Tears, fears and a pricey bottle of Scotch: a day in the life of a lecturer

Teaching diarists wrap up the year and look ahead to a break, if not a rest. Sarah Cunnane reports

July 28, 2011

Credit: Kobal
Bottling it up: 'Self-medication' is the refuge of some workaholic lecturers, according to one Share project contributor

The highs of seeing students succeed at the end of the academic year are, for some lecturers, overshadowed by job insecurities, "workaholism" and the prospect of a summer catching up on missed opportunities.

Participants in the Share project - who are profiling a day of their lives each month as part of a year-long project looking at teaching practices - detail in the latest set of diary entries both enjoyment of their professional achievements and worries about what lies ahead.

One academic bemoans "spending more time than it's worth" reconsidering the evidence in a plagiarism case in which the students protest their innocence - before "concluding that they're lying".

Another scholar details a visit from an international student who is "a picture of abject misery" after receiving a mark of zero for an essay.

The postgraduate student, whose submission was "little more than a cut and paste from Wikipedia", is found by the diarist to have no experience of writing essays. "Her entire educational experience has been tests and exams," the scholar writes.

However, not all interactions with students are negative. One academic recounts seeing "tears of joy" on the faces of students who came to say thank you, adding: "It is this that makes the job so worthwhile."

Meanwhile, in Cambridge, another participant in the project, funded by the Higher Education Academy, describes how taking part in a doctoral viva has reinforced their belief in the value of higher education and academic research.

"I leave buoyed up, both about my own personal worth and that of the whole endeavour of universities," the diarist writes.

Others are looking ahead to the summer break and beyond, although many report that they are not feeling positive about what the new academic year will bring.

Fears about job security are shared, with one academic in particular fearing the worst: "I'm tired and scared that I'll forget to complete a task that'll cost me my job when the redundancies come."

The all-consuming nature of the job is also highlighted. One participant writes: "There is no place where the job ends and I begin. I am so tired and have nowhere to turn. Other colleagues self-medicate by drinking expensive Scotch by the bottle."

Arguing that the culture of the academy needs to change, another says: "External prompts to stop working are few enough in academia as it is, leading to a culture of workaholism and self-definition only through work. Removing the retirement age will be a human disaster."

For now, the diarists are preparing for the summer break away from teaching. But the participants still expect to be busy. As one puts it, summer is "the period between teaching in which I try to do everything I don't have time for when I'm teaching".



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