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The Wisdom of Dr Bowler

The Oxford Physics faculty has some... interesting lecturers (as opposed to interesting lectures, which I don't believe exist). There was Dr Taylor who couldn't explain Special Relativity without continual Star Trek references. Dr Yeomans would illustrate her lectures with sub-standard hand-drawn cartoons on the OHP. And who can forget the disastrous puns ("fiche and chips") of Dr Nickerson? (NB If anyone does manage to forget them, please tell me the secret.)

But rising above them all is the inimitable Dr Bowler. This is a man who can lecture for an hour, producing a perfect copy of his lecture notes without ever looking at them. But it is not for his amazing memory that he is admired by his students. Rather, it is his idiosyncratic lecturing style that keeps us wondering what he'll say next. Collected here are some of his best quotes....

He can state the stunningly obvious without flinching:

He has a colourful turn of phrase:

He has a firm grasp of the importance of safety:

He has a healthy disrespect for authority:

He has novel ideas about teaching methods:

He isn't as old as some lecturers:

He is quick with his maths:

Perhaps because of this, he has a rather cavalier attitude to algebra:

And as a result, this statement came as a pleasant surprise:

He has a good grasp of magnitudes:

He is thoroughly competent:

He looks down on other disciplines:

He doesn't let students snub him without comment:

He's always looking for ways to help the students:

He manages to lecture despite the obstacles in his way:

He is into good science fiction:[1]

He is good at characterization:

He is on drugs:

Dr Bowler is not new to this lecturing lark. Others have experienced him before. Others, it turns out, have even collected his quotes. Here are large chunks of an e-mail I received from Matthew Kenworthy, an astrophysicist who spent his undergrad years at Oxford:

He likes to challenge his students:

Describing a steel rod:

He is generous at Christmas:

His question sheets had a certain amount of lateral thinking attached to them. I gave a couple of them to the fellows in the department here and they found out that one question was actually the title of an Oxford thesis! I kid you not...

We got Bowler in his third year of lecturing (1992), just as he was coming out of his shell, so to speak. The first year he ever lectured, he didn't face the audience *at all*, preferring the company of a thin cloud of chalk dust. In the second year he performed a most stylish manoeuvre. The lecture started with him walking into the room and without breaking his stride, he placed his coat and unopened briefcase at the right hand side of the theatre. He then proceeded to dictate the whole lecture, walking steadily back and forth along the front row, never looking up.

At the end of the lecture, he finished the last sentence with "...and that concludes today's lecture." and at that moment without breaking stride, he picked up his coat and briefcase and walked uninterrupted out of the lecture theatre.

He got a round of applause for that one.


  1. Trumping Dr Taylor's[2] Star Trek s**** by a mile. Treaty of b***** Shalimar, indeed.
  2. Senior member of OUCofA, as it happens. This site is as incestuously interlinked as hypertext was always meant to be.
  3. Not an exact Star Wars quote, but pretty close.[4]
  4. Don't you just love footnotes?[5]
  5. Although this may be overdoing it.

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