March 2, 2012, by Matt

A day in the Life of a Geographer … Matt Jones

It’s been a fairly unusual week for me in which to write my first Day in the Life… contribution given that it’s the first week of the academic year in which I’ve had no timetabled teaching, which isn’t the norm for a term time week. However I have spent a lot of time dealing with teaching related things and it got me thinking about contact hours…

Contact hours are often raised by disgruntled students in a argument against the amount of fees they are now expected to pay (I’m going to leave my own views on who should be paying for a student’s education out of this particular post) and the current coalition government are talking about using contact hours as yet another metric to measure higher education performance so it’s probably an issue worth spending a bit of time thinking about.

I think, although the argument that “I only get x amount of hours lectures for my £9,000” is an uniformed and weak argument, held only by a vocal minority, it does seem to be a view that keeps appearing in interviews with students in the media without reply. These students clearly forget they have a roof over their head, which is (usually) heated in the winter, when we’re giving our lectures and a library to work in full of books that don’t fall off the book tree for free.

But it’s the time we spend supporting the teaching and learning of our students  when we’re not timetabled to be in front of them that has taken up quite a lot of time this week. On Wednesday I, along with many of my colleagues spent 6.5 hours looking over the exam papers for the coming summer exams. This was in addition to the 5 hours we spent doing it last week, so with an average of 10 people in the room – that’s 115 hours (or over 3 weeks) of man hours spent insuring the exams our students sit in the summer are fair and appropriate for students who want to leave here with a Geography degree from Nottingham. And that time doesn’t include all the work done before and after the meeting by various colleagues. It’s a long day, one colleague even found time to record the meeting for posterity (Fig. 1), but an important part of what we do to control and insure the quality of the degrees that we offer.

I’ve also had a significant number of one on one meetings with students about various things this week – more contact hours that aren’t!

Fig. 1 "Footwear is a robust proxy for identifying the sub-discipline of a Geographer. Discuss." or "Discuss the contention that footwear is a robust proxy for identifying the sub-discipline of a Geographer."

For the rest of the week I’ve been working on some research …  before we leave fees and contact hours all together, I’ll just also say that research is a key part of what we as academic staff do, and it’s vital to delivering the teaching we should be providing. To provide a higher education, teaching needs to be undertaken by active researchers who can keep their lectures up to date, by attending international meetings and conferences at the cutting edge of the subject, and engaging with the academic literature as authors, reviewers and readers. If the government and students want us to provide this level of education, we have to spend a significant part of our time doing these things – teaching and research are not separate activities.

So this week I’ve been processing some XRF data for some cores from Mexico ahead of a paper that will be led by Sarah Metcalfe and co-authored by myself and colleagues from Aberystwyth, Mexico and the British Geological Survey. I’ve also been trying to finish a paper that I will be submitting, slightly late now, next week, based on a talk I gave at a conference last summer (see a previous blog post of mine). It’s about how we reconstruct water availability in the past and some of the issues this raises for us as scientists, and as Geoarchaeologists in particular – if, as I may argue (you’ll have to read the paper if it gets accepted to find out) we should be calling ourselves Geoarchaeologists at all?

And this week, those were my days as a Geographer, or at least some of them, the organising of conferences and recording of podcasts and discussing of Community days etc. will have to wait until another post…

Have a good weekend.

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