Can you talk to me about the institution that you work in and your current role?
My current post is reader in media and popular culture. I'm also the course convener of a new and as yet to run MA in screen media cultures. Prior to this, and the reason that I came to this institution, which is a new university, a former City based polytechnic in the North East of England, was for a promotion from a London based HE college, part of a southern university, for a promotion to a principle lectureship, so I've been here five years? Yes, five years. So my role now because of that particular contract for the readership, my teaching has gone down from quite a heavy teaching and administrative load to perhaps more specialised teaching but more research and research mentoring; I would put it like that.
Could you give me an idea of what your daily activities are?
I think the life of an academic is very varied. I mean that's one of the dare I say pleasures of it – that some days you are in your office and all you seem to be doing is doing paperwork, filling in forms.
Basically to keep the kind of fabric of largely undergraduate programmes ticking over. I mean on my desk at the moment I've got about four references to do. Some of them are very straightforward, kind of tick box type references but others are from former graduates from a little while back who were asking for kind of longer form sorts of references. So there's that sort of administration. I have a, because I'm kind of senior now, I have an administrative role on a thing called the Senior Management Team for the school. Because of the MA involvement, I'm involved in planning a one day conference for November so people need to be invited, rooms need to be booked so that all sounds very kind of mundane but that's actually all part of the kind of academic work. Last week on one day I was down in London and I spent the day in a film archive viewing old films for a piece of research so there are days when you feel that you're just doing research but you're never that disconnected I don't think from – essentially in this institution your primary role is as a teacher and as a person who develops – I mean I've done much more, in the last five years, I've done much more in terms of curriculum development. That is to say, concrete examples, revalidating an undergraduate degree, devising and co-ordinating the validation of a Masters degree so that's what I mean by curriculum development.
Does this institution place a great deal of pressure on you in terms of research?
Erm, explicitly, no, to be frank. There are outside institutional pressures; for example the last research assessment exercise, which creates a kind of external and I would say professional pressure on one to research and to publish. But the institution seems to me to be going through a transition period that a significant number of people here do not publish, have not published. They see their focus entirely in terms of teaching but I think that's increasingly becoming very difficult to sustain and a younger generation are coming through who I think clearly see the need to publish from early on and by that I mean before they've even got their PhD. Which is a difference, I think, from my generation where, you know, I gave conference papers as a postgrad at the right professional forum – but I don't think I published anything particularly, maybe one or two short articles, general articles.
Would you describe your work environment?
In terms of bricks and mortar, let's start with the material as it were and then look at other dimensions. I am based on an urban city based campus. A large thriving city. I'm in a building that's probably seen better days. It isn't a fantastic physical environment to be in. Ever since I've been here I've been in a shared office which is fine. I don't have a problem with that although it's different to what I was used to in my previous job, but the culture of the place is shared offices; two or three or possibly four. Now that's a moot point because, again, in line with what seems to be happening in a lot of other institutions in higher education at this time, a number are going to open plan offices which is being resisted by academics. So there is a changing physical environment. This building that I'm in now will be knocked down next year and they are building a replacement building about three hundred yards away from here so the idea by the university is to keep us city based but because the price of rental space is higher in the city it means they're trying to cram more, well the same number of people in a smaller space.
Are you office based? Can you tell me how much of your time would you need to spend in the office? Do you write conference papers from the office?
Again it depends on what time of the year you're talking about. For essentially the 10 week part of the term I am, I would say, here four days a week so I would be in my office not every day but I would be in my office at some point every day. With the use of the Internet one can be virtually present by dealing with e-mails and enquiries and what have you, but you know if I'm teaching clearly I have to be in this building or associated buildings and obviously I do quite a bit of seeing the students; post graduate students increasingly as well in this office though that may change in the future. That may be forced to change.
Do you think it's fair to say that if you want an academic career you have to be prepared for a certain amount of geographic mobility?
Yes, it's a very good point because for the last five years I've lived with my partner in London and worked in this northern city. Now transport links are good. It's only two and a half hours away but it does mean that I have had to rent accommodation in this city which again, relatively speaking, compared to London is cheap and with my current salary I can accommodate that, excuse the pun. You know I can do that but maybe for younger people that mobility to find the job somewhere, where it was offered you know would be costly to them. It's also costly in psychological and social terms as well.
And there's a certain degree of personal sacrifice involved?
Yes there is. It does affect your social life, your relationships I guess but the upside of that is that as an academic, relatively speaking, not paid perhaps as other professions are paid, the flexibility, the independence of working in some respects helps to compensate for that. Cos within certain constraints I do have a lot of flexibility about my day. You know, if I have a nine o'clock lecture I have to be here at nine o'clock but on another day when I don't have any formal classes I can arrange my meetings or I can come into work at half past seven in the morning or I could be working in the evening which I do quite a lot in the office which means then in the afternoon I might go and play sport or go to the pictures which I do. I do these things. That's again still kind of work related, going to the pictures given that I'm a media person but it's that kind of flexibility to organise things, you like to think, organise things in your own fashion.
Do you have much contact time with students?
Outside of formal teaching?
And including formal teaching
Yeah. It's decreased over the years. I mean I still teach a large undergraduate cohort in first year – over 100 students – so, for the record, that might be a two hour lecture slot and then four one hour repeat seminars, so I mean that's quite a lot of contact with a lot of people and that can actually be quite an experience. Cos I used to learn people's names but I'm finding that increasingly difficult now. It's actually quite hard work to relate to 102, 106 people and know when they come to your door as an individual, to know who they are if they come and see you. Some students, a significant number of students, will want to contact me by e-mail and they kind of resist – well particularly in the early years but later on obviously when you see them for dissertations and third year work they're more likely I think to come and see you but first year students are still in that transition stage so the amount of contact you have with them can be kind of quite formalised. We used to have a much stronger culture as well of socialising with students, of organising extracurricular events, of literally say going down a bar or a pub – you know, usually around a kind of a film screening or some other kind of event, but I do think that's, for me as an academic, I've noted that change over five years. What the reasons are for that I don't know but, you know, if people are thinking about a job in academia it isn't all about cosy chats with a glass of sherry in your office, cos you might not have your own office now! You might be in an office with 20 people at a workstation!