Anyone a Head of Dept?

(18 Posts)
LordRothermereBlackshirtCunt Tue 01-Nov-16 18:05:42

Just wondering if anyone is and - if so - how you find it? The role is coming up at my place and I'm thinking of putting myself forward. But everyone who has done it complains incessantly about the pressure and workload. Is it really that bad?

Couchpotato3 Tue 01-Nov-16 18:06:20

What's your subject? I think that makes a difference

Lilacpink40 Tue 01-Nov-16 18:07:13

Surely it depends on the rest of the team?

LordRothermereBlackshirtCunt Tue 01-Nov-16 18:07:14

Don't want to be too specific and out myself but it's Humanities.

Couchpotato3 Tue 01-Nov-16 18:08:22

Is the current incumbent one of the complainers? How do the other HODs in your school feel?

Scottishthreeberry16 Tue 01-Nov-16 18:12:30

I think, ultimately, it depends on your management skills and how the team get on. In my experience (not as HOD), humanities have staff who question, defy, present opposing views, by nature - or at least, because that's what they do in their discipline. They're a bolshey lot - though that's there strength. Suspect it doesn't make for easy management, mind.

20 years ago, as part of a humanities team, we had a system which was based on a rotating HOD every 2 years from members of the team. That seemed to work okay. Everyone gained a sense of how bloody hard it is.

Good luck.

Scottishthreeberry16 Tue 01-Nov-16 18:14:21


user1474361571 Tue 01-Nov-16 18:15:53

I think it does depend very much on the department and on the university. A lot of universities have had administrative re-organisations in recent years that have placed a lot more duties/pressures onto HoDs. I wouldn't take on a HoD role in my current university but have done it in the past.

LordRothermereBlackshirtCunt Tue 01-Nov-16 21:39:23

Thanks for the replies. My colleagues are a fairly idiosyncratic bunch but I do get on well with them all. Whether that would still be the case if I managed them is another matter, though . . .

I've spoken to other HoDs and get very mixed responses. Lots of complaints but then a couple have also told me that they didn't find things as bad as they'd been led to believe, and that it had been a good experience for them in terms of personal development.

I do feel like, logically, this should be the next stage for me career-wise (I've been the dept lead on UG, PG or research pretty much constantly for the past decade). What I don't have (and I guess this is the case for a lot of academics who take on this kind of role) is experience of managing staff. It's also quite a difficult period (although when hasn't it been during the last ten years?) because of all the changing goalposts in the sector. Plus I'm concerned that taking on this role might bring my research to a grinding halt.

Basically, I'm completely in two minds about it all!

Scottishthreeberry16 Tue 01-Nov-16 22:22:52

I can't ever remember an HOD who continued their research, to be honest. Is it a permanent or temporary position?

LordRothermereBlackshirtCunt Tue 01-Nov-16 22:36:04

Temporary. Three to five years. I'm due a term's research leave next year as well, which I'd presumably have to postpone. I'd be OK for the REF if Stern's recommendations are taken up, but not if it ends up being more like the last one.

Scottishthreeberry16 Tue 01-Nov-16 22:48:06

Hmmm, doubt you'd ever get back postponed research leave after 3-5 years but you might have moved in other directions by then. Depends which way you want to go

RedJellyCrush Thu 03-Nov-16 10:11:11

I've been in a leadership position, starting with HoD, for the last 15 years of my career. It got me my first Chair, and various pay rises and promotions. It's also bloody hard work.

Things to think about: are you in a position to bargain for a promotion? If you're not already at Professor level you need to talk to your Dean/Head of School about prospects.

The team and their attitude to "academic leadership". As someone notes upthread In my experience (not as HOD), humanities have staff who question, defy, present opposing views, by nature - or at least, because that's what they do in their discipline Yes yes yes.

My 1st experience of being HoD was in a department which (unbeknownst to me) had a bit of a history of conflict between its HoD & its professor. Generally, HoDs were at SL, and the professor only took on HoD with reluctance. I walked into that - I'd just been appointed so didn't really know the history. Then we got a new Prof - famous international feminist with whom I thought I got on well. Until I started working as HoD. She basically conducted low-level bullying for the next 3 yea was a very difficult time. Catapulted me into weekly therapy, which helped, as I had no domestic or emotional support (still don't).

It was one of the best phone calls of my life to ring her to tell her I was going to a quite prestigious Chair. That department still misses me.

So doing HoD, plus pulling in a couple of research grants during my time as SL at this one place, got me a Chair at a bigger place, with HoD thrown in.

