Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Scheduling our research

When it comes to teaching and researching in the dirty boots brigade (the Polytechnic sector), what I have noticed over a period of years is that more and more admin gets pushed down onto the lecturer. Change is happening each six months, requiring semester courses to be constantly updated, often to a significant degree. Our enrolment numbers are no longer small groups of ten to fifteen where I teach, but are more likely to be between 30 and 40, which a lecturer is expected to cover four times each semester, on four different courses.  We do all the marking, all the admin, all the initial academic misconduct investigations, and all the teaching. As a full time lecturer, most of us will teach 9 papers per year (or 8 papers and some supervision). This is supposedly an 80% teaching load, designed to allow us 20% of our time (one day a week) for research.

The result is that over a time, instead of the required hours becoming less contested, they become more contested. Many of my colleagues have left on stress leave, become sick, or simply burned out and moved on. Often the actual reasons for staff turnover goes under the radar.  

The only way I have seen any staff 'manage' a workload like that is to shortcut teaching delivery and questions, not refresh their teaching materials, and do their research with a much larger team delivering lower quality outputs. You have to be very self-interested to be able to do that.

However, most of us are in teaching to give back to learners; as we too were nurtured by our educational mentors. Most instead work every day, including late nights and weekend to be able to deliver well. But it is really hard to actually get your research done. We get to the end of the week, and we are exhausted (particularly in Covid-19 times). The last thing that we want to do is to try and wedge in at the end of the week, after we are wiped out after the end of a long week... usually on Sunday when we are already tired after after not having a break.

So into this tale of "why the hell would you do that?" I got an auto-correct. I listened to a blog post recently from Tara Brabazon, who said that we should “pay [ourselves] first” (Brabazon, 2020, 40:00). This, I found, was quite a profound statement.

Research should not be an after-thought which gets the tailings of our time: it should be the most important thing for each of us. Research should be done when we are fresh. Our research is what fills up our teaching bucket. It gives us the new ideas to allow us to explore, and to make new connections. That then allows us to publish. Because, as Tara so rightly pointed out, that "authors publish".

My research has now been scheduled into my Monday morning diary. I start early. Because I want to. Give it a try.


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