University lecturers: the three tribes

17 Apr

Watching the English Inspired by re-reading a popular piece of social anthropology, I thought I'd proposed three types of university lecturer. I'm aware that many practitioners are curious about – even envious of – our working lives, so this portrait may provide some useful clues.

I've studied at two universities, taught at four and visited many more in an external capacity, so these portraits are composites rather than depictions of individual colleagues.

Here are my three tribes.

One: the research academic

The popular picture of the absentminded professor could not be further from the truth. Members of this tribe are single-minded in their pursuit of the truth through fundamental research.

They descend (in approach; not genetically I hope) from the desert fathers of early Christianity, and share many ascetic qualities with them: you'll find a disproportionate number of marathon runners among this tribe.

They differ from the 'media don', an attention-seeking bon viveur who is far from ascetic. But in our discipline, I've never encountered this type. I suspect they're all still working as consultants.

Two: the multitasking manager

This is a familiar PR type. They can manage multiple projects and keep tabs on many concurrent relationships. In their home lives, they're often parents. At work, they're good process people as they keep on top of the (electronic) paperwork. If there's a drawback, it's that they'd rather be managing a course than teaching a class, the function of the third and final tribe.

Three: the teacher and mentor

This tribe is primarily focused on the process of teaching and learning. Their domain is the classroom. While this would seem to be central to the purpose of universities, it's not for the ambitious as pay and promotion do not come from routine classroom teaching (the older universities often delegate this to research students or teaching assistants). Their job satisfaction is similar to that of a school teacher, with whom they share many frustrations. Yet they have the compensation of being sought out for many photographs on graduation day.

Is this you?

In truth, these three tribes are not mutually exclusive and high achievers must combine aspects of the researcher, manager and teacher roles. But I hope it's clear that each role calls on a different part of the brain, and different levels of emotional and academic intelligence. It's very rare for one individual to do them all equally well.

One Response to “University lecturers: the three tribes”

  1. Greg Smith 28/04/2011 at 3:18 am #

    Yes, that’s me at number two, Richard: multi-tasker (and parent). Back to Notre Dame (Fremantle, Australia) to teach “e-PR” next semester. Regards, Greg.

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