The Evolution and Laboratory of the Technician.

First in a series of posts on life after an undergraduate degree, Alison Boyce gives an account of the life of a scientific technician.


Science, engineering, and computing departments in universities employ technicians. Anyone working or studying in these areas will have dealt with a technician at some point but most will be unaware of a technician’s route into the position and their full role in education and research.

Technical posts are varied e.g. laboratory, workshop, computer. Funding for technical support is afforded by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) to provide assistance in undergraduate teaching. This is the primary role of technical officers (TOs) after which the Head of Discipline or Chief Technical Officer (CTO) decide further duties.



Until the early 1990s individuals joined the university as trainee technicians. Many came through the ranks starting as laboratory attendants, a position which still exists. Trainee technicians would spend one day a week over four years working towards a City and Guilds’ qualification. At this time the occupation was mostly hands on with little theoretical work. Many started young by today’s standards (starting at 14 years old was not uncommon), and they continued to study well past diploma level. Changing the nature of the role so much that nowadays almost all technical officers have primary degrees and come with a more academic view of the position.

In 2008, it was agreed that incoming technical officers must hold at least a primary degree in order to work at Trinity College Dublin. Those looking for promotion to Senior TO would require a Master’s and to CTO, a PhD. Those already in the system would not be penalised, local knowledge and experience are recognised equivalents and rightly so. This agreement gave rise to the job title changing from technician to technical officer reflecting the removal of the apprenticeship system. Many still use the old name but it doesn’t cause offence. These qualifications represent minimum requirements. TOs constantly train, learning new technologies and procedures. It is difficult to resist the temptation of further study when you work in an educational environment.


From graduate to TO

Gaining experience in medical, industrial, or other educational laboratories is most important.  Further study in areas general to laboratory work are also advantageous e.g. first aid, web design, or statistics. Sometimes researchers move into a technical role temporarily and find they enjoy it so stay on. Applying to a discipline with some relationship to your qualifications makes sense; a physicist may not enjoy working in a biological lab. Having come though the university system many graduates would be familiar with teaching laboratories and their departments. Seeing a place for yourself in the future of a discipline is vital for career progression as it is seldom you will see a TO moving from one department to another. It should be possible to adapt the role to your skills or study to meet those required for promotion.


BioLab Teaching Facilities


Day to day

All labs/disciplines differ but certain core responsibilities fall to the technical staff at some point. Running practicals is the biggest responsibility during term time with design and development out of term. Some departments in science and engineering have lab and field based classes. Various modules require field sampling in preparation for the practical. Getting out on the road can be very satisfying even if you are at the mercy of nature!


If you consider what it takes to run a home you’ll have an idea of what a TO does to maintain a lab/department. Ordering supplies and equipment. When something breaks, repair it or have it mended in a cost effective way. Logging, maintaining and installing equipment, health and safety information and implementation, chemical stock control, running outreach programmes, planning and managing building refurbishment, organising social events, updating the discipline’s web pages, assisting undergraduate student projects and much more.


These are just the basic duties and do not describe the essence of technical work at university level. Firstly it is to guide, instruct, and assist in scientific matters. An analytical and practical mind is necessary. You must have a willingness to facilitate the design and execution of projects in teaching and research. If you are eager to help and learn, it’s the perfect job for you. The information base for many materials and methods is the technical staff. Local knowledge and an ability work in consultation with other departments is often key to completing a project. Ideally, when a researcher leaves the university, their skills should pass to a TO keeping those abilities in-house. Imparting them to the next generation.


If you’re very lucky, you’ll be in a discipline that encourages you to take part in research and further study. It’s wise to check where a discipline or school stands before considering work in that area. Career opportunities open up in such disciplines. CTO Specialist is a promotion given to someone with expertise of a specialist nature e.g. IT, histology. Experimental Officer is a post created to further research in a discipline and often requires some teaching.


