I asked my lecturer every awkward question you’ve ever wanted to ask
Can you tell when students are still drunk in seminars? Are PowerPoints really worth £9,000?
Power shapes society. In the words of old, pre-problematic Kanye West, "no one man should have all that power". In the words of John Lennon, "power to the people". In the words of the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, "it's Morphin' Time!"
In life there are various forms of power. Political power, parental power, societal power, they all deem we must get a job, pay our bills, pretend we like Oasis – no questions asked. Are Oasis actually good? We just can't ask that kind of thing.
Then there's the power that has us spending all night in the library, the power we pay £9,000 a year to watch over us – university.
It's like we loved school so much we decided it was too good to be free, the stress is worth so much more than a fee of £0 a year – this must be worth at least £9,000. Per year. Per. Year.
Like a pyramid scheme, we give them our money and they employ people to teach us, to give us our £9,000+ worth of stress, stress, and even more complimentary stress.
We're all well aware of the trials and tribulations that being a student entails, but what about lecturers? They are human beings too, with feelings and issues. What do they really think about you clearly being on your phone in lectures? Do they mind if you don't say literally nothing in a two hour seminar?
I decided to get in touch with one of my lecturers, who has helped me before with an article, to ask every burning question about what it's really like to be a lecturer, the proprietor of stress, to be the person wielding the power over so many people who think Oasis are good, the person in control of our futures.
Do you ever just want to tell someone in a lecture to fuck off?
Yeah. I usually just look at people when they're being off-putting, but yeah. My supervisor at a previous job had someone come into a lecture and just start reading a newspaper.
It's difficult, like with mobile phones, I don't really mind them anymore but I used to find them off putting. At the end of the day the student is the consumer, you have the power now.
Who are the most annoying kinds of people in lecturers and seminars?
Obviously you want everyone to speak in seminars, but sometimes people just don't want to speak. Some students find it annoying that other people don't speak and they come up to me and say "you need to make this person speak", and I think I'm just not going to do that.
There are two types of people in seminars – those who never speak and those who speak all the time. Sometimes it's because no-one else is speaking, and you're grateful for that person because they keep it going. But sometimes people just speak over other people, and that's quite hard to deal with. Sometimes people are just stupid, to be honest. Some are just so unaware and they keep talking over other students. We had one mature student who would just talk over any female in the room, including the tutor.
Can you tell when someone is hungover or still drunk?
Students will often just tell you when they're hungover, to be honest. Either that or they don't turn up.
I used to have a group, the lecture at 1pm and then the seminar at 3pm, and this one lad, he was pretty intelligent, but he came in once and he was just rambling nonsense. I found out that between the lecture and the seminar they would go to the pub and see who could drink the most pints in an hour.
What you have to remember is students are away from home and it's hard. When I was first away from home I couldn't cook for myself or anything, all I could do was go out drinking. I didn't even start smoking until I came to university. I failed every single exam at the end of my first year. Seven exams. There was a Sociology exam, I didn't even pass that one.
Are PowerPoints really worth £9,000?
Didn't you say this in one of your articles?
I was one of the first people to use PowerPoint in my department when it came in, and they were really good. PowerPoints aren't some crazy new technology, people used to use slides, so it's not completely new.
What's the point of coming to the lecture though if all of the PowerPoints are online later?
There is that culture, yeah. Staff have started to get judged on their PowerPoints now, especially as a revision tool.
You have to remember that as a member of staff and you're giving a lecture, it's a really scary thing to do, you have to fill two hours sometimes – imagine those ten or fifteen minute presentations you do, you have to make that leap from talking to the points on the board to engaging people. Staff want to teach and they want to interact with students.
What are your opinions on staff who set their own books as compulsory texts?
[Prolonged laughter] That's a very good question. I used to teach a module and a couple of years into teaching it I actually published a book on that subject, but I never asked the students to buy it. I just suggested good texts to do with that subject, and mine was one of them. It's never bothered me that stuff. I don't particularly like it. I was amazed that another course at a different uni used my book, to be honest. It's never appealed to me, I would never say "read my book, we must study my book".
I used your book in one of my exams, I think I quoted you.
So, what's the lowest mark you've ever given?
I just give zero when somebody hasn't handed anything in. I've given five to ten percent before. Sometimes people just hand in a couple of lines, and you have to two kinds of feelings when you see that – you think "great", because I don't have to mark a whole thing, but you also feel bad because someone's done that.
Sometimes in exams, if the student's obviously pissed off, they'll just write "fuck off" as their answer. I'd quite like to award some marks for that.
What's the highest mark you've ever given?
That's a good question actually.
It's probably something like 87 or 88 percent.
You've never given 100 percent before?
Well, things have changed in marking over the years. I used to get a nosebleed if I gave over 70, but now institutions are encouraged to use the whole range. I've never known anyone to get 100 percent, but that's the problem with humanities, in maths you can get 100 percent, but it's unlikely in humanities.
How did you end up being a lecturer and what do you enjoy about the job?
There's lots of good things about being a lecturer, for me it's because I was never actually bothered about getting a job. If I didn't have this job I don't really know what I'd do, I'm not really bothered about having lots of money.
This was the closest thing to doing everything I wanted to do, like reading and writing, and the teaching too. When it's good it's brilliant, when it's bad it's pretty depressing. But I get lots of time, and the time is my own really. It's the perfect job for me really, I can read and write and just talk crap really.
If you weren't a lecturer, what would you be?
I always dreamed of playing cocktail jazz piano in some dive bar. Just playing at 2am to some sad winos. That's what I really wanted to be.
So you wanted to be Ryan Gosling in La La Land?
Yeah, a bit like that. All the colours. Emma Stone. I hate musicals though.
What's the worst thing about being a lecturer?
Corporate management. It means people get to wield power over others. It's up to the lecturer to make sure students don't see that really.
What's the difference between you and the lecturers that taught you?
I went to uni in the early eighties, so my lecturers had their background in the sixties. I went to a pretty prestigious uni and did electrical engineering, and I completely flunked out after the first year. It was a really posh uni and there were quite a lot of posh people there, so I felt a bit out of place. I was pretty useless, really.
I ended up doing a degree in Humanities at a polytechnic, and pretty much everyone I knew had also failed a degree somewhere else, so it was a pretty relaxed group of students. The staff knew the kind of students they were getting, so it was pretty open between the two. Now everything is more professional.
Would you rather fight one hundred duck sized horses or one horse sized duck?
What's the question? [Confusion] Oh, what I'd do is I'd persuade the horse sized duck to fight the duck sized horses.
Like Lex Luthor in Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice?
That's not really one of my points of reference.
Have you ever had a student that's made you think they're more qualified than you?
When you start out, you get asked to teach a lot of stuff. I remember I was talking about Burns Night, and as I was saying it I realised I had no idea when it was. A student just went "yeah, it's tonight". It was a horrible feeling. It doesn't really bother me though, I like having a conversation with students. You can't do it often because students will just think "this guy doesn't know anything". I just like learning.
I think that's all of my questions.
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