I work in the school of business in a position that opened up after doing degrees in software coding, maths and finance before then doing a PhD in law. I did some sessional teaching and worked in a law firm while I studied and had an opportunity to compare jobs. Academic work suited me better and I have now been coordinating a large unit for three years. Having an analytical mind and multidisciplinary background helps me to advise students who are uncertain about their career direction.
My work in industry has shown me that managers cannot make multi-million dollar decisions based on gut feeling and number crunching any longer. They must understand background information; be able to read and analyse reports; evaluate their competition, and know the questions to ask to extract meaningful data. My unit teaches students all of this. I begin my classes by explaining why my subject is relevant in the business world and why I am so enthusiastic about it. I model my teaching approach on one of my maths lecturers who was passionate, knowledgeable and creative and I have already received a VC’s award for teaching excellence.
In the beginning I found the role quite overwhelming and I directed my many questions to the administration staff because they have a good understanding of the university environment. I was afraid to ask my academic colleagues because I thought I would not look competent. I realise now that I was silly. I also realise that students are forgiving if you are honest with them and let them know you have their best interests at heart. If you give a little of yourself to your students you build their loyalty and trust.
Sourcing staff for 30 – 40 tutorials is quite daunting, especially in first semester. In second semester there is more follow on. To recruit tutors I email my existing staff and ask them if they know of others who might fill in. I also get a list of honours students from the administration staff and email them. I suggest that tutoring is a good way of developing communication skills that can be demonstrated to future employers. At the start of semester I give my tutors comprehensive tutor materials that contain solutions to problems and sample exams, which helps build their confidence. I also emphasise that I like them to develop their own style; to learn how to read their students and to judge a situation for themselves. Sometimes I cover for ill tutors and find my workload increases substantially. However, I feel an obligation to put my students first.
I have learnt much by trial and error and am now clearer about how to handle things. I tell myself that being a Unit Coordinator is part of a journey. To new Unit Coordinators I would emphasise that support and help is available and to use it. I would also advise them to talk to other academics more and share, which has been really helpful for me.