In February 2022 I started a new academic position as a lecturer in biomedical science at Teesside University. I was under no illusion that this would be a significant step up for me in terms of both the opportunities it would present, and the new challenges I would face. In this blog, I will be sharing my experience of the first six months of my lectureship.
Before I started my lectureship, I tried to prepare myself for the transition of reducing my time from 100% research (albeit with additional admin and teaching duties here and there), to around a third, with the rest of my time spent on teaching and admin. How would I keep up the momentum of my research when facing the challenges of shifting towards independence and taking on various responsibilities which were new to me?
It’s worth noting that not every lectureship is the same and will vary depending on contract type, the subject you’re teaching, and the institution you work for. What I am sharing here is my experience which might differ from others but will give you a flavour of the transition from postdoc to lecturer. My lectureship is in biomedical science which means I teach on various undergraduate and postgraduate courses related to biosciences. This involves lecturing, running lab classes, and supervising dissertation projects. Not long after I started, I was given lab classes to run at quite short notice. This typically wouldn’t be an issue, but for the last seven years I have dealt with chronic illness which is well-managed and hasn’t required any time off work except for GP and hospital appointments, and when I had surgery. It was just my luck that a number of these lab classes clashed with six doctor appointments I had scheduled over a two-week period, so I unfortunately had to turn some of this teaching down. Going forward, I now have my teaching schedule well in advance which helps with planning appointments. In addition to these lab classes, I was also given project students to supervise and was assigned tutees, which really encouraged me to get to grips with how things worked at Teesside so I could provide the best support for my students.
Although I wasn’t given any lectures to deliver, there were a few other new lecturers who were. One thing we all agreed on was how it would have been helpful for us to have been given some kind of induction session which instructed us on how to do certain tasks which are essential to our jobs. For example, it is only through word of mouth that I know next semester when I deliver my lectures, I have to give them face-to-face, record them using a particular software, and upload them on to the university learning platform. Some new starters failed to do this because they were never told they had to. This is a problem I’ve encountered previously when moving between universities, where there is a certain expectation of ‘learning on the job’, or an over-reliance on current members of staff to share knowledge. There is also an expectation for new staff to ask for help if they don’t know something, but you can’t ask how to do something if you don’t know what that something is in the first place. I feel I’m now prepared for the next semester, but I worry there could be any number of things I will fail to do because I simply don’t know I’m meant to be doing them. Universities can make this easier for new staff by having an induction session which covers, for example, everything you need to know about delivering a lecture, running a lab class, keeping records of student meetings, which software/platform to use for particular tasks, and so on.
One of the most important new things I have learnt in the last six months is the meaning of Workload. That’s Workload with a capital ‘W’ because it doesn’t just refer to job-related tasks, but it is the official term for the responsibilities you’ve been given which come with a set number of hours. It’s a way of ensuring balance between teaching, research, and admin. Now some people don’t like Workload because they feel the hours don’t reflect the actual amount of time certain tasks take. However, I like having a formal structure to how my time is balanced, and I’ve certainly found it helpful considering I have come from solely spending my time on research. My Workload particularly helps manage my expectations for how long new tasks should take.
Since the last semester ended, my time has been focused on preparing my teaching and the modules I will be leading next year. I’ve also tried to use this time to push forward on my research, conscious that things will be busy when semester starts at the end of September. With grant deadlines fixed throughout the year, I don’t want to waste any opportunities to apply for funding. The transition to research independence has to be one of the most challenging aspects of being a new lecturer, but also the most rewarding. I’m enjoying the creativity and freedom to pursue my own research interests, whilst also maintaining strong collaborations with my previous labs. It’s both terrifying and thrilling, but I’m pleased to say my first project grant application as PI has just been internally approved by my department and will be submitted by the time you read this. I’m fully aware the odds are against me, and it is likely to be rejected, but I’ve learnt a lot from the process which will benefit my next application.
So if I was to summarise these past six months in my new role I would say that I’ve been very lucky that I’ve been eased into teaching because it has given me space to settle in and figure out how everything works. It’s easy to lose the momentum of your research when you transition from postdoc to lecturer, so it’s important to maintain connections and a strong network and keep publishing papers you have sitting in your drafts. Try to get that first grant application out of the way but manage your expectations and try to see each step, no matter how small, as progress.
Dr Kamar Ameen-Ali is a Lecturer in Biomedical Science at Teesside University & Affiliate Researcher at Glasgow University. In addition to teaching, Kamar is exploring how neuroinflammation following traumatic brain injury contributes to the progression of neurodegenerative diseases that lead to dementia. Having first pursued a career as an NHS Psychologist, Kamar went back to University in Durham to look at rodent behavioural tasks to completed her PhD, and then worked as a regional Programme Manager for NC3Rs.