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Tips for reducing stress - university lecturer

(35 Posts)
ocelot41 Wed 24-Dec-14 08:48:51

I know I am lucky in lots of respects - on the whole, I like what I do and have a lot of flexibility as regards my working hours. But the last three years have been super stressful - lots of lecturer job cuts, cuts to support services and the number of students I am expected to deal with has more than doubled. Many of these students also need additional pastoral and learning support after coming through Clearing. That is difficult to provide with such large numbers of students, is emotionally draining and increases marking loads because of the number of students needing to take resits.

This is the first Xmas in many years I have been able to take more than stat days off.
I don't like how stressed I have become and would like to make more time to be with DC. Does anyone have any good stress-busting, time creation strategies to share?

Pippidoeswhatshewants Wed 24-Dec-14 09:02:21

What are you struggling with most?
Do you work in your office and at home? How busy is your private life?

I find that a clear separation between work and home helps.

ocelot41 Wed 24-Dec-14 09:14:05

That's interesting. I work in a study from home a lot as a/ my commute is hideous and b/I can't get much done from my office as I get constant knocks at the door from students (outside of office hour appointment time).

I think the thing I find hardest is the lack of holiday time from Sept to May because of the sheer volume of marking. The teaching has also become much less rewarding because there are just so many very weak students who aren't very interested/committed to their subject. They want to have a degree, but they aren't excited about actually doing one. Which makes teaching feel a bit like a joyless uphill struggle. sad

I am looking for a new job but in the mean time.....

callamia Wed 24-Dec-14 09:21:03

How many hours a week are you teaching? What is your marking load and how spread out is it?

Do you have research hours? How many? Time tabling and being ruthless is really important. I'm as guilty of getting overburdened as everyone else, but having a one year old has made me realise that I can't work 70 hours a week anymore, and I'm having to be much, much tighter with my time. What support are you getting from Senior Management re: students demands?

ocelot41 Wed 24-Dec-14 09:31:29

Teaching is about 16 hours a week, my research time is 30 per cent of workload. It is the marking load that I think is the killer. Because of how weak some of the students are, we are now expected to regularly feed back on drafts of work ( as a teaching team we collectively draw the line at reviewing more than 2 drafts of the same piece of work).

There are mid term deadlines and end of term deadlines, each of which will be over 100 papers to grade each. Thay takes me around 2 and a half weeks just for first marking as marking is now electronic and students expect line by line grammar, punctuation and spelling corrections as well as written feedback at the end.

Is it me or is that too much?

callamia Wed 24-Dec-14 10:01:07

16 hours per WEEK teaching? Including prep time? Not including marking?

If this doesn't include marking or giving formative feedback, then you are massively over-burdened.

Student expectations need to be better managed. You aren't there to act as a spelling and grammar check, this is a waste of your time. An overall comment about poor proof reading is adequate, and some specific guidance is ok, but line-by-line is farcical.

What are the learning objectives related to these formative pieces of work? How is this factored into your marking load? It sounds like things are being piled on with little regard to pedagogy, your actual role as a degree-course and time burden.

Do you get to do any research? How about postgrad students?

Pippidoeswhatshewants Wed 24-Dec-14 14:53:55

It sounds like you are struggling with the general work load. I think you need to mention this to your boss and discuss upping your hours or taking away some of the work?

ocelot41 Thu 25-Dec-14 06:27:39

Thanks to both of you for your comments. I have only worked at one uni so have nothing to compare it with. In answer to Callamia's questions: the 16 hours includes one to one supervision for dissertations and office hour appointments but not prep or marking time.

No reflection has been made of formative marking, resit marking or other forns of resit support (such as workshops) in our marking load. No specific learning goals have been attached to this other than general 'student support'.

My suspicion is this is about enabling the uni to retain students who aren't yet ready for a degree course for financial reasons. So on top of the general workload gripes, I feel the whole thing lacks integrity.

I have wondered about talking to the team about making a collective case to rein in how much we do - perhaps only giving feedback on one draft of work and marking up one paragraph with spelling/punctuation/grammar errors in order to support a general comment that they need to go to the writing workshops which are provided at a uni-wide level. But it sounds like you guys think even that is quite generous!

