Ten things you probably don’t know about your University lecturers

  1. When we were students, we weren’t perfect either. I think most students believe that we must have been super-keen beans when we were students, and think that they couldn’t possibly measure up to that. Now I was a good student, but I remember at least a semester where I didn’t go to lectures if it rained. We weren’t perfect, and we don’t expect you to be perfect either. However, we do have the benefit of hindsight, and lots of experience of seeing other students succeed and fail, so when we make suggestions, we’re only trying to help.
  2. We’re often completely overwhelmed with our own workload. Working in universities is now a pretty huge job. We teach, we research, we write, we administrate, we support research students, we secure money, we manage staff, we engage with the public, we communicate with stakeholders, and sometimes, occasionally, we breathe. That doesn’t mean we don’t have time for you. You are an important part of our job. It does mean though that you’re not the only part of our job, and occasionally we will forget to reply to your email or we’ll be a little late to our meeting. You can really help us by making it easy for us to help you: give us some notice if you want feedback; update us on where we got to last time we spoke; attach any relevant information to your email so we don’t have to look it up; come prepared to our meetings so they are nice and efficient; and remind us (politely) if it’s been several days and you haven’t heard from us.   We don’t mean to be inaccessible. On the bright side, learning to manage us will be good practice for managing busy bosses in the future.
  3. Sometimes we’re bored too. There are always modules that students don’t like. We get the feedback, we know you hate it, and the honest truth is that sometimes it’s not the highlight of our life either. We really do our best to make it interesting, but sometimes it’s just not possible. But you know what? You really do need to know it. You may think it’s irrelevant, but it’s there for a reason, and usually when you get towards your more senior years, you’ll start to understand why we spent time on it. In the meantime, suck it up and do the work. We do.
  4. You’re not as subtle as you think you are. There may be 200 of you in a lecture theatre and only one of me. But I can see you texting, and I can hear you chatting, and I always notice when you fall asleep. There may be safety in numbers, but we’re not daft. Try and focus in!
  5. Sometimes we’ve forgotten what it’s like to not understand this stuff. If you find it difficult to understand your lecturer sometimes, it can feel like they’re not trying to be clear. Sometimes it just that they have assumed that you’ve done the preparatory work, and if you haven’t, it’ll be a struggle to keep up. But other times, if you’ve done all the prep, and you still can’t follow what’s said, we’re genuinely not doing it on purpose. We like nothing better than when students “get” what we’re saying. But when you’ve been doing something for years and years and years, it can be hard to put yourself in the position of people who have never come across it before. So ask the questions. If you don’t get it, read more, ask more, and keep at us until you do get it. We’re trying, I promise.
  6. Ask the stupid questions now. Following on from the point above, I LOVE to get stupid questions during term time. I might be surprised that you don’t understand, but I would always rather know now, than find out when I mark your paper that you’ve misunderstood something fundamental. We hate that sinking feeling when you read an answer that shows that the student really just didn’t get it. If you ask now, we can work it through, and the rest of the course will make so much more sense.
  7. If we tell you that there’s no “right answer”, then we’re not lying to you. Students get so used to there being an explicit mark scheme full of the exact points that you need to say to get good marks, that it can be really hard to adjust to university assessment. There are genuinely many ways you can answer an essay question or solve a problem; we’re not trying to trick you, and there’s not a magic solution in our head that we’re hoping you’ll guess. On the flip-side, there’s probably a relatively limited range of approaches that are likely to work, and so if you discuss your ideas with us and we give a “hmmmm….well I guess you possibly could do it like that… but why don’t you consider….” type answer, then you’ve either got to take the hint, or make your work absolutely outstanding and prove us wrong.
  8. We have a life outside the office. Now, going back to point 2, it’s often a life that only gets a little bit of our time and attention compared to our work life, but that means we guard it preciously. If your assignment is due on Monday, please don’t send us work for comments on Friday afternoon. Hopefully we’ll be doing something with our friends and family over the weekend. At worst, we’ll be working on something that we have wanted to finish for months, like our latest manuscript or grant proposal. Please don’t put us in the position of having to say no/ignore you/work all night to finish everything. A little bit of planning on your part, and we should all get what we need.
  9. Our life outside the office may occasionally overlap with yours. It’s possible you’ll bump into us at the gym, or in the park with our kids, or even in a bar, restaurant or nightclub with our friends. Trust me, you have two options here to avoid awkwardness. Option 1 (the brutal option). Pretend you haven’t seen me. You get on with your life, I’ll get on with mine, happy days.   Bit antisocial, but probably the best option if we teach you in a very large class and may not be sure who you are anyway. Option 2 (the polite option). Come say hi, how are you, nice to see you. Then leave. Easy. Unacceptable options, all of which I have experienced are: pointing and laughing because your “teacher” is out at a bar; sitting down and having long conversations about work; asking for an extension to your essay. Let’s have those conversations in the office. (PS moderately acceptable option – be so drunk that you call your friend from another university who has “read all your papers and will be so impressed I know you” and force me to talk to them. True story.)
  10. We love hear from you after you’ve left the university. You may think that we may not remember you or we’ll not be that fussed. But even the hardest hearted lecturer loves to hear what our alumni are up to. It’s especially nice to get an email from an old student, who is looking fondly back on their experiences at uni, and bothers to get in touch to tell us. We love to know what you end up doing, we love to know how you’re using your skills, and most of all, we love knowing that we made a difference in any small way.

7 comments

  1. Dear Dr Vikki
    I am a lecturer who are teaching a university compulsory subject.
    It is too tough to engage with students in class. Thanks for this article.

    • Sorry for my slow reply – I’ve only just seen your comment! I’m glad it’s useful – where do you teach?

  2. I plan to give a copy of your piece to each student I will teach next semester. I want to do my best not to disappoint them, and the best way to do so is to tell him something about us, our lives, our expectations that they may have not thought about.

    • That’s great Monica! Rather than give them a copy though, maybe send the link and suggest they join my mailing list – hopefully my other articles would be useful too. I find it’s also not just about “not disappointing” them – I find when they know me as a person, they’re more committed and engaged and it’s more enjoyable all round! Hope it goes well for you!

  3. A wonderful introductory statement that should be given to all pupils at eny school in writing everywhere so that thay do not feel intimidated ,your non understanding of thear individual cerkumstances can be overwhelming otherwise , irrespective of thear mental ability , bravo ! I

    • Thank you for your kind comment! Please feel free to share it with your students, along with a link to my blog. Where do you teach?

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