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Laura
Profile
Name: Laura
PhD discipline: History
Area(s) of work: Youth worker; university teaching
Year of graduation: 2003
Date of Interview: 01/07/2008

Laura - lecturer in history
Laura gives a flavour of her current role as well as providing a general sense of what the life of an academic can be like.

Your current job as an academic, what's it like? 

I've only been there two years I love it all. I really love the teaching. It's an absolute honour and seems a bit of a blag that I can sit down and think these 75 people really need to know these things in this order. And they do know it by the end.

There's a funny rhythm to the academic year, there's a hidden rhythm. Students have their October till summer exams year, and they're very visible then they imagine everything just stops and actually the summer is really quite a complicated time for a lot of academics and that's when we're supposed to do a lot of our work, whether its grant applications or writing. The marking and the exam board hasn't finished and it's the 1st July. I think people imagine that there are these huge holidays. They are really good holidays, but it's not all holiday!  We are working all the summer and Christmas is really quite busy as well. So there's a funny rhythm to it and sometimes it feels that time is against you and other times you think 'I can watch an hour of Jeremy Kyle and then go into work and no-one will know or care, cos I'll get my work done'. So we have this huge conflict between lots of autonomy over your time and then suddenly none. I think it's because we're so used to having loads of autonomy that we get a bit arsey when someone expects us to do something.

It's a job where you never finish. It's a not a normal job because you never clear your desk. You are your product so you invest in it in that very vocational way. I think that academics should be made to go and have proper jobs somewhere else first. I think it would be a really good idea. Just to work out what bit of this is just going to work. And what bit is about being in a university. And one of the really good things about this work is that it employs people who come from lots of different backgrounds – it's by no means unique. But being a mature student those things matter.

It means that we can bring in all sorts of life experiences. But sometimes you meet academics, obviously from other institutions and you think they're a bit like veal calves, they've just been brought up in this tiny archive world (laughingly) and wonder how they cope with students or real life.

So I really like teaching. I really like the students. They're just great. I'm sure they will find me out sometime. I'm sure that I wind them up when they think I'm not delivering what they think they deserve and need at the time.

A lot of meetings. I'm not always sure what they're about and they seem to have rather a lot of spread sheets. I'm not good with that – not being a financial business or economics historian. I find that all a bit dull and a bit alienating actually. It's slightly less humanistic than you imagine university to be. If you were thinking about the Educating Rita model or any of those models, it involves sitting on the grass and talking about interesting things with intelligent people, whereas quite a lot of it is filling in spread sheets. But you shouldn't complain. It's only a bit of it.

At the moment I don't think there's much to complain about the job really, apart from what's happened to universities generally, what's happened to public sector, some of the reskilling agendas. But those don't affect me too much – that's not my day to day life. I can choose to complain about those things in the pub with my colleagues. I think it's a really pressured job, it's not incredibly well paid, but it is pressured in terms of our own self abuse at a certain level, I think. If you ask me again in 10 years I might feel totally different but at the moment I think it's all great.

There's another colleague across the corridor who has been here a bit less than me although he had the post once before, and we were whispering in the corridor going 'I can't believe that we've actually got a job like this' a job where you have autonomy over your time and you can choose to work on something because you're interested in it. And then you have to make other people listen to you and make them be interested. Its great. But in 10 years I'll probably have a totally different idea.

So can you sum up the first two years in a permanent post?

I think it's a bit different for me because I did know the institution but I knew a different version of the institution. The general undergraduate body probably think that academics are here to teach them, and that's really only a bit of what we do. Very rightly. I've been really pleased in realising how much students' satisfaction is on the agenda, and realising that lots of things I thought should matter, do matter.

The first two years I think I spent the first year feeling that I had to justify why they'd given me this job when I know so many really talented keen young academics who haven't got permanent posts. I think I probably slightly over did it, I think, I worked really, really hard in my first year and I got my book out and re-wrote a whole load of new courses. I had to get grant applications in, so working on a second project, I took on admin roles, got really excited about student led projects, spent a lot of time talking to students and working with students to set up things like our online history community. I've worked here for two years now and I think I might be able to just do what I'm doing and not feel that I have to prove that they were right to give me the job.

It sounds exhausting.

I think it was guilt. I think it is guilt really. But also I had I had a bit of catching up to do, it's my first proper job.

But it seems to suit you really well.

Which is bizarre because it shouldn't in lots of ways. I think being allowed to talk a lot, about things I find interesting does suit me. I think that's quite odd. I can't imagine that anybody who knew me would have put money on it.