Overall, the position is what you make of it. If you strive to improve and adapt, you’ll find it immensely rewarding. Many practical classes repeat annually but on a daily basis you could be doing anything, anywhere. Being a technical officer is stimulating and constantly changing, keeping your brain and body active. You won’t be sitting for too long when you’re surrounded by young adults in need of advice and equipment. The relationship is symbiotic, your knowledge and their enthusiasm eventually gets any problem sorted.


Author: Alison Boyce, a.boyce[at]tcd[dot]ie

Alison Boyce has worked as a technical officer at Trinity College Dublin for over 20 years. In that time, she has acted as a master-puppeteer in seeing countless undergraduate projects through to completion. Her in-depth knowledge of technical, theoretical, and practical aspects of natural sciences has made her one of the most influential figures in the history of this department.

The editorial team thanks her for taking the time to write this piece. 


What do professors do?

(c) Cuneo Estate; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Whenever I go home I repeatedly deal with the age old question non-academics ask academics: what do you actually do? I always find this a tricky question no matter who asks. Some people have tried to make it easier by asking me to describe a typical day or week, but this doesn’t really help as it changes a lot from week to week! In 2014 I attended five conferences and two workshops, did two weeks of fieldwork in (cold and wet!) Madagascar, and gave four seminars at different universities. I also worked on at least ten completely different research projects with different groups of people. Most weeks I’d work on one of those at least a little. But other than the research, I don’t really have an “average” week. Most weeks I’ll attend NERD club, and a meeting (or five) and I usually interact with my PhD students to some degree. But the exact details depend on the time of year (exam season/term term/outside term time), and where I am with projects, grant deadlines etc. So instead of specifically telling you what *I* do, I’ve compiled a list of the kinds of activities professors/lecturers are involved in.

Professor/lecturer jobs are often split into three areas: research, teaching and admin. However, I prefer to think of it in the same terms as on our promotion forms: research, teaching, service to your institution and service to the community. Admin sadly forms part of all of these things, like a layer of really horrible jam sticking together the cake of academia. All of these things also seem to involve a lot of emailing. If you defined my job by what I spend most time on, I’m probably a professional emailer…

Research includes fieldwork, lab work, analyses, coding/programming, planning future projects, managing finances, supervising PhD students and postdocs, writing press releases, reading papers/books, writing papers/books, writing blog posts about research, grant writing (this is the worst!), attending conferences, networking, writing reports, attending journal clubs etc.

Teaching includes giving lectures and tutorials, supervising labs, preparing lectures and labs, getting materials for labs, setting and grading essays, supervising projects and desk studies, giving careers advice, writing reference letters, putting teaching materials online, arranging timetables and room bookings (and dealing with the inevitable mix-ups that occur), providing extra reading, marking exams, invigilating, checking attendance, advising students who are experiencing difficulties, being a personal tutor etc.

Service to your institution includes sitting on committees, acting as Director or Dean of some administrative entity, promoting the institution via social media and/or traditional media, helping at Open Days, organising seminar series, providing graduate student training, internal examining theses, interacting with alumni, organising journal club, being a representative at meetings (e.g. Athena SWAN, departmental, Faculty etc… ad infinitum).

Service to the broader scientific community includes teaching on workshops, creating online tutorials, reviewing papers, being a journal editor, sitting on society committees, organising conferences/symposia/workshops, giving seminars at other institutions, organising outreach events, writing advice based blog posts, grant reviewing, organising cross-institution journal clubs etc.

There are probably many more, but this is what we came up with in half an hour!

As you can see it’s a pretty diverse job! Strangely we are mostly trained as PhD students and postdocs to do research, some service to the broader community and a little bit of teaching. This is worth bearing in mind when deciding whether a career as a professor/lecturer is right for you, as research is definitely only part of the job (at some times of year it’s very difficult to do any research at all!). However, many of the additional duties are really interesting and fun, and things like teaching and supervising students are really rewarding.

These are quite general things we do as professors/lecturers. But hopefully this is helpful if you’ve ever wondered why we’re always moaning about being busy! One final point – in general, professors/lecturers *do not* get the summer off work. My ex’s mother was convinced that I had the best job in the world because I only had to work from late Sept to June. If only that were true!


