Awesome revels in jellyfish and ideas

June 23, 2006

We ask what inspires you about academe, where some disciplines even get a shot at changing the world, one student at a time

"Academic life is very special. There are few careers where your only contact is with intelligent and creative people who are not selling you anything other than their ideas. And lecturers in the humanities and social sciences also get a shot at changing the world, one student at a time."

Tim Dunne, head of politics at Exeter University

"I'm most inspired when students surprise me by coming up with something I never realised but that they could see from their perspective. It's quite gratifying to have someone take your ideas seriously enough to point out the flaws, follow them to their logical conclusions and build on them."

James Bednar, lecturer in the Institute for Adaptive and Neural Computation at Edinburgh University

"Because of the nature of original research, whenever you complete a project you are, briefly, the only person in the world to know whatever it is that you have uncovered. I enjoy that moment."

Phil Evans, research assistant in astrophysics at Keele University

"As with any career, being an academic comes with its share of highs and severe lows when I doubt my ability to do my job. It is in such situations that my students prove to be my biggest source of inspiration - which is ironic since they are also often the reason I end up doubting my ability.

It is refreshing when a topic really catches students' interest, as I end up being carried along with the energy of the group and rediscover my enthusiasm for my subject."

Tim Marangon, lecturer in law at Salford University

"I am very privileged in that I have a lot of time to develop research. For me, what is most inspiring is the ability to think about what I want and to design studies in areas that I think are important and interesting."

Greg Philo, professor of communications at Glasgow University

"I can move freely with my ideas and theories, engaging with people from every walk of life. I can progress my ideas into experiments and results, along with developing my mind and the minds and scientific ability of those who learn and work with me."

John Hunt, reader in tissue engineering at Liverpool University "Getting to share my expertise with young people who are enthusiastic about the subject, eager to learn and don't have any complicated agendas."

Chris Collins, lecturer in music at University of Wales, Bangor

"To paraphrase Borges, philosophy is the greatest of fantastic literatures.

It is disturbing, outrageous, compelling and even insightful. As a teacher and researcher, I have the opportunity to provide access to this literature. Philosophy students have to employ simultaneously parts of their mind that do not ordinarily function together but should more often: imagination with cold reasoning; analysis with synthesis. When a student 'gets it', in all these ways - or, indeed, when I do - that is inspiring."

Douglas Burnham, lecturer in philosophy at Staffordshire University

"I am startled by the extent to which academic life follows a pace and programme quite disconnected from that of society. Without doubt, the principal inspiration is the extent to which the quest for knowledge is regarded as of value in and of itself. I have been used to working in environments where research was driven by preordained goals - in my short academic experience I see a refreshing lack of such parameters. Curiosity is genuinely encouraged and rewarded. I am also inspired by the work ethic - I sense little of the bureaucratic paper pushing and waste of resources I have experienced elsewhere."

Michael O'Flaherty, reader in human rights at Nottingham University

"The most inspiring thing about being an academic is helping the next generation think beyond the accepted dogmas of the age, and to fight for a better, fairer world."

David Inglis, senior lecturer in sociology at Aberdeen University

"I am inspired by students who have progressed beyond safe, 'recipe-driven'

learning and who look for linkage in all directions. Colleagues whose curiosity drives them to question and risk, who thrive on uncertainty, who seek enlightenment in the unexpected: they all inspire me. Those who have learnt how to tack against the prevailing wind inspire me. Ageing rock stars in concert and jellyfish inspire me. Survivors inspire me."

Anonymous lecturer in physiology

"The most inspiring thing is when graduates from the MBA programme go on to get jobs in football, which is a really difficult industry to get a career in. Our students put in a lot of effort (and money), so it's always a delight when they succeed."

Geoff Pearson, law lecturer and programme director of the football industries MBA, Liverpool University

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