as a student development environment. The learning curve is much steeper than Unity but the free version doesn’t let you access the hard core details of the C++ SDK so you won’t really be using the version the pros use (and the full version is only licenced to high end studios for lots of money).

Cryengine 3

Cryengine is my current favourite for 2nd and 3rd year students. It is a very powerful, cutting edge engine but the full version is free for students and indie developers, who only pay when their game starts making money. That means you will be working with exactly the same version as the pros using all the same C++ development tools.

HTML5

Finally, there is something that may be the future of casual and possibly even hardcore games. The new HTML5 standard has massively improved the 2D graphics capabilities of everyday web technologies and the 3D capabilities are developing fast. HTML5 is easy to develop and very easy to deploy as it can run in any browser including mobile browsers (you can even bundle HTML5 games as phone apps for the app store/android market). It may not be up to the pro engines quite yet, but it is one to watch. All our students learn HTML5 in the first term, so you will definitely have some experience developing on this platform.

Hope this is useful/interesting to some of you,

Marco

Marco Gillies, Director of Studies

Gold + Goldsmiths = BRONZE: Mick Grierson explains the Bronze project…

Look at this piece in MusicWeek about ‘bronze format’, a new music format aimed at composers and producers and devised by a research team led by Computing’s Mick Grierson in collaboration with musician Gwilym Gold.

I asked Mick to tell us a bit more about BRONZE and how the project came into being:

“In Goldsmiths Computing Department, our Embodied Audiovisual Interaction Group (EAVI) features a number of staff and students with backgrounds in professional electronic and computer music. As a result of my work in these areas, I was approached by Gwilym Gold and Lexx to develop an idea called ‘bronze format’. It’s not really similar to generative music approaches that have been tried before by the likes of Brian Eno, and other computer music researchers. Instead, it’s been designed as a commercial music format, and so can’t be a software program that creates random mixes songs – it’s not at all random, as this isn’t really what the musicians and producers we work with want.

“It’s aimed at producers and composers who want to make any kind of music, including very organised, highly structured music, that is at a professional level equal to that which you can achieve with professional authoring tools,  but that is capable of being different each time, whilst still sounding like the same track – retaining the quality and balance of the original mixes, and the words / music in all the right places. These were the challenges we faced. I led the team from Goldsmiths as part of my Sound, Image and Brain project (funded by the AHRC). Chris Kiefer, my research assistant, and Parag Mital, a PhD student in Arts and Computational technology worked on the generative audio engine. In addition, Dan Jones, a PhD student in Computing worked on some of the iPhone audio elements.”

If you haven’t already read it, take a look at the MusicWeek article here.

Radio 4 : A Sound British Adventure

Director of Creative Computing Dr Mick Grierson has appeared on the Radio 4 documentary, “A Sound British Adventure”, talking about the ‘Secret History of British Electronic Music’. He discusses the pioneering work of Daphne Oram, and the relationship between technology and creativity in electronic music alongside key historical figures in the field including synthesiser pioneer Peter Zinnovieff (whose machines were used by Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones), and Brian Hodgson, creator of the Dr. Who Tardis sound effect.

You can listen to the program here until the 21st of August 2012