It’s been nearly three years since I’ve taken on the role as Researcher Development Officer and I sometimes I still feel like I’m in a kind of transition period. Recently I was part of a panel of speakers discussing our views of what employers look for in PhDs. The discussion made me think about how I got into the role I’m in, and I’d like to share my views with you.

At the end of my PhD I didn’t go searching for researcher development roles. In fact, I had no idea what to do next after my PhD. At the time, I was on a part-time, temporary  lecturer’s contract that that wasn’t guaranteed to be renewed. This made it really difficult to plan ahead and the prospect of working contract to contract was not appealing. I already had 10+ years of fixed-term contract work as an English language teacher (amongst other temporary contracts) and at this point in my life I was looking for job security.

In a strange, yet timely fashion, the Researcher Development Officer role came up. I applied and the rest is history – but I should back up and explain how I managed to be at the right place at the right time. I don’t believe you have to be lucky to get a job in academia. It demeans the hard work I’ve put in and the tenacity I’ve developed over the years.  This role certainly didn’t fall into my lap nor was it something that came out of nowhere! Another way to put it is that I was ready – with the right skills and the right experience – when the opportunity came.

sydney-zentz-219544
Not looking for that four leaf clover.

During my time as a doctoral student I was able to find opportunities to expand my teaching skills. I started off by contacting people and offered to be part of their workshop as a guest speaker or to teach part of the workshop. At this stage, most of these opportunities were unpaid but these experiences put me in touch with others. So when they needed someone to cover a class or do a workshop, I was someone they could consider. This led to being asked to design and teach the occasional workshop to which I was paid.

This all happened during the last two years of PhD, and even in the final few months I still wasn’t sure what I was going to do next. My main source of income was lecturing part-time so leading these workshops was a financial lifeline. I was so focussed on finding a lecturing role that I didn’t really recognise the area of researcher development as a career option.

So when the role of Researcher Development Officer came up I was encouraged to apply for the role. It was then that I realised that I could continue to work in higher education but not as a lecturer, yet still use the skills I learned during my PhD. At the time, I wasn’t sure it was something I wanted to do – part of me still thought I *should* be a lecturer (another topic for another post). However this was an opportunity that came about and I would have been a fool not to at least put in an application.

To my delight, I was offered the position and was introduced into the world of academic support services, which is an industrial complex in and of itself. There is a whole industry working behind the scenes that keeps the university running. In a university as big as Manchester, with over 10,000 staff, you can imagine the complexity. I was inducted into this world of systems, policies, and politics and learned that there is much more to an academic career than research!

Yet, the winds of change do continue to blow! As of September 2017, I’ll be moving back into academia as a Teaching Fellow in English Language Teaching at The University of Sussex. In many ways I haven’t really left the classroom because as a trainer I’m in front of a group of students in a classroom. Training isn’t teaching and while I utilise similar skills, this new role is quite different.

If I’m honest with myself, moving back into full time teaching is daunting and old uncertainties seem to resurface: Am I good enough? Do I know enough? What will my students think of me? Will I have to justify my position as a teacher? What if..what if…what if…

I spent my PhD exploring this idea of teacher identity and my own story of becoming a teacher, so you’d think I’d have more confidence. The truth is that I’m much more self-assured now that I’m older (ahem) and am an experienced teacher, but that doesn’t mean that I feel altogether comfortable as a teacher. I’m usually on edge, not in a nervous kind of way (though I have plenty of those moments) but I feel in flux, changing, moving. This can be an incredibly creative and productive space, but it is exhausting to be on edge. So I suppose this is why I’m feeling a little nervous returning to a full time teaching role.

Have you changed roles in your post-PhD life? Moved sideways between departments / disciplines / role? Please share your experiences below!

Images by Dayne Topkin (crab) and Sydney Zentz (boots) via Unsplash

 

 

2 thoughts on “Moving sideways (again) in academia: back to class

  1. Hello Eljee, good blog post and I think nobody ever loses that fear of standing up in front of a group of students, especially in the early stages of teaching a new class. In my case, a lot of my work now involves management of courses and design of materials but not that much has changed since I completed my PhD in that I did a lot of this before completion as well. Probably the one thing that has changed is that, on paper, I now have an academic contract as opposed to a managerial or purely lecturing one. Thus, in theory, there is more time for research, writing etc but in practice there is still not any extended period of time through the year that I can devote to writing and researching as pursuits on their own. They are always interwoven through my other work. With the changes taking place in higher education at the present time, such as introduction of the Teaching Excellence Framework, I also think we are going to see a more obvious separation between research universities and teaching universities. More of us are going to spend a greater amount of time in the classroom in the near future I imagine, and probably be expected to be research active as well.

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    1. Hi Paul! Thanks for the comment. I did think that with more teaching experience I’d feel a little more comfortable in front students but I think, as I get older, it’s less about “messing up” and more about “am I teaching effectively / is this working / what is the meaning of life :)”? I do wonder with the TEF if and how teaching (and learning) will be defined. In the back of my mind, given the current climate in UK HE, I do wonder who my students think I am. Or “what’s a uni lecturer for”?

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