Teaching: On the front line

September 3, 2004

What is your experience of teaching?

Name : David McAlpine. Age: 36. Job: Reader in auditory neuroscience, University College London.

Salary : About £38,000 plus the risible London weighting.

Qualifications : BSc physiology, University of Western Australia, Perth; DPhil neurophysiology, St John's College, Oxford.

Experience : Post-doc at the Medical Research Council Institute of Hearing Research, 1994-97. I've been running an independent lab since 1997, which has eight staff. I was lecturer in physiology at UCL 1999-2002 and lecturer in biomedical science, Sheffield University, 1997-99.

Hours spent teaching : Variable, depending on the week and the year. Being an old-fashioned academic, I am a sucker for taking on teaching tasks that need doing and that I can bring something to. I expect teaching time to ebb and flow over my academic life and wouldn't have it any other way.

Hours on red tape : Five to six a week. I am graduate tutor for the department of physiology at UCL, a post for which I volunteered.

Hours on research : Twenty to 30 a week. I love discussing experiments and data with students or anyone who will listen. I love writing papers.

Writing grant proposals is a bugbear, especially as the hit rate is hovering near 15 per cent. I have just hit the jackpot and am on my first sabbatical, in Germany, so I feel as though all my research Christmases have come at once.

Teaching bugbear : The realisation that not all science undergraduates want to be scientists. How do I motivate a group of disparate people?

How do you solve it? Treat all students as fellow human beings, and realise I have a duty of care to them. I listen to their concerns and am liberal with advice. If I can't advise them, who can?

Worst teaching moment? Turning up to a tutorial and finding only a quarter of students had bothered to reciprocate (15 minutes late, though) and they hadn't prepared for it. Lost the plot, as I had arrived from the West Coast of the US less than 24 hours earlier, and was rather rude. Not my usual style. This will haunt me to the grave.

Best or funniest : Getting applause from 350 second-year medical students at the end of an epic three-hour lecture slot (how can this be allowed?). Not sure if the applause was from relief or adulation (but I plumped for the latter).

Teaching tip : In every group there is at least one student who feels the passion for the subject that you felt as an undergraduate. Wear your heart on your sleeve and these students will respond.

Outside Interests : Spending as much time as I can with my wife and kids (including a teenager) and enjoying all London has to offer.

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