Tag Archives: professor

I am not superwoman: 8 lessons from my first 8 months as prof

1. I am not superwoman
In my old job, I had a mantra which was “smile and say no”. My new role involves so much more that I can’t say no to… but I’ve got to learn when I can! The past 3-4 months has been dominated by reviewing submissions, proposals, applications – for people whose lives and careers depend on it. It’s too important to say no to, and it’s part and parcel of my role. It’s also a huge responsibility and privilege. But the quantity of applications I’ve read has been…impressive. Perhaps it’s a feature of the PhD/ECR/publication market at the moment, perhaps it’s just an unfortunate bunching of workload over a tight timeframe, but I somehow feel there has to be a better way. More seasoned profs will no doubt tell me that you get better at reading everything so quickly. But I am not superwoman, and there are only so many hours in the day! Hopefully this will get easier…

2. I love my job
Heavy workloads notwithstanding, I absolutely love what I do. My passion for research, developing new teaching ideas, working with mentees, exploring graduate school (funding) strategies and more besides means that I thrive on meeting and working with so many great people.

3. Students are wonderful
I knew this anyway, but it’s become particularly clear this past term, as I’ve had the chance to lecture and lead seminar discussions on a wide range of topics – teaching about Zola’s women on International Women’s Day, working on the Enlightenment politics of Les Liaisons dangereuses as Trump is inaugurated, debating Britain’s place in the world as Article 50 is invoked – what’s not to love? (apart from the crazy world politics at the moment!)

4. Where you work matters
The campus at the University of Birmingham is a super space. I love walking through it every day. But it’s also part of an amazing, vibrant city with so much going on. I’ve been to concerts at Symphony Hall, explored other venues in the city, and can’t wait to get to know it even better.

5. Don’t neglect life stuff too
Moving jobs also meant moving house. We’ve been decorating! And gardening! And more besides. This stuff matters, and I am so lucky to have such an awesome husband who keeps our house project moving in the right direction. It might be a lot on top of new jobs for us both too, but having a beautiful place for us to relax, have friends round for coffee, lunch, drinks, or dinner, is what matters. 

6. You travel more as prof
It may not always be to especially glamorous locations, but each week this term I’ve been away from Birmingham for at least one day a week – Nottingham, Leicester, Manchester, Limerick, Canterbury. And last term I also had a US visiting fellowship at Vanderbilt. I’m learning how to work better on trains and planes… iPad is the way forward (I just need to find a way for university IT to make things easier…!)

7. Colleagues matter
I am so lucky to have such a great team around me of support staff in the Graduate School and in the School of Languages, Cultures, Art History and Music. I couldn’t do my job without them. And my fellow academics – in the offices next door, in buildings across campus, and at other institutions – mean I can get my job done properly. It’s not without its politics, but a properly collegial environment is key. 

8. Nobody bats an eyelid when they realise I’m a professor
Impostor syndrome is a real issue. I’m in my thirties, I’m a woman, and I’m a full professor. Sometimes I feel like I’ve come to the wrong place. But I have been treated with absolute respect in all the meetings I’ve been in, irrespective of the level of seniority of the people around me, from the Vice Chancellor, to Pro Vice Chancellors, to admin teams, publishers, other academics in my field, and PVCs from other Universities. It suggests that young(ish!) female profs are becoming the norm. We know the statistics show there is still a long way to go, but in my experience, the profession is starting to make real strides in the right direction. I am not an oddity. In fact, no-one bats an eyelid. It means I can just get on and do my job as anyone in my position should. 


What’s new?

In September I moved institutions and took up a more senior role. Four months into my new post as professor of modern languages at the University of Birmingham, it seems a good time to reflect on what’s new for me.

New postgraduate role
At my last institution, I served as (acting) Faculty Lead for Postgraduate Affairs. At Birmingham, I am now Deputy Director of the College Graduate School and Co-Site Director of the Midlands3Cities doctoral training partnership, across a consortium of 6 universities (University of Birmingham, Birmingham City University, University of Leicester, De Montfort University, University of Nottingham, and Nottingham Trent University). It means my outlook is much broader, cross-institutional, and I have responsibility for a larger cohort of students. But I also have a larger team (there are 2 other academic members of staff in related College PG roles), and we have an excellent team of administrative support staff.

New collaborations
Since arriving in Birmingham, I have met with lots of new people, both within and outside of academia. One exciting potential new collaboration is with a specialist voice consultant at the Queen Elizabeth hospital – we both happen to also be professionally trained singers, so our jobs, research, and practice intersect in fairly unique ways. I’m looking forward to going in to observe a voice clinic in the next few weeks, and am exploring different voice analysis apps to extend my own research approach. Other opportunities are in the pipeline, including linking up with the Conservatoire for their French song performance classes, and exploring new ideas around computational musicology with a colleague I met at MIT when I was over in Boston in the autumn.

New places
My new role has seen me travel a lot more for work. In the first few months of the academic year, I got to travel to some glamorous places (and some a little less exciting!), all for work: Abindgon, Boston, Leicester, London, Nashville, Nottingham, Providence (RI), Sheffield. Some of these trips were for research, including a fellowship at Vanderbilt University where I got to work with their extraordinary Baudelaire collections. Some were for engagement work, including a 4-day recording session working on a new disc of Baudelaire songs, and co-running a masterclass at an amazing new song festival (SongMakers). Some were for outreach, including presenting to secondary schools on ‘why bother with languages?’.

New curriculum
Moving universities always means getting to grips with a new setup, new modules, and new ways of delivering programmes. But part of my decision to move institutions was because of the exciting opportunities Birmingham has to offer as the modern languages team work on fresh approaches to its degree programmes (watch this space!). For me personally, this has meant setting up links with external partners, expanding my knowledge and expertise around languages tech, and approaching colleagues from across the university to co-deliver a new interdisciplinary words and music module. New modules and curriculum developments take time, but we’re a long way down the road.

But amongst all of these new things, much has stayed the same. The Baudelaire Song Project continues apace, with more exciting findings really cementing our research approach (we are very much looking forward to showcasing some of these in 2017). I continue to edit the journal Dix-Neuf, with a range of interesting pieces in the pipeline for publication in the coming year. Some of my adminsitrative work is the same (tutees, open days, planning/strategy meetings), and I continue to mentor colleagues around research plans. The diversity of the work I do is exciting, but it also means pretty careful time planning to make sure I manage to fit everything in. It helps, of course, that I got a big piece of research off my desk just as I started at Birmingham (my OUP book typescript), and that I have amazing support outside of the workplace (my husband is also in academia, so understands how the workload fluctuates at different times of year). We might be living and working in uncertain times in terms of the wider national and international (higher education) landscape, but for now at least I am able to say: I love my new job.