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Advice for a new SL please

(11 Posts)
sladvice Sat 13-Jan-18 14:54:01

I've name changed and will change some details here so as to not be identifiable.

Background - I'm an early 30s Senior Lecturer at Reputable Uni. I'm prolifically published and publishing, very international, very ambitious and driven and in general my career in Research/REF progression terms in going very well. I joined this uni after a short while as Lecturer in another uni, and in the time I've been here (under a year) I'm up for promotion to Reader in the next cycle. Current uni highly values me, constantly gets me invited and showcased for talks in other departments/science festivals and I'm happy here. Now there will be a BUT.

The Department is a department of say - Politics. They have run - or rather struggled to run for a while - an UG programme in say - some form of Politics and Sociology. I am a sociologist. I joined this department knowing full well that I'm a sociologist joining a politics department and they assured me that they are hiring me to "get some spirit and fire into a struggling Politics and sociology degree and hopefully perhaps start a PG in Sociology".

To cut a long story short it has become clear to me (and to them) that -

(1) Brexit has impacted student numbers in the faculty in general - powers thAt be are concerned

(2) HoD is being pressured to get rid of courses that aren't recruiting well. Politics and sociology is really struggling. This is because it's clear the course needs SO much revamping - just hiring one starry sociologist isn't going to do it. It needs the three entire years re vamped and needs new hires which the uni won't budget for. HoD thinks politics and sociology should be axed (if it is taught out then last year to be taught out will graduate in 2022). Instead apparently I should focus on developing a PG. as a pg involves only 6 taught modules it's doable with my teaching load plus extra bits from department and some guest lecturing and then apparently case can be made to hire one more. If said Pg takes off it will be earliest 2020. HoD says my expertise which can combine at most 4 modules a year isn't enough to save the sinking ship that the UG 3 year degree is but is 50% of a cutting edge PG offering so he feels that's where I could be better used.

All this has left me utterly dejected. Why did they hire me the sociologist in a politics department if they wanted their sociology degree chucked rather than More hires done. Why do they blow hot and cold on the PG idea because powers that be wont hire enough people to teach it and it will be so dependent on me myself and I. Why did they fight to hire me (all sorts of negotiations were accommodated). And - will I be sacked if the sociologist is suddenly irrelevant in the politics department? How on earth can they start a PG with effectively just me as the main person? I've got bids in review what if I get bought out? Pregnant? Sabbatical?

I've got my third book coming out this year with Routledge and I've been unable to work on the monograph because all I think about is this. I haven't spoken to anyone yet. But - I have an assigned departmental mentor who I do get along with really well. He has been here for years - at least decade and half More than HoD and is senior to me. We're going for a chat and something to eat next week one evening and I might pick his brain on this as not getting any advice is worrying me.

Does anyone have any advice? They are otherwise massively supportive of me my Research and my Research is going extremely well. It's just that I'm unsure what I'm doing in this departments future teaching wise.

Inthedeepdarkwinter Sat 13-Jan-18 18:31:04

Everything you say is sensible, you need to sit down, first with your mentor and then with your HoD and say it to them. You are right, it would be difficult to run even a PG one year Masters with just one person teaching, and that's if they are full-time teaching -if you are bought out for grants which I sincerely hope you are, then you won't be doing any and it sounds like they would struggle to cover any teaching on that basis. I don't know the answer, but you have a good handle on the question.

Do you want to stay there? Could you move/promote to Reader at the same time?

I think if you want to start up a Masters, which is properly promoted and attracts students, it would take 2/3 years anyway, from initial scoping, then design, then advertising it then running it. It's like a grant-type size of a project, not something that can be added on easily unless you find it very easy to recruit PG at your uni (ours doesn't, for example).

