A few conversations I have had recently have convinced me that an awful lot of people, especially those working in the private sector, have little respect for academics. We are still seen as inhabiting an ivory tower, giving a lecture here and there and doing useless research. Mention the effect of cuts on the workings of the University and you will get an earful about being lucky to have a job. Of course, this is nonsense since we have 85% employment in this country.
The problem is that we don’t communicate what we do very well. People still think we have huge holidays and are shocked when we tell them how many lectures we have per week. They think our job is to teach and that’s it – and we’re not even doing much of that.
Indeed, I had an incident recently where a student asked for the name of book I had used for my lectures on a certain topic. He seemed quite puzzled when I replied that I didn’t use any book and I had devised the equations myself. He clearly saw the lecturer as a simple conduit between the book and him. The idea the lecturers would be knowledge creators as well as disseminators hadn’t occurred to him.
It also doesn’t seem to dawn on people that when they read media stories about researchers making some important discovery, many of those researchers are lecturers!
We also don’t give ourselves much credit for our skill as educators. I was chatting with a colleague recently who runs postgraduate modules and she commented on how impressed she was with speakers from lecturing backgrounds compared to those from industry. The latter had lots of interesting things to say but just didn’t say them very well.
So I’m adding an addendum to George Bernard Shaw’s famous saying: Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach; those who do, can’t teach.
So the next time someone gives you a hard time for working in an ivory tower, ask them how they would like to teach a 36-hour introductory module on their field of expertise – starting in three days time. No pressure there.