A life in the day of a don
This week I am off to Brussels to be a Euro-academic – for the final selection round of some big Euro-research-grants. I’m on the awarding panel, not one of those seeking the research money. But no plutocrat me. As it’s the end of the month, I’m off on the Eurostar equipped with a range of plastic, none of which will be able to extract any cash from any hole-in-the-wall – which adds a sense of boy-scoutish adventure to the voyage. (It’ll have to be reef knots and a compass, rather than a taxi from the station!)
Part of the reason for this particular cash crisis is that the European Commission still hasn’t managed to pay me the expenses from my last trip to Brussels in June. This circumstance alone is enough to make me very suspicious of the whole new-Europe project. If they can’t get me my expenses within 4 months, then what hope is there for financial management on a bigger scale? (The husband points out that he is largely in favour of the treaty etc and is, in fact, subsidizing my trip, so it kind of cancels out.)
Anyway, I’ll be reporting back on this expedition soon. Meanwhile, to a question that several emails have raised. What on earth do you dons do? I had a moan a few weeks back about the general idea that our long vacation is in fact an extended holiday. But what is it we do during term-time?
When I tell people that my main formal obligation is that I am asked to give 40 lectures a year, it usually produces some such reply as “surely you meant week?”…and then howls of disbelief when I say “no, year”.
Actually, 40 lectures per year or not, term-time amounts to a more than 12 hour day, 7 days a week.
The best I can do is give you an hour by hour account of one typical day last week. This is not in the spirit of complaint – because actually I love the job. But there are a few misapprehensions about our leisurely life that need to be put right.
OK, so lets take last Wednesday.
Work started at 7.00 a.m, with three long student essays to read and comment on. True, on another day, I might have marked them the evening before. But I had spent most of Tuesday evening giving a practice job interview to a young colleague, and when I got home I read one of my graduate students’ work – and that took till 1.00 in the morning or so and I just couldn’t manage the essays.
I biked off to my Faculty at 9.00. The journey takes 20 minutes, as I’m a bit more sedate than some, but I managed to think about my up-coming lecture on the way. I ought to have done a bit more thinking when I arrived, but instead I had a meeting with one of my college colleagues about plans for student teaching – and I just about had time to photocopy an extra sheet for the handout, before the lecture at 10.00.
So at 10.00 I was talking to 120 first years about the Persian Wars and Orientalism. How many had read any Edward Said? None (but this was the group who had done much better on the map test than the previous year, so I half forgave them).
At 11.00, I had an hour with the PhD student whose work I’d read the evening before. Then at 12.00 one of my MPhil students came to talk about the seminar on Roman freedmen he is due to give in a couple of weeks time.
So I ended up being late for the weekly meeting of our nineteenth-century history project (12.30 – 2.00), partly because I went via the Buttery to get a sandwich to eat on the hoof. We were discussing two pre-Darwinian texts on female beauty --fascinating stuff, but I had to slip out before the finish in order to get back to college at 2.00 for a two hour supervision on Roman religion with a group of three second year undergraduates, whose essays I’d read first thing in the morning.
At 4.00 there was just time to look at the mail and some of the 50 or so emails that had come in since I last switched on, before I had to bike off to the station to get the 5.15 train to a College alumnae event in London. On the way, and on the way back, I got through one article submitted to a journal that I help edit and I read the papers for some job interviews and a Faculty Teaching Committee meeting that were both happening the following day.
Home on the 9.52 and getting back just before 11.30, I dealt with the backlog of emails and started to read the big chunk of work sent by another PhD student, but by 1.00 in the morning I was fading fast and went to bed – intending to be at work again by 7.00. (I nearly made it but not quite.)
And yes, I had -- I confess – by then consumed rather more than the 1 unit of alcohol now recommended for us middle-class, professional women.