Brainmatters | Cruise control9 June 2017
Our car has no cruise control. I miss it. Terribly. For of course I want to be at my destination as soon as possible, but I don’t want to find such a hated purple-and-white envelope on my doorstep every couple of weeks. Which means there is a sweet spot where the speedometer gauge would ideally be hovering throughout the route. However, I don’t seem to be able to keep that stupid gauge between those two narrow lines. That is, no longer than for some three minutes. Then my thoughts digress to other matters, other days, other places - as does my speedometer.
In specialist terms we are talking about a vigilance task here: staying focused on a task that is not intrinsically stimulating. Research has shown that vigilance is extremely vulnerable and short-lived - with an order of magnitude of merely a few minutes.
While I was in this reverie, the problem took me back to my own student days. Let’s get it off my chest straight away: I hardly ever attended lectures. Even then it was a struggle to keep my attention focused on one point. I could not manage it for most of the courses, so in the end I stayed away. There were two exceptions: the lectures presented by Esmeijer and Schlösser. The first one, emeritus, crooked and bald, would wave his pointer as if conjuring us as soon as we landed at a crucial point in the finite elements method -‘Heaven forbid!’. The second one, maybe a decade younger, grey wavy hair down to his shoulders, while calculating would sketch broad vistas on the board when losing himself in physical transport phenomena. They managed to drag me along through the 45 long minutes between the buzzer and the bell.
Attention is a continuous power play
Attention is a fascinating phenomenon, a continuous power play between processes driven top-down and bottom-up. This is how intention and effort contend with numerous stimuli, thoughts and events for that precious bit of attention that we can divide. Without a UTQ or course in theater skills these men managed to win that play for me with a captivating mixture of sound, image and emotions.
Even for a passionate student, listening to fascinating stories larded with concrete examples, a light-hearted witticism and activating components, mustering 45 minutes of attention is a tall order. In the light of our increasing timetable problems, efforts are made to come up with new forms of timetables, including variants of 90 minutes of lectures without a break. Even though theoretically speaking you do not lose any valuable lecture time, I would still like to urge all the lecturers to allow their students - and themselves - some interim recovery time. Attention is volatile and our brain has no cruise control.
Yvonne de Kort is Professor of Environmental Psychology at Human-Technology Interaction
For a while now, TU/e student Guido Buntinx and his friend Christophe Westerveld (student of Zuyd University of Applied Sciences) have been attracting a lot of attention with their 'electric beer crates'. Limburg's regional TV station and the TV news program Editie NL also got wind of their creative initiative. The short internet videos showing them riding along on the public highways have been watched multiple times.
The Department of Applied Physics needs to make significant savings: one million euros on a total annual budget of nine million. This was announced last week Wednesday by Departmental Dean Gerrit Kroesen at a staff meeting. The draft reorganization plan must be ready by the end of November and, says Kroesen, compulsory redundancies cannot be ruled out. The Departmental Council is holding talks today with the Departmental Office.
The fourth day of the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge in Australia has come to an end and Solar Team Eindhoven is clearly leading the Cruiser Class. Despite earlier transport problems and the limited window for testing on site, TU/e solar car Stella Vie is performing in the outback “far beyond expectations”. With some 900 kilometers to go, a third world title seems almost a dead cert for the team from Eindhoven - but this is no time for complacency.
At this university there are students who are not taking any classes, but they are still forced to pay the full sum of their tuition fee. How is that? When you take a look at what they are doing instead of following courses, their reasons become clear. They form one of the most important cornerstones of the TU/e, they are the student board members and part of student teams.
TU/e has made a considerable leap in the prestigious international Times Higher Education World University Rankings that focus on the subject areas Engineering & Technology and Computer Science. TU/e belongs to the fifteen and eighteen best European universities on these subjects respectively. The THE ranking forms an important yardstick for government departments, policymakers and international students.