We are launching a postgraduate this year which is what has brought all of this to a head. I have been careful to keep researching, partly because I really love it and partly because it is what will help me get out of here. But tbh, I have ended up taking annual leave to do it, which I know isn't healthy!

purplemurple1 Thu 25-Dec-14 06:36:21

It's my partner that's a lecturer bit with two under two and no research time he has had to reign in what he does basically for free.
A big hit has been seting exams that are easier to mark and making a template for marking. No proof reading other than to tell them to set up word correctly and use it. Reviewing powerpoints ans course notes briefly and getting anything he can from previous lecturers. Cutting down on reviews for colleagues helping doctoral students (that aren't his) etc and referring people back to their actual supervisors.
And working from home when he can as its easier to actually work the same as you have found.

purplemurple1 Thu 25-Dec-14 06:39:40

Oh he also found really explaining in the first lesaon (esp with first yrs) what will happen in the course, exams and what they need to so to pass, and what help they can expect in what time frame (ie he can't answer all emails within mins and can't help with thwir actual work) really lowers the work load during the course.

PiratePanda Fri 26-Dec-14 20:34:13

Oh god, I feel for you. My first job had the workload from hell, and yes, you need to get out. Am assuming 30% research is a (un)funny joke.

Your marking workload is quite shocking. Apart from anything else it suggests to me that you don't have a proper mix of assessment modes - is it all coursework? No exams? No practicals or presentations that get marked "in the room" as it were?

For a start you should NEVER mark up more than one draft, and if you mark up drafts you should not mark up the final submission. We are notorious in my institution (top end Russell group) for giving feedback on drafts as no other department does this - just marks final submissions. And we have lots of international students with less than excellent English too.

Actual research on higher education is your friend here. There are proper academic studies out there that say that students do not read markups on final submissions, only drafts, and only take in three pieces of feedback on a feedback sheet. This should help reduce your load.

As for personal tutorials and academic tutorials, be absolutely rigorous about doing everything by the book and not one thing more on the grounds of fairness to all students. Call your personal tutees in for tutorials and hold them all back to back in one block so that you control the time. Same with dissèrtations and any other one-to-one teaching - schedule it all in one day, all back to back.

And refuse to see students to give them personalised help on academic work outside the assessment framework. This is on the grounds that if you give one student what amounts to an individual academic tutorial you will have to give this to all of your students on grounds of fairness - and you LITERALLY don't have time. My students have ALWAYS understood and respected that logic.

Finally, be rigid with your preparation and teaching time. Set aside one of the five working days as a research day and go to the library/get away from email and distractions. Use Saturday as a second research day. The other four days have a rigid 9-5 routine - do not do any teaching or admin or emails outside these hours.

And practise saying no.

anothernumberone Fri 26-Dec-14 20:41:42

Do you use technology to its full potential eg online assessments with built in feedback. I teach maths type subjects so this is easier. Some of my research students use online journals where I find feedback is pretty quick too. I also use peer assessment for early years where they need a lot of practise assessments.

PiratePanda Fri 26-Dec-14 20:44:20

Multiple choice examinations with a big bank of questions that get randomised to each student - and that get marked by computer - are also big time savers. Takes a bit of work to set up the questions in the first instance, but if it's randomised and it's e.g. a compulsory first year course that doesn't change much from year to year, it can be a life saver.

ocelot41 Sat 27-Dec-14 08:27:26

Thanks so much for the feedback everyone, I really appreciate it. Piratepanda do you have any refs for that research? Sounds really useful. And yes, we have oral presentations and some practical work AS WELL which are graded in the room.

I tried to make the case for dropping one of the written assessments on a big first year module in favour of an automated multiple choice exam (the module does involve learning a fair bit of learning 'what' so that seemed appropriate). First, my Convener argued that there had to be a written element otherwise it would only test rote learning (fair enough) then he insisted that it had to be in addition to the two other written assessments, instead of replacing one. He argues that our students need more practice at writing not less and I take his point, but I have now ended up with MORE marking, not less.angry Plus three assessments for one term-long module just seems excessive to me.

I don't really want to work Saturdays as well (although I sometimes get up early and do a couple of hours of admin before DC wake). I do stick to a research day a week most of the time (out of office goes on etc).

What other tips can you offer me for getting to a better uni folks? And are working conditions really better or just different?

PiratePanda Sat 27-Dec-14 12:01:08

Hah! Somewhere - it formed the basis of one of the more useful sessions of my PGCAP. But I'm on sabbatical and it's in my office at work; might take me a while to find!

PiratePanda Sat 27-Dec-14 12:03:00

As for getting to a better university, the only solution is publishing, publishing, publishing. Hence you are almost certainly going to have to work a substantial proportion of Saturdays if your aching and admin load is as bad as you say.

