Being a lecturer: 1 year on

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…

Still really enjoying it

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…

Enjoying my travels

How to change farmers’ (or anyone’s) behaviour: new report and editorial

I’m excited that our report on farmer behaviour change written for the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board is out today – plus the accompanying editorial in Food and Energy Security. This was the result of 8 weeks of work so the literature review is certainly not systematic in the purest sense of the word! Thank you to Dr Carol Morris (Nottingham) for her invaluable input into the project, to Dr Emilie Vrain (UEA) for her input to the editorial, and to Connor Keating who did all the hard work for the report! Congratulations to Connor on his first academic publication!

The report and editorial encourages us to move away from an approach to behaviour change which focuses on the individual farmer, often characterising him/her as a problem non-adopter whose behaviour needs to be influenced. Focusing on the individual farmer rarely works. They are rarely the only decision-maker on-farm, instead relying on advice from family, friends, advisors etc., and thus a whole host of different people need to be involved if behavioural interventions are going to work. We also suggest that it might be more productive if new practices/innovations were designed with stakeholder input so that they already fit farming workflows – then researchers or industry groups wouldn’t have to bother with trying to change behaviour!

We also hint at the wider critique of behavioural approaches that seek to place the emphasis on end user behaviour, rather than critiquing the wider system responsible for driving decisions. Our suggestion to move beyond an individual approach to behaviour change actually does little, if anything, to address this concern. Thus, we should always consider whether we are addressing the right driver on the spectrum from policy decision to on-farm implementation – the barriers to adoption may in fact be present in the policy frameworks decided upon at a high level! In such a scenario, blaming a farmer for non-adoption is nonsensical.

Our aim is to encourage those who wish to influence farmer behaviour to think in a more critical way before deciding upon a course of action. Firstly, consider whether changes to policy drivers might be the most effective way of encouraging change. Maybe the system is working against the change you wish to implement. Secondly, consider whether changes in your own behaviour, for example involving end users in the design of farm practices/innovations, might be more beneficial. Then finally, if you consider that it is farmers’ behaviour that needs to be changed, ensure that you involve all key decision-makers (e.g. advisors, family, friends, landowners) in behavioural interventions.

Tremendous Trent: on tour in Ontario

A trip to Peterborough usually doesn’t sound too exciting (with no disrespect to the people of Peterborough, UK!). However, Peterborough, Ontario, and specifically Trent University was a much more attractive proposition for a Geographer who’d never been to North America before.

Trent University is a new partner university for the University of East Anglia – we are going to get some student exchange going and perhaps a series of joint activities, including a Model Arctic Council. Hopefully this blog will inspire our students, and even staff, to take a trip to Southern Ontario! We’d be very happy to see Trent staff and students at the UEA too. Special thanks to Professor Heather Nicol and Kate Logan from Trent for hosting me!

Let’s start with Peterborough, Ontario, a city about 2 hours drive from Toronto, or fairly easy by coach or train/bus (I did the train, and then someone picked me up). The coach on the way back, on the other hand,…best to leave it there.

Peterborough (or Peterbro as the locals seemed to pronounce it) is a fairly small city (about 80,000), certainly smaller than Norwich. It’s typically North American with front porches on nearly every house and a grid-like planning system. The main attraction, like Trent, is the location of the city on the Otonabee River. I highly recommend Silver Bean cafe, which looks out over the river and may provide an opportunity to spot a Beaver or other exciting wildlife.

Trent University was a delight – welcoming, friendly staff, punctual, enthusiastic students – and set in a beautiful location. There is a college system, which made a Cambridge alumnus feel at home – the five colleges are (wait, this is a test of memory!) Lady Eaton, Traill (downtown), Otonabee, Champlain, and Gzowski. Students can swim in the river (not in the freezing winter!) or take advantage of the fantastic sports facilities and wildlife trails. Trent is known as a rowing hub with Olympic rowers being part of the team – they also play Baseball, Soccer, and even Rugby, amongst lots of other things!

Our UEA students, however, would not feel out of place. The universities were built at a similar time and so the concrete buildings and raised walkways will provide a familiar feel. The university is also about 10-15 minutes out of town just like the UEA.

So I’d describe Trent University as similar to the UEA, only on a bigger scale – not in terms of student numbers which are lower, but in terms of the landscape in which it is situated. UEA has a cool lake and small river and some lovely wooded areas; Trent has a rather large river, and miles of wildlife trials and forest, with a couple of hydropower dams nearby. The bird list was pretty good, as was the mammal list, although the Beaver was elusive, and I didn’t see a bear or wolf on a rare wander into the city limits. I think the Health and Safety Committee at the UEA were happy about that. It was amazing to see so many Monarch butterflies.

I lost track of how far I walked!

I spent much of my time in the School of the Environment. The overlap between our degrees was very interesting, particularly our Geography courses. Trent has some interesting specialisms, however, including in indigenous knowledges that our students would benefit from. They were also keen to take advice from areas of UEA specialism, for example in climate change science and policy. They are also celebrating 50 years like our department!


Overall, I had a great week and spoke to a number of different classes about the UEA (most were large classes, this photo is from the small one!), as well as doing a couple of guest lectures for the environmental scientists. I even had an opportunity to appear on the ‘Trent Travels’ student radio section!

I also had the opportunity to speak to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry at their building in Peterborough. This talk had a great audience, including several people dotted around Ontario via video link. I spoke about how to improve the use of environmental evidence in policy, and they were a very appreciative audience – particularly of my pink trousers. I also found out about a local Wild Turkey roost which was quite a spectacle as I caught up with the electronically-tracked birds later in the evening. Seeing huge turkeys flying into trees is amazing!

I also stayed at an absolutely wonderful Air B n B hosted by Larry and Donna. The value-for-money (about £55 per night) was ridiculous, with a well-stocked larder, and a well-stocked bird feeder outside the room attracting numerous woodpecker species, several Chickadees, and lots of Chipmunks. It’s the first time my bedroom has acted as a bird hide!

The local supermarket was interesting too, no small portions to be found there! And Kyoto coffee did a great egg sandwich!

All-in-all, I can’t wait to return. I can’t wait for our students at the UEA to experience it too! I managed to sneak a quick trip to Niagara in too, a must for any Geographer!