The many hats of an academic

Yesterday’s post (Not today) prompted me to think about the many hats that I wear as an academic. This is not new and I am certainly not the first person to write about the many roles expected of modern academics. However, it is still not readily recognised outside academia, or even within some parts of academia, how varied are the responsibilities of academics.

The most visible, and easily understood, part of our role is that of the teacher. We teach, prepare resources, design and mark assessments, support students, and everything else that goes along with being a teacher.

Then there comes the less tangible part of our role — research (or scholarship for those who are on the Teaching & Scholarship pathway). The nature of research obviously varies according to subject but, basically, this involves coming up with interesting questions about your field, investigating those questions (and occasionally, if you’re very lucky, answering them), and publishing the outcomes of your investigations in journals. There are also a plethora of ancillary tasks that are associate with research, including applying for grants (to fund your research), reviewing papers written by other academics, attending and presenting at conferences, evaluating the research of other academics, and lots more.

Then there is the nebulous category of administration. At a minimum, this includes acting as project manager and budget holder for your own research projects, line managing your Postdoctoral Research Associates, mentoring your PhD students, acting as academic/career/pastoral advisor to undergraduate students, and procurement officer (I have almost certainly missed some things out). One oddity about universities is that academics are typically involved in administration and leadership at every level. Once you reach a certain level of seniority, you will almost certainly be asked to take on what is often called a substantive administrative/leadership role. This could be anything from Director of Education, to Timetable Coordinator, to Senior Tutor (pastoral lead), to Chairing one of the many committees and boards that are responsible for various functions of the university. These are roles that are in addition to your standard appointment (e.g. professor, lecturer, etc.) and exclude positions that are primarily administrative/managerial in nature (such as Deans of Schools/Faculites).

The need to wear multiple hats brings me to, in my view, one of the primary difficulties associated with being an academic — context switching. I’ll write more about this tomorrow and discuss some of the techniques I used to combat the negative effects associated with context switching.

Before I go, I should say that the above is written from the perspective of UK academia and using the relevant terminology. In other systems, the responsibility are broadly comparable but may use different vernacular.

Day five of one hundred.

This post is part of my #100Days writing challenge, in which I have challenged myself to write for 10-20 minutes for 100 consecutive days.

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