Professor Gavin Schaffer began this year’s ‘Leading Academics’ program with a frank speech about his experiences within academia, with a focus on career development and progression. He began by discussing his role as a lecturer. He demonstrated the importance of work experience to the teaching profession, and credited his early work at a youth club for his current prowess as a lecturer. Professor Schaffer highlighted the importance of understanding the ‘distance’ between a teacher and their students; he suggested that the level of distance was in the hands of the teacher, but the students deserved and expected consistency of behaviour from them.
Secondly, Professor Schaffer discussed his career as a researcher, and described this aspect of his work as his primary motivation. He explained the need to stagger publications to suit the REF deadlines in order to ensure your own employability for the upcoming cycle, and demonstrated that the publication dates of both his books had been calculated to accommodate REF cycles. He recommended that academic success could often rely as much on networking skills as it did on research excellence and that, as a result, being aware of how you present yourself in professional situations could be vital to career progression.
Finally, Professor Schaffer discussed the importance of understanding your own motivations and goals. He stated that academic careers usually followed one of two paths: either research excellence, which was hinged on a high publication rate and grant success, or administrative leadership. Professor Schaffer highlighted that teaching and research were not always compatible with leadership roles, and therefore it was advisable to ensure that roles were only undertaken for a short number of years. The more time spent away from research, the harder it is to return.
Professor Schaffer’s talk was an honest account of the ups and downs of an academic career, and demonstrated the need for a thick skin, dedication to your craft and commitment to an adequate work-life balance. His illustrative stories of his career development were inspiring, and enabled the delegates to begin visualising their own career progression.