Natalie Cooper

Photo credit

Cuneo estate / Bridgeman Images
The Royal Institution

Demonstrating: getting the most out of undergraduate teaching

demonstratingOne of the benefits of doing research in an academic institution is the opportunity to interact with undergraduate students. Students benefit from being taught by leading researchers while staff have the opportunity to inspire the next generation of scientists. Practical lab classes are usually a focal point of this direct interaction between student and researcher. However, due to the logistics and practicalities of managing large class sizes, PhD students are playing an increasingly important role as teaching assistants or lab demonstrators. In one of our recent NERD club sessions, Jane Stout led an interesting discussion about the importance of practical classes, the role of postgraduate students and best practice for what makes a good demonstrator. Here’s a compilation of our thoughts.

Why do we teach undergraduate practical classes?

Lab practicals can be expensive, time consuming and difficult to manage so why bother including them in the undergraduate curriculum? We think that the main reasons are to engage students in the subject and to teach them how to become scientists. Every student has a different learning style and practical classes can help to address this issue. For many people, sitting in a large lecture theatre can be a rather passive and ineffective learning experience. Practical classes offer an opportunity for active learning and hands on experience. Students can deepen their understanding of a topic and go beyond lecture content to form their own questions. They also learn the skills and techniques necessary for future employment, whether that is in a research environment or not. From the lecturer’s point of view, practical classes are useful opportunities to interact with students and to assess their level of understanding.

Why demonstrate? What are the benefits for a postgraduate student?

Large practical classes would not be possible without a team of demonstrators, so lecturers rely on their help. But there are also many benefits for postgraduate students. Demonstrating is excellent teaching experience and a good way to improve your own understanding of a subject. Demonstrators learn how to explain concepts to non-specialists and how to handle large groups of people; essential skills for any career. Challenging and unexpected questions from students also teach you to think on your feet (I’m a zoologist but at various stages I have feigned expertise in biochemistry, plant sciences and microbiology). It’s all too easy for postgraduates to get stuck in a very narrow focus of their particular research area but demonstrating is a great way to broaden and develop your skills. Furthermore, if you’re stuck on a particular research problem, demonstrating can be a fun and rewarding moral boost: you may be stuck in your project but at least you know enough to help somebody else! Overall, demonstrating is fun, rewarding and a good skills/CV boost. The pay isn’t bad either…

Why do we need postgraduate demonstrators? What are the benefits for undergraduate students?

Demonstrators bridge the gap between undergraduates and lecturers. Postgrads are less intimidating than lecturers and direct interactions with demonstrators can help students to feel more involved in a class. Interacting with demonstrators also gives undergrads an insight into what it’s like to work in research and academia. Chatting to your demonstrator helps to put a human face on science and to break down the mystiques of academia. We all agreed that it’s important to remind undergraduates that demonstrators (and lecturers) are not just teachers: they are the ones doing the research that ends up in the text books.

What makes a good demonstrator?
We’ve all had good (and not so good) demonstrators so what are the characteristics that one should try to develop? The two most important things are preparation and enthusiasm. Demonstrating is a professional commitment so it should be treated as such.  Make sure to read the manual beforehand, understand what you are teaching and be prepared for students’ questions. The best way to keep a class engaged and interested is to show some of those qualities yourself.  Be approachable, friendly and willing to help. It’s important to be confident in your explanations and behaviour but also don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” swiftly followed by “but I can find out” or “this is how you can find out”. Try to explain concepts without too much jargon but don’t patronise by over-simplifying.

Combining all of the advice and pointers from above, here’s our best practice guide on how to be a good demonstrator.

