the check out girl told me.
She has just completed a degree in psychology and this should be her honours year. It is now May and six weeks into the university year in Downunder.
The person who was going to supervise her honours thesis has gone on leave. Nobody else is prepared to supervise.
"If I wanted to do something in gender equality or... I don't know... it would probably be okay. I don't know what to do now."
Her shift finished at midday so I suggested we meet in the library and we could talk about it.
We went through her interests - an entirely sensible set of interests - and the interests of the staff at the university she attends. I know some of the staff. I know two who "might" have taken her on are already grossly overloaded and not getting much support themselves.
We sat there and stared at the list. I brought up another list at another university. There is one person there who is a potential supervisor. I know him but not that well, not well enough to approach him and say, "Hey, I have a student here..."
I am not on the staff.
I know what the student wants. She wants me to take her on but we both know that I am not going to do that without being paid. I've done too much unpaid as it is. And, in all fairness to her, she has said she does not want or expect me to do that.
I brought up the third university in the state. No, nobody there at all - and yes, we had looked outside the department.
"Change your thesis topic," I told her, "It's not your fault your intended supervisor is on leave. They must have known that earlier."
Of course she has already done a lot of work in preparation for her chosen topic. I made some suggestions that would mean that at least some of the reading would still be useful. I made some suggestions about more reading. While I was there she made a phone call and, wonder of wonders, managed to speak to the person I had suggested. I spoke to them as well.
There was an enormous sigh down the phone. "I've really got too many students now but at least that topic has something to commend it. Yes, send her in to see me...but I might need you to read it when she's done."
That's fine. I'll do that. No doubt we will talk about it during the year too but I won't take responsibility for supervising her.
What bothers me though is that a student who wants to do something of potential value with respect to teaching young refugees can't get a supervisor.
There was a brief email in my work mail this morning, "Nice girl. Will take her on. Have suggested original topic might be of great interest to J....... MA?"
J..... doesn't live in Downunder of course.