A kind of leader role

A first year lecturer in Science with heavy teaching load and ARC research feels like she is sinking at times. Her 1st year unit is large as is the admin load, which removes focus from student learning. There is greater flexibility to improve her 3rd year unit. She seeks advice from supportive colleagues as needed, and enjoys influencing student learning and the challenges of combining research and teaching. More...

I left my previous ‘research only’ position two years ago to move interstate and join this university. This is my first year as a lecturer with teaching and research responsibilities. Each week I spend one day on research to complete my Australian Research Commission responsibilities and the rest of my working week is taken up with unit coordination and teaching. Currently I teach Chemistry modules in five different units and co-coordinate two of the units. One is a large first year unit with more than four hundred students and the other is a smaller third year unit.

In the large first year unit we have the freedom to incorporate new content and make small modifications if we wish. Because the unit was developed by someone else and this is my first year teaching we are not making many changes though. We meet regularly to list all the duties we have to complete then share them so that we each take responsibility for a few aspects rather than both trying to do everything. Generally we split tasks, like one of us being in charge of the tutorial classes, and the other working in the laboratory sessions with students. If we have two tests we take responsibility for one each and work together on the exam. I like to give the lecture more than once and talk with students afterwards to learn about their interests and hear how I can make my lectures interesting for them. In conversation I find out the student ‘major’s’ so I can give them examples relevant to their interests.

Sometimes I feel I am sinking with too many things to do, especially when my mail box is full with student enquiries, such as requests to change tutorials, seek extensions and report illness. We have no administrative help but we are hoping that will change next year when the school will have funds to employ more staff. I worry about getting mixed up, making mistakes, and not focusing enough on improving student learning. Because I have no teaching experience I found the tertiary teaching course very useful to help me understand how elements of teaching and the curriculum fit together. I like to talk with senior staff and experienced tutors about new assessments and ask for their tips about working efficiently. For example I received tips about recording student marks, supervising PhD students and delivering lectures to large classes.

In the smaller third year unit I like the freedom to make changes to the course content and student assessments. I guess this is a ‘kind of leader role’ but our Program Chair keeps us in touch with what is happening out in industry. I enjoy introducing the latest information into my Chemistry modules after attending conferences and making sure I share my own research and readings with my students. Influencing students’ learning is pleasing and I enjoy the challenge of combining teaching and research. As unit coordinator I like communicating with students but find the administration tasks taking up too much time. There is some workload allocation for coordination but I think this will be better recognised if new administrative staff is appointed to help us.

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