Learning and Teaching

Teaching Fellow or Lecturer?

When I meet people for the first time, I find that at some point during the conversation, I usually get asked the question: Are you a lecturer? Considering how often I get asked this same question, it seems logical that by now, I will have a ready answer for this question. Interestingly, this is not the case because every time I get asked “are you a lecturer”, I find myself in exactly the same situation – not being sure what to say! One reason why I struggle to answer this question is because time and time again, I find myself spending the first few seconds trying to decide whether to say yes (even though my official job title is not lecturer) or no (even though my role is similar to that of a lecturer). If I say yes, then I feel like it’s not entirely correct and if I say no, then I feel like I might spend the next few minutes trying to explain the difference between what I do and what a “lecturer” does. For those who are wondering what the differences are, well, here’s your answer.

Within the institution where I work, there are three academic tracks – Teaching Fellow, Lecturer and Research Fellow. Each has similar grading up to professorial level, meaning that even if you are a teaching fellow or a research fellow, you can become a professor without having to switch to a traditional lecturer track that is currently common in most institutions. As a teaching fellow, you are committed to doing more teaching than anything else. As a lecturer, you are committed to doing both teaching and research. As a research fellow, you are committed to doing more research than anything else. This means that while all three academics can be involved in both teaching and research, the teaching fellow is expected to take on more teaching and the research fellow is expected to take on more research; while the lecturer does a bit of both. Note that this is not reflective of all higher education institutions as there are institutions where “lecturers” are expected to focus on teaching like teaching fellows.

So, with these in mind, if you ask me: are you a lecturer, then my answer could be either: “yes, but with emphasis on teaching” or “no, I’m a teaching fellow” (and perhaps follow this up with a little explanation). I guess it all depends on who is asking and in what context the question is being. For now though, it looks like I will still need to take those first few seconds to decide how to answer, on a case by case basis; or maybe I could make my default answer “no, I’m a Teaching Fellow” and then use the subsequent explanation to create even more awareness about the role of a teaching fellow, especially among those outside academia?

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