You sound like you are doing amazingly well and somewhere else will snap you up- I would definitely make your current institution plan for this though, as one person simply isn't enough to revamp and cover half a degree course, it just isn't.

sladvice Sat 13-Jan-18 19:22:20

Thank you. It concurs with my thoughts. On the other hand I do want to stay here. I mean - the next 5 years for me are all about the two next promotions (entirely via my Research by the way) - so course building, establishing my discipline in the Department etc - laudable as these ambitions may be - they aren't my ambitions. I'd be entirely happy for example - to offer what I currently teach ie 2 niche cutting edge modules (that's a full teaching load for me with no buyout at the moment as grants ending) as options on any which of their programmes. So in a way - as long as I have my two modules to teach (never mind what programme they sit in) and can keep doing all the massive strides forward in Research then - well - what exactly is my problem? I mean sure - "Sociology" won't have a presence in the Department separately and I as a "sociologist" won't be doing any core teaching but then that applies to most of my colleagues anyway. So I do wonder what precisely my concern is? If establishing my discipline in the Department and starting degree programmes isn't part of my agenda anyway over the next half a decade then - what precisely IS it I am worried about? Can I not continue teaching my two modules - progressing for reader and then beyond and get 1 maternity leave and 1 sabbatical and that be the agenda for the next 5 years (which is all likely and not under jeopardy or to be axed). So putting it like that I myself don't know what my worry is.

Is my worry that they will sack me? Well. I don't know what to think there.

user19283746 Sun 14-Jan-18 01:23:03

I think you need to move to a department with sociology as soon as you can.

You say that your main agenda is to be promoted to a professor but the reality is that with hiring freezes (which may well turn into cuts, given the current state of UK HE politics) you cannot develop the sociology section of your department. You will be personally vulnerable, regardless of how good your research is. Developing sociology via education would be a huge drain on your time.

And in the long run do you really want to be the only sociologist? This hardly puts you in a good place for bids such as ESRC centres that require critical mass.

sladvice Sun 14-Jan-18 06:24:41

Thank you. That makes sense. The "sociology" is a place filler though and my Actual subject is a much more new/recent interdisciplinary "field" rather than a discipline, and we kind of fit in with a fair few of the social sciences. So for example my current grant involved let's say the study of cows using computers - but there are so many lovely cow researchers in my department that I'm starting up a cow studies group that is great for my project although they don't do computers, to take a bad example really far 😆 so I'm not immediately worried about the critical mass.

But your point on vulnerability. Do you think o should worry about being sacked? FWIW there are two others from my field in the Department - each been here 15 plus years and each teaching optionL modules that anyone can take (my field is very flexible and of interest to many disciplines). Their presence and the fab dovetailing I have with them intellectually actually really draws me to this department Nd my mentor is one of them and I've felt nothing but so encouraged built up and supported by him. HoD calls me an asset/treasure repeatedly and An excellent hiring decision and is very keen to promote me to retain me. We are a small and historical department and we have regular research dialogues to present work and get feedback which has been amazing for my monograph in progress.

I do compare this to my stint as Lecturer at "my" field department in previous uni. We were 65 of us. Bottom heavy with lecturers. None of us had any visibility, support, time of day. Nobody ever spoke to me of progression. Not once. So people ended up cat fighting and being Uber competitive. When I left most didn't notice. Plus it was struggling REF Research wise. HoD and I barely spoke as so many people. You can see why all that hanging here and finding recognition and mentoring has been so key for me.

Which is why the dilemma isn't it. Which is why I feel so at home here. Which is why I am struggling with the teaching thing - because the other stuff I've found here are things that are really helping me grow and that I never found in my last two "my field" departments.

sladvice Sun 14-Jan-18 15:15:07

Anyone else any thoughts?

Lemonadesea Sun 14-Jan-18 22:19:42

Is there enough of your field for you to be submitted as a unit in REF. That would play a role in my thinking about vulnerability. Can you survive on PhD recruitment? You don't mention that. I fill up a large part of my commitments through that and thereby build myself in as a recruiter and attractor.
Is your university really really struggling? Have redundancies been mentioned? When depts or subject areas have closed in the last, were staff redeployed?

ghislaine Mon 15-Jan-18 14:14:36

Seriously, if you are looking/expecting to go from Lecturer to Reader in two years, (and from Lecturer to Professor in five), why would you spend your time developing a pg programme as one of the few representatives of your discipline in an alien department? What is the department's plan for recruiting students to this new programme? Is it a viable proposition that they will come to Reputable Uni than somewhere else with an established programme?

