Academic Challenges: Running A Degree Programme Or Course

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Many of the articles on advise early career scholars on how to progress their career. However career development issues are also relevant to mid-career academics. While some worries about job security may not be so immediate for scholars established in a permanent job, it is still important for them to regularly monitor their career progress and to develop their portfolio in order to either move up within the same institution or to move elsewhere.

A key academic role is running a particular undergraduate or postgraduate degree programme. This job presents the holder with a number of challenges and this article discusses ways of overcoming those challenges.

1. Can I do this? Training and preparation

Taking on a large new role within your department requires you to go into the situation being very well prepared. In order to perform well in your new role, take advantage of the training opportunities offered by your institution. Not only will these training courses enhance your CV and impress your mentor during the Personal Development Review process, but they should also offer you advice and confidence in undertaking your new role. Internal training courses are particularly useful for introducing you to complex administrative processes.

It is also important to ensure a smooth hand-over from the previous holder of the post. If possible arrange a meeting with them to discuss your duties, what you ought to be doing at each point in the academic year. Most importantly, this will give you an opportunity to find out what are the key issues and challenges in the role. If the previous incumbent is no longer at the institution or is unwilling to meet with you, have a meeting with anyone else in the department who has done the job.

2. Time management

Depending on the nature of the role, managing a programme often presents time management challenges. If you have been asked to run a large undergraduate degree with hundreds of students you will find time for research is scarce during this period. You should negotiate your teaching load carefully to reflect your increased administrative burden. Many scholars start by running a small programme, such as a postgraduate degree, with only a handful of students. While the scale of the job is much smaller, its responsibilities are the same and it is vital to be aware of its deadlines and timescales.

  3. Think big!

Running a programme, however small, should encourage you to think outside your own department. Of course you must fulfil your responsibilities at department level, to those staff working under you on the programme and to your ‘superiors’ running the department. But you also have a chance to imagine your job at a faculty level, to work with programme leaders from other departments in order to develop strategic relationships and collaborations. Broaden your horizons and learn as much as possible about how your institution functions. 

Career Building:

When thinking about your future career, also think big! As programme leader you can decide what sort of academic you want to be. While the divide at mid-career between research and administration routes is not always clear cut, you can still assess which parts of the job you really enjoy and are good at.

Some scholars look on these large administrative roles as a duty undertaken because they are collegiate and wish to contribute fully to the life of the department. Others find these roles fulfilling and decide to move into management because that is the best use of their talents. Still others do the jobs for less positive reasons, such as no one else being willing, or to prevent an unwanted candidate from taking the role. Whatever your motivation, it is possible to take the positive aspects from such a burdensome job and use them to develop your future career.

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