What is your background?
I went to a fairly ordinary state school (where only 540 of 700 students in my class graduated) but with a good honours/university prep program, and I got into a very good university. I wanted a PhD but I didn't know in what, so I worked for a few years, winding up in the financial industry. I was able to save enough money that I took a UK one-year conversion MSc into artificial intelligence, and then got into the best university in the world for the research I was interested in. But I didn't like that university so much so I came back to the UK after graduating.
What initially attracted you to your job?
My university had a new department I was to join & they promised to move it in the direction of my research & let me help them hire an entire group around that area. But none of this has actually happened.
Define your job?
I work about 60+ hours a week. I spend about 18 weeks a year full time teaching, about 4 full time in admin, and much of the rest supervising research students or chasing funding. I do get to travel, give a lot of talks, and work as an expert reviewer, which is fun. I only get a couple weeks of year to do my own research.
Can you walk me through your day to day activities?
Not really, see above! It totally depends on the teaching/term schedule & the commitments I've made.
How has your job changed in the last 5 to 10 years?
Well, I've only been lecturing for five years. The best thing is research students (undergraduate through PhD) who help force me to pay attention to the broad range of research topics that interest me, and sometimes make exciting progress. I have gradually been able to spend less time on teaching as I have put my courses together & figured out what matters -- I probably used to spend more than half my time on that, as I was given all new courses to write in areas I knew little about. Most recently I've started being on the kinds of committees where you find out how power actually works at the university, which is interesting if sometimes depressing.
What are the key issues facing your sector?
People with PhDs are forced to spend time booking their own travel, doing their own photocopying, marking first-year courses & doing other kinds of ludicrious administration that would better be handled by specialists, leaving them with little time to do the research, teaching, writing, fund-raising, public service and such-like that highly-trained & intelligent specialists should be doing. Central administration hires endless help for itself but pays no attention to those delivering the core services of a university.
How does government legislation affect your job?
Because I work in the UK, government legislation determines funding, benchmarks, number of students, hoops the lecturers have to jump through, etc. This is a big part of the problem with the level of money spent on administration instead of teaching & research.
What impact has technology had on your job?
I am a technologist.
What are the best things and worst things about your job?
The best thing is understanding how things work, getting new insight. That usually happens talking with research students, though on rare occassions in talks or personal research. The second best thing is helping students move forward in their careers. The worst thing is that you can't do the interesting parts of your job & work less than 55 hours a week, and watching corruption and being powerless to stop it. And watching those few students who screw up their lives now matter how much you try to help them.
Do you have any horror stories?
What attributes do you need/ what are you looking for when hiring someone in your role?
Smart, good education, broad range of knowledge, dedication, publications.
What are your tips/ advice for those starting out?
2 years of A levels, 3 of a specialist degree & 3 of a PhD make for someone too narrow to really be an academic (unless possibly if they are a mathematician.) Do your first degree in Scotland or Europe, do a conversion MSc, work a while -- try to broaden yourself.