The highs and lows of academic life

Academic life has many highs and lows.

For the past few weeks I’ve been knee-deep in marking across several different modules as I struggle to make myself more ‘employable’ as an academic, while trying to earn enough money to keep a roof over my head. In the last two weeks I have fought my way through:

  • 80 x 1,500-word essays in Marketing 101
  • 12 x 1,500-word essays in English 100
  • 146 exam papers of 500–1,000 words in Marketing 222

All in all, this comes in at around 211,000 words – or two average-length novels.

Marking in numbers

Now imagine reading two average-length novels across two weeks where every other page is saying a similar thing, but with slight variation. And then, just when you’re getting into the groove of it, there’s a page where the words go all James Joyce and nothing makes sense. Wonderful!

But then there’s the feedback…

Not only have I read two novels’ worth of marking in the last two weeks, but I’ve also written close to a novella in way of feedback. For each of the 80 x Marketing 101 essays I’ve marked, I’ve averaged several hundred words of comments, and then the same again for English 100. I’m still yet to type up my exam feedback, but even my shorthand-written notes amount to 10 sides of A4 paper. All this alongside the notes I’ve made on the scripts themselves.

As I hope you will appreciate, that’s a awful lot of words…

And all of this while also doing my weekly teaching (8-9 classes) and holding down a part-time job working for CCCU. I’m also doing a teacher training programme that requires I submit a portfolio of something like 10,000 words.

Oh, and did I mention my research? I’ve just recently started work on a paper about John Boyd’s OODA loop, and have also just had a paper accepted for publication in the Journal of Consumer Culture. Last week I also had the great pleasure to give an hour-long interview for an independent radio production on the philosophy of killer robots (more details as and when I have them).

To say I’m busy then is certainly something of an understatement!

Positive feedback

But it’s not all bad. While the admin is awful, and the marking endless, I am taking some enjoyment from teaching, and seeing my impact on the lives of student – real human beings!

I had the great pleasure last week to bump into one of my former students on the walk into campus. While we were catching up, she told me how much she missed my seminars, and that this year’s seminars are nothing compared to mine. As you can imagine, this really made my week! The student in question even said she was hoping to take a module in science fiction in the hope that I might be teaching on it!

Alas, I did have to break to the rather unfortunate news that I’m only employed for a single hour per week in English Literature, and still don’t know if I’ll have a job at Lancaster next year. However, I did suggest she apply for science fiction anyway, as it’s great, and the Brian Baker is among the most popular lecturers in the department.

Learning on the job

Alongside this lovely feedback from one of my former students, I also took a little bit of joy out of another piece of work I’ve done this week in Work-Based Learning. While I am not the main marker on this programme, I do teach on it, and as such, I’ve been helping to moderate several student presentations.

While of course it would be wrong to say anything about any of the particular presentations I’ve seen, I have been really struck this week by the quality and professionalism of all the presentations that I’ve seen, and it’s particularly gratifying when you see examples of your teaching genuinely having a positive effect on students, and the quality of the work they produce.

It has also been especially satisfying to sit alongside a colleague who also acknowledged the quality of the presentations that we sat through.

This was really  nice actually, as despite all the stress and uncertainty, it did remind me that I am actually good at what I do and that I am actually worth something. It’s certainly given me more to look forward to for next term.

Anyway, that’s enough of me for now… back to marking!

Until next time,

M.J. Ryder

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