Dream job causes sleepless nights

March 24, 2006

Name : Philip Plowden

Age : 45

Job : Associate dean, clinical legal education, Northumbria University Law School.

Salary : Associate-dean level.

Background : I did an English degree but now I'm qualified as a solicitor and a practising barrister. I am responsible for developing Northumbria's clinical law programmes. We run a law centre where students take on cases for the public as part of their law degree. Last year we took on more than 600 cases in all sorts of areas, from human rights and crime to small claims. We have just won in the Court of Appeal on an important employment case about modern apprenticeships.

Working hours : Non-stop. Teaching is hugely satisfying: the students learn so much, and are so committed to helping their clients. They complain when we close at the end of the day.

Number of students you teach/staff you work with : About 130 students, and I work with about 15 staff.

Biggest challenge this year : Making time to reflect. It's easy to get so involved with the students and their cases that you forget to stop and think.

How you solved it : A National Teaching Fellowship has given me funding to work with colleagues to look at how we assess student performance in clinical contexts.

Worst moment in university life : Waking up in the night with a hollow feeling in your stomach and wondering whether the students have sent those vital documents to the court!

What is your working space like? The university is building a huge new law school with dedicated law clinic premises.

What university facilities do you use? The online facilities. I can't imagine how I coped without them.

Do you socialise with people at the university? Yes, particularly since my partner also lectures at Northumbria.

Who are the most difficult people you deal with professionally and how do you cope with them? Probably the Prisoner Location Service. They are supposed to tell you which prison your client has been moved to, but now they quote the Data Protection Act and tell you that they can't tell you. I scream loudly, but normally after I've put down the phone.

Do you interact much with other parts of the university? Luckily we have a Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning looking at assessment and a group that brings together all of us working in different types of work-based learning.

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