I’ve now been a lecturer for over a year, although I did some teaching before this. According to the dominant narrative put forward by many lecturers, I ought to have had a terrible year. I’d have been marking exams, doing admin, preparing lectures, doing research for at least 10 hours a day, my personal life would be in meltdown, and my love for teaching would have thoroughly diminished. Newsflash everyone – it’s been great thanks and I’ve enjoyed it so much!
Sure there have been a few long hours, but not half as long as the hours my wife puts in, and it certainly can’t be considered hard work as compared to millions of other people in other professions around the world. As my father-in-law would say to teachers/lecturers, try running your own business before complaining that you have the world’s hardest job. Or try going down a coal mine as my late grandfather did, or try being a solider, or working in a warehouse for hours with little pay, or a surgeon, or a police officer, or a hill farmer in Snowdonia in the middle of winter (and many of those farmers were the friendliest and most positive people I’ve met) etc. Not that the advice will be taken on board – gosh we do love to moan – I will never forget the world’s worst train journey last month after being seated next to two academics who moaned ALL the way home. I nearly had to intervene – ‘if you hate it that much guys, go and do something else’. This blog is unashamedly optimistic to try to bring a little bit of balance to the world…
Anyway here we are one year down the line, appraisal went OK, I’m still enjoying life even though I’m on the train en route to give a lecture about plagiarism – now that is mind-numbingly boring, although pretty important. But my lectures are a bit mad so we will hear from Melania Trump, Barack Obama, Marvin Gaye, and Ed Sheerhan (not in person sadly). Then hopefully after an hour most people will still be awake!
So what advice can I give from my first year of lecturing? The best piece of advice is just to do the job your way. Yes, there are conventions and received wisdom about how you do things, but find what works for you and stick to it. Try and judge whether the moment is right to draw a line in the sand and say I’m doing it this way, or whether in fact it’s a battle you don’t need to fight (I’m a terrible judge of this!).
You may be advised to do detailed lesson plans days or weeks before or to think about innovative ways of making your lectures more interesting. My advice would be, just make sure you give a good, informative lecture and make sure it’s ready by the time you give it. And you don’t necessarily need colouring pencils, highlighters, sticky notes, or lego to make your lectures more interesting – we are teaching an academic subject, not teaching how to build William Shakespeare out of lego (see lego shop in London). And remember, we are teaching university students, not 5 year-olds! Mind you, I couldn’t resist a bit of science communication artwork on the fieldtrip to Devon:
I’m all for innovation, but do remember that academia is a somewhat serious business (although don’t take yourself too seriously) and therefore you have to convey points in a scholarly way (bar Ed Sheerhan). As for the emails and admin – just get it done as soon as you get it, so it doesn’t linger.
Then my most important piece of advice is to always remember why you became a lecturer. Most probably it will be because you love to research or teach, or both! And being a lecturer, you get to do both! Don’t fall into the trap of blaming teaching/students for restricting your research output – you are paid to do both and students should never be seen as a disruptive influence on your work. In fact, in-depth debates with students often help your research!
So in summary, what’s not to love about being a lecturer? Granted you may have your own valid reasons why you don’t feel that way, and I openly acknowledge these in the ‘about’ section on this blog. But when a huge pile of marking lands on your desk, I always think it’s helpful to remember the benefits of the job – decent pay, the chance to inspire inquisitive young minds, the ability to pursue your own interests often with taxpayer’s money, the chance to travel the world, and let’s face it work more flexibly and less hours than millions of people in this country. Taking cake for students also helps, as does taking it to incredibly helpful support staff! Here’s to another year…