  1. Be cheerful and positive, not grumpy and negative: there’s always something that can be taken from any practical session no matter how boring it may appear.
  2. Encourage students to work as a group and to help each other.
  3. Ask questions and be proactive: don’t just wait for students to come to you with their problems, engage them in discussions instead.
  4. Try to pre-empt common problems and mistakes but don’t just give students the answer: explain things in a clear and logical way and talk students through the steps they need to get to an answer.
  5. Be fair: give an equal amount of attention and help to all students on your bench, not just the ones who ask the most questions.
  6. Be patient and empathetic. You may get frustrated explaining the same concept for the umpteenth time but try to remember what it was like when you were a novice yourself. Pass on any tips or skills that helped you to learn a particularly tricky concept.
  7. Interact with other demonstrators and provide constructive feedback to lecturers.
  8. Be inspirational! Remember that you are an ambassador for your subject and undergrads will look to you to see what life is like as a researcher. You should be an enthusiastic and positive representative for your subject and inspire the researchers of tomorrow!

Author: Sive Finlay, @SiveFinlay

Photo credit:

Dying without wings: Part II


Last week our newest EcoEvo@TCD paper came out in PRSB  (it will be Open Access soon but currently it’s behind a pay wall – feel free to email me for a copy in the meantime. Code for the multiple PGLS models can be found here). This paper is exciting for me for two reasons – firstly because the science is really cool and secondly because of how it came about. In a previous post I explained the results of the paper. Today I want to focus on how it came about.

The very first seminar I think I attended when I started my job at TCD in 2012 was by Prof Emma Teeling from UCD. Emma works on bats (her research is really cool – check it out) and gave a fascinating talk about echolocation and other aspects of bat evolution. Near the end of the talk she mentioned the “exceptional lifespan” of bats, which was something I’d never heard about before. Bats live, on average, 3.5 times longer than mammals of a similar body size! Wow I thought, I wonder why…

After the talk everyone descended on our tearoom for post seminar beers and discussion. This is generally a lively event, especially when the talk is really good. It turned out that I wasn’t the only one interested in the exceptional lifespan of bats. Many of the students (notably Kevin Healy and Luke McNally) and staff (particularly Andrew Jackson) picked up on this point, and we discussed it at length with Emma and amongst ourselves.

The following week (our seminars are Friday afternoons), the discussion was still raging. Was the exceptional lifespan of bats just due to flight? Was there a way we could disentangle the effects of flight from those of phylogeny (bats are the only mammals that fly). Did statistical methods that declared “bats are special” a priori run the risk of always confirming their bias when they fitted “bat” as an extra factor in their models? [Several simulation studies later we were able to say “Yes” to this question!]. We read a few papers and talked about other things that could reduce extrinsic mortality other than flight. It was a fun couple of weeks!

Now this is the point that most ideas born in the tearoom tend to die. We come up with a set of questions, data that could be collected, papers that should be read, and then no-one comes forward to finish up. And admittedly, although we returned to the topic every now and again, we never went any further with it. Several months passed, the summer came and went, and the idea looked like it would go to the idea graveyard. However, this was also around the time we decided to start NERD club – our weekly Ecology and Evolution research groups meeting. In an attempt to find some topics that could appeal to both zoologists and botanists we brought back the lifespan question, and had an amazing cross-disciplinary discussion about it. This renewed our enthusiasm. Also it provided the perfect test of the NERD club format – could 10 authors (the number of people who expressed an interest in being involved in the project) work together to produce a coherent research paper, or would too many cooks spoil the broth?

We began by having meetings discussing ideas and coming up with clear predictions. I think this was the most important step because with so many coauthors we could easily have ended up with a huge set of variables, and a horribly unwieldy analysis and paper. We split up literature searching across all the students, and then the students summarized what they’d found. We then split the data collection across myself and several students (though a large chunk of extra data was collection by Kevin Healy in the later stages of the project), and had a group of students in charge of the figures and a group in charge of analyses. I took the lead on writing a draft (though again Kevin Healy did a large chunk of this in the later stages).

