So You Want to be a University Lecturer?

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I’ve often been asked about lecturing as a career choice and I’m even getting queries from students overseas who want to know whether or not they might enjoy lecturing. To be honest I’m not sure how much I can help since my experience is mostly within the UK (two Colleges of Further Education and 20 odd years in three Universities) but I’ll try!
Working conditions in Universities vary significantly eg number of working hours depending on the institution you work for – I know of lecturers with 3 or 4 contact hours per week and others with 18 or even 20 hours per week. Class sizes vary from one to one tuition (increasingly rare) to small tutorial groups of 4 or 5 to seminars with over 30 students. Lectures are less problematic because although there may be 200+ students you won’t be marking all their work regularly!
You need to remember that the contact hours (teaching hours) are a tiny proportion of the job and there are unlikely to be maximum hours so if you have 300 exam essays to mark over the weekend you have to get on with it rather than complaining that in theory you don’t work at weekends!
Full time lecturers are not paid per number of students taught, number of scripts marked or number of hours worked. Hourly paid lecturers may be paid just for contact hours (ie preparation and marking time is unpaid) or for contact and marking time but they are not usually paid for time spent in preparation or administration or meetings etc. This is under review in some institutions at the moment so may change. When I started as an hourly paid lecturer I was paid for the hours I taught, not for marking, preparation or administration. We did it because we loved the teaching and we needed experience because you’re most unlikely to get a job as a lecturer without teaching experience as well as a research record. We all had other jobs to earn a living but I confess that I absolutely loved those early years of teaching.
In the UK administration plays an important role in the lecturer’s working life, as in most careers. The workload for marking, administration, teaching preparation, emails etc to students, office hours helping students with academic or pastoral problems makes for a very demanding job. If you work at a University you will also be expected to do research and get articles and books published and give conference papers, although you will not necessarily be given any time to do it!
The job is much tougher than people think and particularly for young lecturers it is not as well paid as people expect.
However, I loved teaching, loved being able to help my students and loved working with my colleagues. Teaching is of course extremely rewarding and on a good day you get to help students. On a bad day you will be taking pain killers for stress headaches trying to remember  the last ‘good’ day. If you’re lucky on that bad day you will get a thank you email or a smile from one of your students and you’ll decide that it’s worth it :-).

More on teaching to come soon.




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