Many of the articles on the jobs.ac.uk Career Advice site focus on tailoring your experience and describing the needs of employers. In this article, I will share with you five essential skills to develop if you would like to work as a Lecturer in Higher Education. If you are currently a PhD student then you should be trying to develop these early on in your career.
So let’s get started…
A lecturer’s work involves public speaking in front of audiences which range from two or three people (Oxbridge tutorials) to hundreds of people in large lecture theatres.
Anyone who has been through the university system as a student has a story to tell about a lecturer who was extremely intelligent but simply could not convey information to the students because of poor public speaking skills. It is wise to develop public speaking skills early on because it will help you to succeed in interviews and contribute to an engaging teaching style.
Controlling your nerves, pitch, tone and pace is more important than many people think. Under pressure, most of us speak too fast, too quietly or do not maintain sufficient eye contact with the audience. There are numerous courses, books and coaching available to help you polish those all-important presentation skills.
There are different strands of responsibilities involved in being a Lecturer in Higher Education. You need to juggle classroom and preparation time, administration work and research. Unless you have a particularly heavy-handed head of department or you are on probation, you will be able to decide when and how you distribute these tasks during your week.
You can find out your strengths and play to them: if you are a ‘morning person’ you can start work early and finish before you get too tired, vice versa if you prefer evening working. The downside of being independent, however, is that you have to excel at prioritising tasks and scheduling them. You could, for example, have an A4 page-per-day diary into which everything you have to do is written. Planning and constantly assessing and reassessing progress are key.
Working from home can have its own joys and challenges. When you are in charge of your own working day, you can make it varied and tailor it to your own best working pattern. Without a boss standing over you, you need to be able to motivate yourself. Develop a routine in which you are able to prioritise your work above more menial matters such as cleaning the house or looking after family. A secret to achieving self-motivation is to constantly define and assess the goals you are hoping to achieve.
The image of an academic stuck in their ivory tower is now a distant myth. In the twenty-first century, you need to be able to discuss your ideas on a one-to-one basis with students and peers, as well as disseminate your work for conferences.
Being a lecturer, you will communicate with students on a one-to-one basis. Despite their familiarity with technology, many students still prefer to meet with the lecturers face-to-face (especially if they need to discuss work or personal problems). While not being a trained counsellor, you need to be able to put the students at their ease and encourage them to discuss personal issues with you. Your mannerisms need to convey an ‘open door’ policy, encouraging them to trust you as a mentor and in loco parentis. This is very important if you are given the role of personal tutor. Most universities have training opportunities for those who lack confidence or skill in this area.
Being a good record keeper makes life easier for everybody. You would probably agree that vast amounts of time can be wasted trying to retrieve misplaced information. Make sure that you organise your physical office, email and electronic filing systems. It is wise to learn solid record keeping skills at the start of your academic career!
As a Lecturer in Higher Education, you will be likely to handle student marks for essays and exams. You may have several hundred students in your care every year across different courses. The marks will be gathered gradually across the year and you may have to submit them at the end of the academic year. Do keep records accurately and securely – it will save you a tremendous amount of time and hassle.
Not every department operates in this way; sometimes support staff do all of this sort of record keeping, sometimes it is done centrally at faculty level or even higher. Nevertheless, it is an example of the organisation you need to maintain in order to function as an academic. You will cause great difficulty to your colleagues and administrative staff if you are negligent in record keeping. Disorganisation could reflect badly on your work and may even hinder your career progress.