Quickly we realised that this wasn’t just going to be a paper for all of us, it was also an amazing opportunity to learn from each other about how we do things, and a great teaching opportunity. I personally come from a phylogenetic comparative methods background, and although I collaborate a lot with people from across the world, working on very different questions and very different study groups, they all come from a background where comparative thinking is standard. At TCD this wasn’t the case, so I found myself selling the idea of comparative analyses, phylogenies, and literature-based data collection to the group. In turn Andrew Jackson taught us about how he approaches statistical analyses, and Ian Donohue was invaluable in writing a snappy, jargon free abstract. All of this made the process much slower than it would have been with a smaller group, but with every mistake made collecting data, every misstep in analysis and every argument about the values of broad general answers versus accurate taxon-specific answers, we learnt as a group and improved as scientists and educators.

Eventually it became clear that Kevin Healy was doing the bulk of the work so he became project leader and first author, and pushed the project into its final phases. Thomas Guillerme also took a large role in writing R code and running analyses, including showing us all how to run analyses on the TCD computer clusters. Everyone helped with drafting the manuscript and we presented the work at ESEB 2013, and Evolution 2013. It was truly a group effort from start to finish and I couldn’t be more delighted with getting it published at PRSB. This is the first publication for many of the authors, and hopefully the first NERD club inspired publication of many.

Some of our students with our longevity poster at ESEB2013
Some of our students with our longevity poster at ESEB2013

So all in all it’s been two and a quarter years from the first conception of the idea to the paper finally coming out. But I think even this delay has been an amazing teaching experience – I think as PhD students you see your peers popping out papers left, right and centre, with little understanding of the effort (and the incredible amount of faffing with formatting etc!) that goes into each one. Of course we all have our “quick and dirty” (ok maybe not that dirty!) little publications, but honestly most of mine take at least 2 years. I would definitely recommend trying this in your department! It was time consuming but totally worth it. The only thing I’d change in future is that I’d have the whole project on GitHub to make collaborative coding and editing easier (we only just learned git and I’m super excited about using it next time!), and I think this would enrich the learning experience even further.

I hope this has inspired more people to try a collaborative research/teaching project. Now we just need another amazing idea so we can start our next NERD club paper…

Author: Natalie Cooper, ncooper [at], @nhcooper123





Andrew Jackson and I started a new module this year called “Research Comprehension”. The aim of the module is simple: to help students to develop the ability to understand and interpret research from a broad range of scientific areas, and then to develop opinions about this research and how it fits into the “big picture”. In our opinion, this is perhaps the most important thing an undergraduate can get out of their degree, because no matter what you do when you graduate, in most jobs you will be expected to read, understand and interpret data. Often this will be in a subject you are unfamiliar with, or use unfamiliar methods or study organisms. So being able to understand this information is key!

The module revolves around the Evolutionary Biology and Ecology seminar series in the School of Natural Sciences, so the topics are broad and cover whole organism biology, molecular biology, genetics, plants, and animals etc. Students attend the seminar on a Friday and read some papers sent on by the speaker. There is then a tutorial on a Monday with a member of staff who has interests in the area of the seminar. This gives everyone a chance to clear up any confusion and to discuss what they liked (and disliked) about the seminar. The continuous assessment for the module is in the form of the blog posts we will post here. Thus the module also aims to improve the students’ abilities to communicate all kinds of scientific research to a general audience, a skill that is currently in great demand.

From next Wednesday onwards we will select a few blog posts to put onto EcoEvo@TCD. These may not necessarily be the posts that get the best grades, but they’ve been chosen to reflect the diversity of angles the students have taken to communicate the parts of the seminar they found most interested. Overall we’ve been extremely impressed with the quality of their blog posts, so we hope you enjoy reading them!

Author: Natalie Cooper, ncooper[at], @nhcooper123

Image Source: Jorge Cham,

Dear students (part 2)

Dear students

Part 2 of our lecturers’ letter of advice to their students …

Dear students,

We really enjoy teaching you but there are some things we wish you knew…

6. We don’t want you to fail your exams

Every year people come out of the exams complaining (or sometimes weeping!) about how they’ve definitely failed and the lecturer was clearly being mean on purpose so everyone would fail. This upsets us because it shows that you don’t trust us to be decent human beings and/or professional educators. Generally speaking, everyone does fine on the exams we set. If, for some reason (and its rare) everyone does obviously badly on an exam then it may be the case that something was misunderstood or an inappropriate question was set. When this happens we usually re-mark the exam or change the marking scheme appropriately to make it fair, and so that the number of people who pass is in line with the other exams.

