The tale of an accidental academic

June 24, 2005

Name: Christian Kay

Age: 65

Job: professor of English language, Glasgow University

Salary: professorial scale

What is your background? Undergraduate MA, diploma in general linguistics, Edinburgh University; postgraduate MA, Mount Holyoke College, Massachusetts. I never intended to be an academic. I worked in journalism, English-language teaching and publishing before becoming a research assistant and then a lecturer at Glasgow. The common thread is an interest in language, especially dictionaries.

What are your working hours? Excessive, but flexible. Within teaching constraints, I can organise my own time.

How many students do you teach? It varies. This year I've lectured to 80 second-year students and taken lectures and seminars with groups of up to 30 honours students. I run continuing professional development courses for teachers and direct our computing facility. The department has nine full-time staff, and we are part of a larger school and faculty. A lot of my time is spent on research administration - two major funded projects (the Historical Thesaurus of English and the Scottish Corpus of Texts and Speech project), and convenership of a national body, Scottish Language Dictionaries.

What has been your biggest challenge and biggest bugbear this year? Being close to retirement, I can zap the bugbears, most of which are administrative. The biggest challenge is raising money for research.

How did you solve it? Apply, apply and apply again. But there's still some way to go. What has been your worst moment in university life? The first time a student said, "You taught my mother."

What is your office like? Very pleasant - a large room in a listed building.

Which university facilities do you use? A civilised staff club where people can eat and socialise. There's a good musical life.

Do you socialise with people at the university? I've been here so long that many colleagues have become friends. There are a lot of quasi-social occasions, such as seminars accompanied by receptions.

Who are your most difficult students? Very few - students are generally charming. Apparent lack of motivation can be a problem, but often that's related to poverty.

What is the best excuse for bad behaviour you have heard? "My granny put my essay in the bin."

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