THE Scholarly Web - Waiting for Dr Absent‑minded

Weekly transmissions from the blogosphere

April 11, 2013

University lecturers come in many shapes and sizes - and with many personalities. Athene Donald, professor of physics in the Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, used her eponymous blog to introduce a few characters with whom you may be familiar.

“Here I describe variations on the theme of university lecturers, although of course that title is not meant to say anything about an individual’s seniority, merely that their job is to lecture,” she writes.

First up is “Dr Energetic”, who “paces up and down the lecture theatre, their arms waving wildly as they try to put an important point across”. Not one for those hung-over students hoping to catch “a quick kip after a hard night’s drinking”, she says, although with such characters “even boring or turgid subjects may come alive enough to render them intelligible”.

“Dr Inaudible” is next. “They may be the most intelligent person you will ever meet, with a solid grasp of every fact they are trying to convey and a neat turn of phrase to illustrate difficult concepts, but if they are not audible beyond the first two rows in the lecture theatre (and disdain being wired up with a microphone), all this is in vain.” Alternatively, Professor Donald speculates, they may be inaudible because they “totally lack confidence in the material they have been assigned to teach”.

Third on the list is “Dr Dusty”. “I am of an age to have once been lectured to by a gentleman in a gown,” the blog continues. “The dust - chalk dust - was obvious. For others the dust may be less visible or more metaphorical, but many lecturers look as if they have been curled up in a corner for many years and are only let out on licence for their annual lecturing duties.”

Closely related is “Dr Dry-as-Dust”: “Old in character if not in chronological years, probably pernickety and dull, these characters do tend to take their lecturing duties seriously…not least because they aren’t interested in research and possess the leadership and administrative skills of a baby mouse.”

Meanwhile, “Dr Absent-minded” has a reputation for “forgetting to turn up”, while “Dr Ultramodern” is always one step ahead of the technological trend. “When the world was using blackboards, Dr Ultramodern had progressed to the overhead projector.”

Last on the list (visit the blog for more on Dr Careless and Dr Famed-as- Charismatic) are Dr I-don’t-want-to-be-here, and Dr I’m-not-here. The former believes they are “too important to have to lecture”, while the latter simply decides not to show up at all.

“The students turn up only to find that their lecturer has indeed got on [a] plane and vanished, without troubling to find a stand-in.” Reacting on Twitter, Richard Ashcroft (@qmulbioethics), professor of bioethics in the School of Law at Queen Mary, University of London, said he thought “on various days I can be any of these things (with the exception of Dr I’m- not-here)”.

Martin George (@martingeorge) pointed out an oversight. “I’ve given your ‘Lecturer Spotting’ post careful thought as it applies to me, and concluded you’ve missed one: DR AWESOME,” said the University of Birmingham law lecturer.

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