Case study

Higher education lecturer — Dr Kerry Traynor

Kerry gained industry experience and made contacts through networking as she completed her PhD. She now works as a lecturer in professional and media writing - discover what she likes most about her work and where she hopes to take her career

How did you get your job as a lecturer?

I started work as a digital content project manager on a major EU-funded project at Liverpool John Moores University, managing digital research, production and training, and supporting the start-up and growth of digital businesses. I later began HE teaching on a sessional basis, but I knew that to move into that work on a permanent basis I'd need a PhD.

I applied for and won a studentship to help cover costs, and gave up my job to study full time for a PhD in media studies. My research explored how broadcast journalists decide which news stories and which voices make it into the news, which don't, and why. As I neared completion, I applied to lecture at The University of Liverpool and was very happy to be offered a temporary position. Once I'd finished my PhD, I was able to secure a permanent contract as a lecturer.

What's a typical working day like?

What you're doing day to day depends quite a lot on the time of year. During term-time, I'll arrive on campus around 9am and could be presenting a lecture on media writing or regulation to 150 students, running seminars to help smaller groups understand key concepts, or leading practical workshops where students are hands-on with camera equipment and editing software.

There's a lot of behind-the-scenes work, such as marking, visiting students on placement and giving pastoral support. I try to spend at least one day a week, more during the summer break, on my own research.

I'm also departmental lead for employability, so I spend a lot of time meeting with interesting people from media and cultural organisations around the city to see how we can work together. This might include asking guest speakers to come and talk to students about working in their field or developing live projects and placement opportunities.

I have a young family, and the job gives me some flexibility to spend time with the children, although I often work at home during evenings and weekends to keep on top of things.

What do you enjoy most about being a lecturer?

I love that universities are such cosmopolitan and international places. Every day I'm surrounded by people from all four corners of the globe, all eager to learn about the world and quite often change it for the better. I love that the people I work most closely with share my fascination with the media and the role it plays in modern society.

The most rewarding part of the job is seeing students enjoy their studies and, through their very determined efforts graduate, and move on to a career they love. I try to stay in touch with as many graduates as I can and invite them back to talk to the new students about their graduate roles.

What are the challenges?

As with many jobs, the biggest challenge is there are never enough hours in the day - especially when you're on a three-week turnaround for marking.

How has your role developed? What are your career ambitions?

My department offers a lot of freedom for lecturers to develop teaching that aligns with their research interests, so I've been able to develop modules in media writing and viral video. I also use my contacts to create 'live' projects, where students can gain real-world experience through their independent research and production projects.

My aim is to progress to a senior lecturer role in a few years' time.

What's your advice for others wanting to become lecturers?

  • Although industry experience is useful, knowledge of academic literature on your subject is crucial. A PhD is often required, which takes at least three years of intense academic study, so love for your subject and strong academic research and writing skills are essential.
  • Think about whether you're more interested in teaching or research, and whether your skills and experience would be more suited to theory-based or practice-based courses. Different universities focus on different areas and some offer different types of contract for different types of lecturers.
  • You might not need a teaching qualification to start working as a lecturer, but you'll probably need to complete one during your probationary period.
  • Try it out before you commit. Get in touch with a department you're interested in, or the institution's employer engagement team, and offer to visit and speak to students about your field.

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