And they wanted me to "lead." Although I said in my interview I didn't lead in a macho invasive way: I prefer to lead by example, and to collaborate rather than come in and change everything - a model of leadership I see as damagingly masculine.

There's a lot of shit work you have to do as HoD, but if you can also have a small "management" team to help you, and a transparent way of working, it helps. I've always made workloads - teaching & admin - open and a matter of tabling & discussion in staff meetings. If there is grumbling, the data are all there - each person can see that if they feel overworked, others are doing pretty much the same.

Research: this is my haven. But I was lucky in that I have an ongoing research collaboration, through which - even in the Humanities (where I am) - we've landed a couple of large research grants. They got me my REF publications. And relief from endless mind-narrowing meetings about money & so on, into the light & air of ideas and knowledge & finding things out. Why I'm in the job in short.

But not everyone can do that, so if I were you I'd be negotiating either : normal leave before taking up the HoD post, or EXTRA leave after you've done your 3 years. One place I worked at paid me an HoD allowance, PLUS an extra term's sabbatical. The extra term sabbatical was worth more than the HoD allowance - that paid for a weekly cleaner so my one day off a week (Sunday) wasn't spent cleaning.

Salary: again, negotiate. You'll find it easier to get incremental accelerations, or if you're already a Professor, you'll be able to make your annual case for a pay rise easily. I've just done a year as HoD, and landed a nice pay rise which normally for professors you don't get unless you pull in a research grant.

Life/work balance. Ah well, I have none. I'm single & childless. Not a situation of my own choosing & it has been very very hard. No domestic or emotional support during difficult times at work. Paid-for therapy helped a wee bit even just as a sympathetic place to unload each week, and three years of that actually taught me a lot about how I work, intellectually & emotionally. But the job is designed for people who have a traditional wifey at home. Contrary to the prevailing view here, I'm afraid that life as a single barren woman is not as easy as people like to think.Alpjha women basically seem to repel nice men - at least that's been y experience. I've found ways to stop crying any time I think about my lack of a loving partnership, but it is tough. And the things I have filled my life with (like writing books and teaching) make it even more unlikely anyone will ever love me. I bear a sense of personal failure which tends to deepen any sense of professional failure (such as being bullied by a senior feminist). But this is a failure of which this society does not like to talk ...

Because I've done the job three times now, I'm pretty au fait with what needs to be done & what I can ignore. When you're new to the job, you think that budgets are important, but actually they are the least important. They're not going to sack you if you overspend. Indeed, it's good to overspend a bit, as it gives you ammunition to the centre to say you need more budget!

What really makes the job a pleasure (yes, even that!) is having a very supportive & trusting team - the best thing is that they understand it's a shit job, and you're doing everyone else a favour by taking it on.

And you can get things done, you can make good positive change.

In my most recent post, and continuing as I do now in another senior leadership role, I decided to be very "out" about being a feminist academic. And this has been a source of satisfaction to me - to have had an all female-leadership team, because we'd been successful in getting female colleagues promoted. As a professor & leader I can do this - although, as in many areas of work in this country , just by being a senior woman in the room is making change.

So, I hope this gives you some idea - in a very emotional, haphazard way - of some pros & cons. My main point would be: negotiate!

RedJellyCrush Thu 03-Nov-16 10:12:33

After this confessional splurge, I'll have to NC, but feel free to PM me.

user7214743615 Thu 03-Nov-16 10:58:54

I would agree with negotiating hard for the best possible deal. I have known many HoDs with weak research but high salaries/departmental support for their research because of good negotiation. We (women) are often poor at asking for proper reward for what we do.

CustardShoes Thu 03-Nov-16 11:50:35

HoDs don't always have 'weak research.' They do have a paucity of time that other colleagues rarely recognise.

user7214743615 Thu 03-Nov-16 12:53:22

I didn't write that HoDs always have weak research. I wrote that I have known many who did. In my specific field it is common for those who are relatively weak in research to move into management and more uncommon for those who are strong in research to take on HoD duties. I didn't say that this was true in all fields or that all HoDs would have weak research.

(I have been a HoD myself BTW. I am not ignorant about the job.)

OldLagNewName Thu 03-Nov-16 15:46:41

Thanks so much RedJellyCrush for your reply. Really useful to me, as well as hopefully the OP, in giving such a great pros-and-cons overview of your experiences.

I always swore I didn't want to do management but I've recently become a line manager of a small no. of staff, and am acting as a kind of (unpaid) deputy HOD and am really enjoying it (more the leadership bits than the management bits though) so I'm not sure what I want in the future. Really interesting and useful to hear other people's experiences.

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now