Early career researchers: the difficulty of saying ‘no’ as a newbie

Juggling multiple departmental roles on top of teaching and research can leave new lecturers feeling ‘punch-drunk’, explains new appointee Richard Budd

December 4, 2015
ecr chat PhD first job juggling careers
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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.

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 on to a committee for doctoral training and a group on research methods for master’s students.

I’m a 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 to 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.

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 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. 

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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.

But 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.

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 halfway 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.

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 to 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 at the last minute, not reading around the subject area, working out what is the minimum 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.

Richard Budd started as a lecturer in education studies at Liverpool Hope University in September 2015, and previously worked on widening participation and academic staff development projects at the University of Bristol. A longer version of this piece appears on his blog, Stuff About Unis.

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