Your convenor sounds like an idiot.

anothernumberone Sat 27-Dec-14 12:04:50

Look up research from Chris Rust on feedback. It is excellent and nice and easy to read.

anothernumberone Sat 27-Dec-14 12:07:02

Look specifically for his work on assessment and feedback.

ocelot41 Sat 27-Dec-14 13:24:24


ocelot41 Sat 27-Dec-14 13:34:10

Pirate can I ask what kind of publication list/rate would be regarded as appropriate at a better uni? I had my work submitted to the last REF (have emails from internal board to say it was rated at 3* so I am chuffed with that, as it was my first innings). I have another 3 outputs in for review at the mo and have been working on increasing impact. I have also just finished my PhD p/t. What should I be doing next to make myself a desirable candidate?

Sorry for such a detailed request but this isn't something I feel I can really ask anyone in a non-anonymised way, as I don't want to give my current uni a bad name.

callamia Sat 27-Dec-14 15:13:14

You've just finished a PhD? Publishing as much of that as possible, and at least applying for independent funding will be a good idea. Would you consider a post-doc?

When we recruit for a lecturer post, we look for evidence of potential, as well as current pubs list. Potential will be in the form of current grants and collaborations, and long-term opportunity for impact. The last shortlisting I did last year was really interesting - most competitive were people already in lecturer posts with a good idea about HE teaching, but still with good pubs and grants. It was noticeable that many applicants from less research intensive institutions were 'stuck' - not publishing very much, and not publishing in good quality journals.

Postdocs were also competitive, especially those with teaching experience.

Essentially, universities want researchers who are going to bring in money, work independently and raise the profile of their dept (impact, pubs, money etc).

PiratePanda Sat 27-Dec-14 15:33:58

It really depends on the field. You only need 4 outputs for the REF, so that's a minimum. If you're in the humanities and want to get promoted you need a single-authored book plus at least three articles in peer reviewed journals (single-authored) by the time of the next REF. A good article per year plus a book in one REF period would be loads.

Avoid publishing in edited volumes like the plague when you're early career -- they are not usually regarded as highly from the POV of peer review plus you are at the mercy off the editors regarding when the damn thing gets published. Editing a volume yourself, on the other hand, can be an easy win. Organise a mini conference on a topical issue with eight well-known speakers and voila!

If you're in sciences or many social sciences however your outputs will be all articles (generally speaking), co-authored, and you should be churning out about four per year as a minimum.

And yes, get the chapters of your PhD published ASAP as articles, unless it works as a book (if you're in humanities).

PiratePanda Sat 27-Dec-14 15:36:08

Oh and yes, evidence of applying and preferably getting large grants. VVV important.

Impact is much harder to quantify especially in early career, so potential is all that's required on this front. Don't sweat this one too much.

ocelot41 Sat 27-Dec-14 15:44:49

Yep, just finishing off minor revisions now (pulls party popper). I shifted over to academia after a period in (relevant) industry and was VERY lucky to land f/t lecturer post so have done PhD p/t around that. It has made for a full-on few years but on the whole, I am very happy with my career change.

Although you probably can't tell from earlier posts, I do actually love teaching and research and I don't mind a bit of admin.There are also lots of good things about my uni, my colleagues are great and in the years I have been here I have learned a lot of useful things (designed a BA and an MA, run conferences and summer schools for international students etc).

Just generally, the writing is on the wall in terms of overall strategy (pack in as many paying students as possible) and that's not a direction which I personally want to go in. As you say, Callamia it would be so easy to just get stuck in terms of career progression and...Without wanting to sound wanky I am quite values-driven and the direction the uni is going in isn't one that feels meaningful or socially valuable to me.

So it is time to move on soon, the question is how to keep my groove before that happens so I can a/ stay positive and b/ choose wisely. All the stuff you are saying is encouraging as it sounds like I am doing many of the right sorts of things.The outputs in for review at the mo are bits of my PhD and I am starting to look at getting some more training in going after grants. I have managed to land a couple but its been a couple of k here and there rather than a big one.

I have looked at post docs but most are temporary and much lower wage than I am on now so hmmmm....not sure if that would be do-able. I applied for one recently at a uni which I would have been happy to travel a long way to get to because the dept is so FAB, but that was a bit different as it was to lead to a permanent post. Wasn't even shortlisted as they wanted evidence of landing a major research grant sad. But hey, these things happen....
You just keep on swimming, swimming (channels Dory from Finding Nemo).

All of this advice is SO helpful and I am really grateful to all of you for responding with your words of wisdom. Thank youflowers

ocelot41 Sat 27-Dec-14 15:48:50

Can I ask how a coauthored book would be regarded please? Is single-authored the only way to go?

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