There is both a strong correlation and causal relationship between the reduced frequency of my blogging and having become a new lecturer. The first month or so was a bit like any new job, trying to work out what’s what, who’s who, and how all of the online stuff works. Now I’m nearly three months in and finally starting to feel like I have my feet under the table. It’s still all a bit manic, but I no longer feeling like I’m swimming against the tide. Well, not all the time, anyway.
I have a bit less teaching than the other new staff but it’s not like I’ve had the ‘soft landing’ that you get with some lecturing jobs; I also have a ‘good range’ of other responsibilities. On the teaching side of things I have three hours of small group tutorials every Monday morning and so far I’m delivering about nine lectures or other teaching sessions over the year. I’m also supervising about 30 undergrad and two Master’s dissertations. I think that’s where most of my ‘teaching’ hours come in – when deadlines come around, my inbox floods its banks overnight. I have ‘office hours’ twice a week, two-hour blocks where my supervisees/tutees can book slots to come and see me, and these are nearly always full. I’m loving being able to develop a relationship with my students, rather than being parachuted in for a few one-off appearances, which is what most of my previous university teaching was like.
Something that’s surprised me, and which presents an interesting challenge, is the new students’ dependence on heavily structured lessons. I’ve discussed this with them, and we’re working towards me doing less – and them doing more. I don’t want to talk at them for 50 minutes in tutorials, it’s boring for all concerned. It seems to be largely what they’ve come from, though, a mixture of that and doing exercises where every step is laid out for them. You can really see that the move from school into higher education is, for many of them, a huge cultural shift in terms of teaching and learning practice. It was very different with postgrads where you can give out a more loosely defined task and watch them think it through, develop, and run with it. That doesn’t work for the first year students, they need to be coached towards it.
Doing large lectures is a mixture of petrification, performance, exhilaration and exhaustion. I’ve done a couple now, and I wonder if my students can tell that my heart’s pounding as soon as I walk into the room and start setting up. I enjoy overcoming that fear and trying to keep the students engaged. Who’d have thought lecturing would be an adrenalin sport?! I find myself virtually catatonic for about half an hour afterwards, though, I don’t know why. Maybe that’ll fade away with time. A friend of mine taught me a fantastic tip getting the attention of a full lecture theatre: when you’re ready to start, just stand at the front, quietly looking round the room. A hundred people or more, brought to silence without lifting a finger – it works a treat!
I was warned about this before starting, but one of the hardest things is knowing when to say no to stuff. So far I haven’t turned anything down, and it’s not as bad as this (yet?). Being new means that you want to help people out and you probably feel more obliged to do stuff. So far I’ve been co-opted onto a committee for doctoral training and a group on research methods for Master’s students. I’m an departmental ethics lead, there’s some Master’s and doctoral teaching in the pipeline after Christmas, and then I’m half of a team responsible for revamping and coordinating our departmental research centre. Oh, and I’m the Departmental Twit (-terer). A one-off session on education in the UK to international students? Okey-doke. Can you help us to try and raise the number of students who spend time at universities overseas? Sure, that’s right up my alley. Then there was that journal review last month, the ongoing meetings and spreadsheets to fill in on student attainment and an endless range of other things that need tracking, along with chasing up those students who can’t be bothered to come to many (or any) of the taught classes.
There is a bit of space for research. I’ve just resubmitted a paper to a journal, having spent six months not being able to get anywhere near it. A new baby, leaving two jobs, moving house and starting a new job does that. I’m half way through finishing a poster for a big conference in just over two weeks, too. Then some colleagues and I have also just drafted an internal grant application. As early career researchers it’s very difficult to get external funding – most of it goes in the form of large grants to experienced names, and my current university doesn’t have them and just isn’t in that kind of league for the time being. But they do have internal funding to get project ideas (and careers) off the ground. This is a bit of a strategic move. I’ve still got enough material from previous research to submit to journals over the next two years or so, and also a book chapter and a practitioner-focused article on widening participation that are due in the coming months. Once that runs out, though, I’ll need to have something else in the pipeline. It’s a medium-term investment.
The elephant in the room at the moment is the postgrad certificate in teaching and learning. I need to do it as part of my first year probation, and passing it will get me the all-important fellowship of the Higher Education Academy. I want to do it, too, as it’ll help me develop my teaching. At the moment, though, I have no idea how I’ll fit it in – and there’s an essay due in January. It’s funny how you get cross with students for doing things last minute, not reading around the subject area, working out what the minimum is that they can get away with. As soon as I was enrolled on the course I found myself slipping straight back into that mode again, it’s frightening.
I think the best bit about the job is that everything I do is now part of one role. Before I got here I was working part-time on a research project and had occasional bits of teaching and supervision thrown in. That was alongside a non-academic role running a few staff development projects. Working on my own publications was what the evenings were for – when I wasn’t applying for jobs. It’s not that I have less work now or less variety in what I’m doing – far from it – but it all sits under one roof rather than three. I’m a bit punch drunk, but mostly happily so.