The researcher: 'I was naive'

January 23, 2003

Les Jervis, associate dean of science at Plymouth University, set out to be a research scientist, but teaching and administration came to overshadow his research.

Dr Jervis opposes any policy that splits teaching and research. “Being an excellent teacher is not enough in higher education, any more than being an excellent researcher is,” he said. “Keeping up to date in any subject requires more than reading the literature - it demands active involvement in subject development.”

After graduation in the late 1960s, Dr Jervis became a government biochemist for three years before moving to Paisley College. He won the college’s first research grant from the Science Research Council.

Dr Jervis then moved to Plymouth Polytechnic as head of biology.

“I was naive,” Dr Jervis said. “I thought I would be an academic leader with a high level of research activity. But in a polytechnic, management was the name of the game.”

For three years his time was taken up with administration, and he had no opportunity to teach or research. “I had lost any contact with research, was out of date in the literature and had had nothing published for three years. I couldn’t get a grant.”

In 2001, he won a £50,000 national teaching fellowship, which allowed him to get back into research. “The fellowship has been genuinely liberating,” Dr Jervis said. “It has given me time to develop successful research proposals and get back into the lab. This has already led to improvements in practical work for my students.”

Dr Jervis is the son of a miner and a mill worker, he grew up on a northern council estate, and he was the first person in his family to go to university.

“I’m not sure I would have been prepared to face the levels of debt that I see working-class students

[and others] facing now,” he said. “It was difficult enough to start a career without the debt burden.”

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