Friday, 18 October 2013

What professors do apart from teaching

At a social event, a student made a comment on my recent circulation of conference information: “I have now finally realised how much more professors do than just teach”. This was a generous acknowledgement, as people, especially outside academia, tend to believe that professors are those lucky, lazy people who pop into classrooms every now and then, deliver a lecture and then go out for a beer. And have long summer holidays. Even people within academia, who know that instructors also have to prepare for their lectures, supervise written coursework, grade exams and papers, and console students who fail the course; even these people can hardly imagine how much work is done in between these obvious activities. In addition to my previous descriptions of a typical day or week, here is what I do, whether it is a part of my job description or not.

As the head of an academic group (or research team leader), I regularly meet up with my team members for informal conversations. These can happen over lunch or coffee, which does not mean that they are relaxed and necessarily pleasurable. Some of them take place in my office, with a box of tissues within reach. I also need to do formal staff reviews at regular intervals. I hold three business meetings and an awayday every year, preparing agendas and checking minutes. I represent my group's interest in various committees and I report back from these committees. For this, I need to write papers, often running them through colleagues for comments and approval. I have limited financial responsibilities within the group. I have 0.2 secretarial support, which means that I can ask my secretary to book meeting rooms and catering, keep accounts, produce flyers and posters, collect information for the monthly newsletter, circulate papers and take minutes. Yet it is still me who needs to tell them what to do. I take care of visiting scholars and make sure they feel welcome. Some are more demanding than others. Sometimes I have to remind them gently that I am not their supervisor. I also assess all applications from prospective visitors before I reject them, pass them on to a colleague or explain in message after message what I need from them. There is a secretary who takes care of visitors, but I need to compile files for her to process.

The past few years I have been working hard on the national university assessment (known by its most recent euphemism REF, Research Excellence Framework). The amount of time and effort put into this pointless game is unimaginable. It could have been spent on research. Not to menion all trees cut down to produce the mountains of paper.

As a member of several committees, one of which I chair, I attend meetings, read documentation, prepare arguments, take actions, exchange emails and occasionally talk to colleagues face to face. During term time, there is at least one scheduled meeting every week and innumerable urgent meetings of all kinds and shapes. I am also on College Council and several College committees, which sometimes clash with Faculty committees, and I need to decide which to prioritise and to remember which hat I am wearing. For some reason, I have not been asked to be on any University committee. Not that I am eager to, but when I was new in Cambridge, a female professorial colleague warned me: “You will be in huge demand as a female professor”. (Only 6% of Cambridge professors are women). Apparently something is wrong with me, but I let sleeping dogs lie.

As a member of the children's literature teaching team, I attend planning meetings and evaluation meetings, write course descriptions for the webpage and maintain the education platform. As an internal masters examiner, I attend two exam board meeting per year – these are the occasions when you need to produce your own death certificate to be excused. There are also Masters Management Group meetings and Quality Assessment meetings, to which I this year managed to send a younger colleague, bless her; and Doctoral Management Group for which I have put myself forward because I feel it is important. This term I am replacing a colleague as a course co-ordinator, which implies checking that all students have actually arrived, allocating supervisors, re-allocating supervisors, disentangling the tangled allocations, seeing students with additional questions, making sure that the register is in place, and, the other day, fetching the key to open the lecture room. Later on I will have to allocate assessors. There is an array of admin support for all these activities, and I need to keep track of who is doing what. Sometimes I have to apologise in my email: “This may not be your responsibility, in which case...”

I am Graduate Admissions Co-ordinator in my academic group, which is such an ungrateful job that this year I couldn't find anyone to do it. Which means that I first do the GAC (wonderful word, isn't it) job, and then sign it off as Chair. We receive about a hundred masters applications and fifty PhD applications, and I must read them all, forms, recommendation letters and project descriptions, deciding whom to pass them on to. Then I have to rank candidates who also apply for funding. There is a jungle of funding out there, and all procedures are different. It seems that the University has recently realised it and will eventually make it more comprehensible.

As a director of the Children's Literature Centre, I plan activities, allocate bits of our tiny budget to them, invite guest speakers, approve student-run events, complile mailing lists and decide what drinks should be served at Open Days. I arrange the Jacqueline Wilson Award ceremony which includes the nice moment of notifying the winner to make sure they can attend, booking room and refreshment, printing out the diploma, issuing a cheque and taking care of the sponsor. I know I should be doing more about the Centre, but I simply cannot. This is, by the way, not included in my job description and therefore regarded as hobby.

Every now and then I take Professional Development courses, preferably online. Most of these are very helpful. I also attend in-house workshops if relevant.

I am sure I have forgotten half of it (because I really try to get it off my mind as soon as possible). And I haven't even mentioned “service to the profession” which I do more or less every day. 

No wonder I can only do my own research when I am on study leave. 

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