My advice would be to start planning your exit. The REF transfer market has already started in my field. You can stay in touch with your colleagues. In fact this might work in your favour as research bodies like cross-instituional applications. If you get a research grant buy-out then you won't be doing the teaching development anyway.

sladvice Mon 15-Jan-18 14:54:33

The issue is that my previous two departments have been reputable, my-field departments. Take the example of my previous one. The oldest, largest, most established department of my field in the UK.

65 members of academic staff. So I was 1 of 65. 3 profs, 3 SLs, 0 readers and the rest all Lecturers. Huge international recruitment from specific Asian country. 100% of the intake is from one single Asian country in some years. Major language issues. Growth driven by student numbers. In my entire time as Lecturer there, far from establishing intellectual links - (1) I had no mentoring (2) huge marking loads (3) HoD couldnt cope with even meeting people individually (4) Not one person ever mentioned promotions or career planning. (5) nobody took any interest in what anyone else researched. (6) all internal research seminars disbanded and gone.

Here. We are a department of 18. Strong. Reputable. Yes I am one of 2.5 people in my field in this deparment. But very related field. Cant think of a good example. But think - biochemistry in a department of biological and medical sciences. Very good mentoring. Great space to talk about my work. Work dovetails with many other colleagues. Joint work - mutual comments on work - 5 invited talks in less than half a year. I look forward to going to work. HoD + mentor keen on discussing progression. Promotion to reader mentioned on first appraisal/whatever it is on joining, and documented that HoD v impressed with me and thinks ready for promotion next round.

This was simply not going to happen when i was 1 of 65. At the moment, also, I need to think of a second baby. You need to work somewhere a while to qualify for mat pay. Then the next promotion round. Then eligible for sabbatical in 2019. Everything considered, I do not feel able to quit and move just yet.

But yes, I am not happy with the teaching situation. Absolutely. I have 3 grants in the works, if even 1 works, i do not see how much teaching outside of my specialist option module I can do anyway. They know this.

If I didn't absolutely love it here, none of this would even be a point. But I will go so far as to say, that considering the 4 universities in 2 countries I have worked at since PhD, Postdoc, Lectureship (all 3 my field) and this one - it is this one I actually love. There is the dilemma.

Marasme Mon 15-Jan-18 20:21:48

"eligible for sabbatical" for this alone, I am jealous!

I am soooo desperate for a break to focus on research, it's crazy - unfortunately, this does not exist at my uni...

Masters teaching is a good strategy to teach "closer to home" - if the class is small, it is also very enjoyable...

Inthedeepdarkwinter Tue 16-Jan-18 10:06:32

I think you need to go into conversations with your HoD or your mentor/lead about your five year plan. What you need to know is how they envisage this teaching programme being set up as part of your workload, and if promotion is going to be conditional on this, or whether they prefer you to be a 'star' researcher and get in the grants. They cannot have both, they are just wishing it were possible. Have a direct conversation- so what will happen if I get these grants I've applied for? If I don't get these, I'll be applying for more, how would that work in terms of you covering my teaching?

Start talking. I don't think we can answer any further here, as it depends how reasonable and sensible your highers ups are, and this varies hugely I've found! Most would be happy with a star researcher in the upcoming REF IMO and less worried about teaching unless they are vulnerable to total collapse as a department. If there is a strategy to diversify into your area, then where are they going to get the 3/4 or more lecturers it would take to run a UG programme, including them taking leave/sabbaticals/getting grants? Ask them.

Marasme sympathies, that's awful- we have sabbaticals about every four years and it really does push you along to keep the momentum up in between.

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