Friday 17 April 2015

A Typology of Professors

A couple of years ago, Professor Andy Gillespie gave a great talk on our Unpacking Your Chair programme on the different ways of being a professor in a University.

I had occasion to go through my notes for the programme the other day, and reminded myself how good it had been. 

The purpose of the talk was to stimulate reflection and discussion between participants on the programme about their own role and their aspirations for it. As I remember, it did that extremely well: they recognised the types with some laughter (indeed I could see people mentally populating each category as Andy outlined it) and then had a very fruitful discussion with Andy and each other as a result.

So I think the typology is worthy of record, and I think Andy said he hadn't kept his notes, claiming (though whether this was modesty or not I can't judge) that they were on the back of an envelope...

1  The Free Floater

The Free Floater is a professor, often imported into the University, who has a very strong national, or more probably international, reputation. He (or occasionally she) has been attracted down from the stratosphere. There are some benefits to the University in this, notably with regards to the REF (Research Excellence Framework) and some reflected glory that may help the University to recruit. There are also some potential disadvantages: Free Floaters tend to spend little time in the University (though that may be a blessing in disguise), and also often move on leaving little imprint and having made no broader contribution.

2  The Research Star

The Research Star is a leading researcher, who self-identifies as a researcher through and through. But Research Stars differ from Free Floaters as they often bring broader benefits. They build teams or research centres, and contribute positively to the research culture of the University. They are also often actively involved in undergraduate or postgraduate teaching, thus supporting the claim of research-led teaching in the University.

3  The Embedded Scholar

The Embedded Scholar is also a leading researcher, but is not running a research group. Embedded Scholars are more likely to be lone scholars, but they do provide leadership within a group or sub-group. They also play a critical role in embedding research in teaching at both postgraduate and undergraduate levels, and often play a major role in recruiting students, as well. 

4  The Academic Manager

Academic Managers have jobs with titles like Dean, Provost, Head of School or PVC. At their best, they help the Institution to run in ways that allow it to accomplish its purpose in terms of research and teaching.

5  The Chair Sitter

The Chair Sitter has arrived. He or she sits back in the newly-acquired Chair as in a comfy sofa. Chair Sitters won't lead, but will see faults and cajole from the sidelines. Their focus is entirely on their research, so they don't contribute to either teaching or administration, but they fail to maintain their research momentum. They do their own thing, but find it harder and harder. Nonetheless they are too important for teaching, or other roles in support of the department.

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