Variety is the spice of life!

Since completing my Ph.D, and then a short research internship at the Ashmolean Museum, I have found myself in the very priviledged position of having not just one, but two jobs. I work part time as a Research Associate at the British Library, and the other half of the week I divide between an Associate Lecturer position at a university and my own personal research. Aside from hoping that, in the next year or so, I can strive towards removing the word ‘Associate’ from my jobtitle and have a more permanent role, I have been very happy with this position. Having this kind of a split personality, where I belonged fully to neither institution, and was embedded in neither institution for a very long time, was quite daunting for someone who enjoys security and safety as the reassuring backdrop to her occasional spontaneity. However, I decided that for this period of time I would welcome the idiom ‘Variety is the Spice of Life’ into my own life, and live an exciting and transient life whilst I sorted out something more permanent. Actually, I have found it very refreshing – and it has also shed some light onto academia for me, and has helped me to form some ideas about how I hope that universities will progress in the future, albeit idealistic.

Those who can: teach!

Some Ph.D students will find themselves in a full-time lecturing position as one of their first jobs upon graduating. This, for me, I think would have been disastrous. I enjoy teaching SO MUCH, but I find it physically, mentally and emotionally draining because I put my heart and soul into it. I currently teach four hours a week, and for those four hours I can easily spend another four hours writing lectures and performing administrative tasks. That does not include the hours that I will spend marking the forty essays that I will receive at the end of the term, or the group presentations that the students are giving throughout the term. I love my job, but it is demanding – and I would like to see associate lecturers such as myself get paid for the actual hours that we put in, rather than a ‘guesstimate’ lump sum, which is meant to cover all of the work that we do (but which never actually does!)

Part of the reason I love teaching so much, is that I escape it for three days a week, when I sit in the British Library and research manuscripts. Perhaps what the universities do not realise (or they do realise, but ignore for financial and pragmatic reasons), is that good lecturers need time to breathe, to do their own independent research (building up their own body of publications), and become inspiring teachers to the students. I know that my students would not like to see an over-worked lecturer standing before them. My students are inspiringly demanding and eager to learn, and because I teach part time, I have the energy to respond to this. Instead of a stressed, tired lecturer, what (I hope) they see is a teacher who is simultaneously carrying out exciting research, and who is stimulated and inspired b y what she is doing to contribute towards the academic world in which they are beginning their careers.  The other day, I told my students about the work that I’d like to do on medieval correspondence in the next year, and I think they saw me light up with enthusiasm – and they looked genuinely excited for me. The same universities, when recruiting researchers who are further along in their careers, will be asking “where are your publications?” – so why not give lecturers chance to work on them? Of course, if I had been offered a full time lecturing position, I would have accepted it. However, I would have been working myself into the ground on weekends and evenings to do independent research. I’d really like to see more part-time associate lecturer positions offered to recently-graduated postdocs like myself, so we can teach a bit and build up our portfolio of publications. But I’d like to see these positions paid appropriately, so that we do not get exploited. I fell into this split-personality position through accident (and hard work in making myself employable), but I would not change a thing.

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