by Sarah Marten
Dr Jerome de Groot is a lecturer in Renaissance Literature and Culture at Manchester University in the English and American Studies department, based in the school of Arts, Histories and Cultures within the Humanities Faculty.
What does your job involve?
There are three strands to my job: teaching, administration and research. I teach a number of units within Renaissance literature and culture including Power and Gender in Early Modern Literature and Shakespeare. As well as delivering the teaching via lectures and seminars I organise these courses and their content in collaboration with other members of staff. The teaching involves examining texts or looking at sets of ideas, theories or themes.
My students range from first year undergraduates right up to those studying for MA and PhD qualifications. The undergraduate teaching becomes more specialised in the third year when it is linked to research, perhaps in the historical novel or Milton. There are typically between 40 and 120 students in undergraduate lectures and 15-20 in a first-year seminar group. Post-graduate teaching groups are much smaller, with seminar groups of between five and ten.
An important part of my job is assessing students’ work, and in order to do this I set essays and questions and then mark these.
A vital part of my lecturing role is to engage in research within my discipline. My main research area is within the period 1630-1660, in particular gender, sexual and political identity. In order to generate this research I visit libraries, read books, and attend conferences both within the UK and overseas.
At present administration is a fairly small part of my work, although this is about to change! I will shortly become Undergraduate Programme Director, which will involve the organisation and administration of undergraduate provision within English and American Studies. This will involve quality assessments, implementing policy, managing the work of graduate teaching assistants and the day-to-day running of the degree. Applying for grants and funding is also part of my job.
What else does your job include?
I also supervise several graduate teaching assistants who are working towards their PhDs, which involves weekly meetings and regular assessments and supervision. Mentoring one academic teaching fellow is also my responsibility, and we meet once a fortnight to review progress. In addition I have also organised the departmental research seminar, occasionally lecture as a visiting speaker in other UK universities and attend several conferences each year.
How do you make use of the latest technologies?
New technology is a great interest of mine, and as e-learning officer for our subject area I am always looking at ways of developing this technology in the academic environment. iPods and iPhones can increasingly be utilised as e-readers, meaning the text is on-screen, making learning for text-based subjects such as mine highly portable. I am currently developing a course in Milton, which uses web technology, wiki (an online collaborative document) and blogs.
We also have a Virtual Learning Environment at Manchester University, which supports teaching and learning via the internet. This enables academic staff to upload content and undertake student assessments, whilst students can utilise online bibliographies and discussion boards to enhance their learning.
What hours do you work?
I usually work from 9am to 6pm Monday-Friday, either in the university or sometimes from home. The amount of time spent teaching can vary greatly each week. When teaching is added to all my administration and preparation, this accounts for four days of my working week. The last day is spent on research activities. I regularly take work home and usually work for at least four hours at the weekend and two hours about two-three evenings a week. The university recently granted me a term’s leave from teaching to undertake research. The university holidays are usually spent working, although we do get 29 days holiday plus extra days at Christmas.
Tell me about your work-life balance
Manchester is an exciting city in which to live and I also love my work. I make sure that I find time for other activities beyond my working life.
What attracted you to Higher Education?
Since childhood I have wanted to be an academic and was inspired by my mother who was an English teacher. I loved reading the books that surrounded me at home. I was determined to pursue an academic career, even though it is fiercely competitive.
Have you undertaken any further training?
Manchester University offer their staff great training opportunities, and I have undertaken various courses including e-learning and web technologies.
What do you enjoy about your work?
This is the best job in the world for me as I get to tell people about books and read at the same time! I love thinking and communicating about ideas and books, and working alongside like-minded people. This job offers me the opportunity to be in control of my work, the way in which I teach and undertake research. Lecturers have creative opportunities, both to think laterally and to publish their work.
Lecturing can be pressurised, since student numbers have increased greatly. There are many demands on your time, and there are constant financial pressures within Higher Education.
What prospects are there and what ambitions do you have?
I am really happy where I am and in common with many academics I am not highly ambitious about a career path as an end in itself. Within lecturing a clearly defined promotion path is possible, from lecturer grades through to senior lecturer and beyond that to reader and ultimately professor. Senior staff must have significant research experience alongside published work.
Have you any advice to give to anyone who is considering becoming a lecturer?
You need to be prepared to be very flexible and to move around the country for teaching experience, which will often be short-term contracts at the start of your career. A PhD is an essential qualification and universities look for staff who publish their research in academic journals. A post-graduate teaching qualification is also normally essential, even though I have not fully completed this myself yet. If you want to be a lecturer you must be prepared to accept responsibility and work very hard in order to do the job properly!
Describe the skills and abilities a lecturer needs
The skills required for teaching and research are often different. Enthusiasm is vital for both roles, although researchers in particular need to be meticulous, thoughtful and alive to nuance. The ability to interrogate is important, along with excellent writing skills and a willingness to work with different concepts. Teachers must have a desire to communicate and an awareness of the needs of students. The ability to present complex ideas in a way that is understandable is also essential.
If you weren’t in this job what would you be doing?
I would be a literary journalist or a novelist.
Dr Jerome de Groot is a lecturer in Renaissance Literature and Culture at Manchester University in the English and American Studies department, based in the school of Arts, Histories and Cultures within the Humanities Faculty. Jerome graduated from Trinity College Cambridge having studied English, and he also completed an MA in Renaissance and Romantic Literature at Liverpool University before embarking upon his PhD at Newcastle University. He has been working at Manchester University for the last five years, and before that held lecturing posts in four other UK universities. Jerome also spent one year working as a lecturer at University College in Dublin.
Jerome’s monograph ‘Royalist Identities’ (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) was nominated for the Royal Historical Society’s Whitfield Prize. He has also published widely on civil war Royalism and on the court of this period. His other main research interest is in contemporary popular history and he has recently written ‘Consuming History’ published by Routledge (2008). This book examines the way in which contemporary popular culture engages with history, looking at film, television, computer programs, advertising, museums, and novel writing. Jerome is also chair of the board of trustees for the Manchester Literature Festival.
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