7. Getting 59% overall for the year doesn’t mean you were 1 mark away from a 2.i

Your final year mark is made up of all the coursework you’ve done, plus your exams, and comes out of a total of about 1000 marks. So 1% is not equal to 1 mark. For example, if 50% of your course was continuous assessment and you got 60%, you still need 60% in your exams to get 60% overall. Often a single percent overall means finding 10% more from an exam, the equivalent of changing your grade for an essay from a 2.i to a 1st. Sometimes it is possible to find an extra mark or two but 10% suggests that the person marking the exam made a serious error, which is very unlikely. At Trinity College Dublin everything in the final year is marked, then checked by at least two other people, one of which is an external examiner who keeps standards level with those across Europe. The project is independently marked by at least two people, as well as being checked by the examiner.

8. Collective success might be more akin to collective mediocrity

Studying as part of a group can be a fun way to revise for exams, and provide a challenging environment where you can bounce ideas off each other and learn. However, there is a potential downside. Exam study groups can often produce generic essays that have been carefully prepared by the collective. In the worst case scenario, this can drag everyone towards the mean. Furthermore, unoriginal and repetitive answers can bore the pants out of the person marking them.

9. Question spotting is a terrible idea

People have somehow got the idea that they can get away with only studying one or two topics before an exam because the same topics come up year after year. Whilst this is true, precisely the same questions do NOT appear each year, and at some point we may stop using any given topic. This question-spotting leads to people learning the “answer” to a previous year’s question and trying to apply it to the paper in front of them. Not answering the question before you in the exam, but instead regurgitating and shoe-horning in a prepared answer will not gain you marks. By all means be strategic in your revision but make sure you cover the whole course, but even more importantly,  make sure you answer the questions you are given. Never rely on topics remaining the same from year to year – course content changes, as do lecturers, so you may find yourself in a situation where none of your topics come up if you only revise some of them. If that happens it’s no-one’s fault but your own!

10. Education is a privilege. Enjoy it!

Believe it or not, we hate exams as much as you do! However, we need to assess students somehow; we can’t just give everyone a degree. If we did, what would be the point in studying? Because of this, exams remain part of being a student. Notice that we say “a part” of being a student. As a student you should be here to learn as much as you possibly can from some of the leading academics in your subject. You should not be trying to learn as little as possible so you can pass an exam. Yet the question we get asked the most is “what do I need to know for the exam?”. This is infuriating because it implies that only knowledge needed to pass the exam is valuable, when learning for the sake of learning is one of the most wonderful experiences in life. In addition, many of the things you’ll learn as a student, like presentation skills, teamwork, communication skills, time management etc. are not worth any marks in exams. But these are the skills employers are looking for. Don’t waste the opportunity to improve your career prospects and general knowledge of science just because it doesn’t count towards your final grade. Education is about so much more than that.

Yours sincerely,

Natalie Cooper & Andrew Jackson (Assistant Professors at TCD)

@nhcooper123 @yodacomplex

ncooper[at], a.jackson[at]

Image source:

Dear students (part 1)

Dear students

In the first of a two part post, Zoology lecturers address their students…

This week marks the beginning of another academic year at Trinity College Dublin. We’re sure staff and students alike are greeting this news with a mingled sense of excitement, anticipation and dread (!).

Near the end of last term, some of us were discussing things we wish undergraduate students understood about lecturers and the academic process, so we thought it might be fun to post this here. If any students would like to reply to this please do, we welcome your input! But please keep it polite and respectful. Most of this is aimed at the Sophister years (3rd and 4th year students) but most is applicable whatever stage you’re at and wherever you are studying your degree.

Dear students,

We really enjoy teaching you but there are some things we wish you knew…

1.We have feelings too!

To steal from Shakespeare:  “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh?” We’re not suggesting that you attack us with pointy objects or start tickling us, but the point is that lecturers are human beings, not robots [Though I’d love it if I had a robot to do my lectures sometimes, it’d be awesome if it would also clean my house and the Zoology microwave!]. It sometimes feels like undergraduates forget this as soon as we stand up and begin lecturing. For example, we’d appreciate it if students didn’t sit there and talk through lectures. If people are talking it makes it hard for everyone else to hear, and it’s extremely distracting (yes we can see you wherever you sit even in the huge lecture halls). It’s also really rude. Imagine how you would feel if someone did the same thing to you. We understand that some people might not be interested in the topic or have something urgent to discuss with a friend, but if that’s the case please don’t do it in the lecture.

We also work really hard to make our lectures interesting and informative. There is nothing more soul crushing than a student saying how rubbish your lectures are after you’ve spent days writing them, adding interesting anecdotes and trying to deliver them with enthusiasm. Of course we know not everyone is interested in the same things, but try to make negative feedback constructive so we can improve things for next year and don’t just get depressed about it!

2. Learning is a two-way process

Learning is a two-way process, so you have to be involved, especially if you want to shape the content of the lecture course. Generally, we are amenable to pausing and running through material again, in different ways if you don’t understand something. We can only do this if you are there, and if you ask a question. Complaining in feedback that the lecture notes or slides weren’t detailed enough implies you probably weren’t there in the first place to fill them in. Of course it’s hard to ask questions in large lectures, but feel free to ask us at the end of a lecture, during a practical or by email. Some of us are even amenable to being asked questions via Twitter! During the lectures/tutorials/practicals you have our almost undivided attention: this is the time to ask all your questions, not the week before exams when you are panicking and we are busy doing our other jobs (see 3 below).

3.Teaching is only part of our job

Our jobs as academics are a lot more than teaching. We also supervise Masters and PhD students, apply for research funding, perform research, write papers, review other people’s papers before they are published, go to scientific conferences and present our work, teach other scientists at workshops and run large parts of the University through administrative roles we undertake. And teaching isn’t just writing lectures and delivering them, we also have to write exams, mark exams and coursework, organize timetables and practical materials, instruct the demonstrators, and put things onto Blackboard etc. This (and see also point 4 below) is why we can’t always meet you when you’d like us to, or reschedule lectures/practicals to suit you, or necessarily offer ad hoc tutorials just before the exams. We’re generally juggling a million different tasks so although the change may seem minor to you, it could throw out our quite rigid schedules.

4.We have lives outside the university.

Not only are we very busy when we are at work, but we all have lives outside the university. We have kids who need to be picked up from school, put to bed, and looked after when they’re sick, we have partners who would like to spend time with us, we have friends, families, pets, hobbies and TV shows we like to watch in our pajamas. So please don’t get cross when we can’t give you feedback on your essay as quickly as you’d like (and don’t look quite so horrified on the occasional evenings that you bump into us in the pub!).  Please note this means that if you hand something in on a Friday night, it is unlikely to have been marked by the Monday morning, as we also (occasionally) don’t work all weekend. Like everybody else, we officially work only in the working week.

5. We do not get the whole summer off from work

This follows on from point 2. Because a lot of our work actually has nothing to do with undergraduate student teaching, lecturers do not get the whole summer off work. This summer I have taken two weeks off and have worked a normal 8 hours a day schedule, rather than staying until late most nights like I do in term-time. I have also presented my work at two conferences, attended another two conferences with our PhD students, written two scientific papers, worked on two other papers, supervised a Masters thesis project, prepared work for my new intern, supervised my PhD students, and run three different workshops in Ireland and the UK. I have also been preparing my teaching for the term!


Natalie Cooper and Andrew Jackson (Assistant Professors at TCD) ncooper[at], a.jackson[at]

@nhcooper123 @yodacomplex

Image source: