For the past two and a half years, I’ve been working as an Associate Dean in my Faculty. In essence, it’s meant I’ve been the point person for all matters teaching-y and the main conduit between locally-based colleagues and ‘the university’. So, lots of meetings, lots of reports, meetings about reports, reports about meetings, and general unblocking of issues.
I’ve really enjoyed doing it. I say that not to be a brown-noser, but because I’ve genuinely enjoyed it. From this position I’ve been able to see an entire university in operation, in all its facets, and understand better the context within which I’ve been operating. Sure, it’s not always been pretty, but it’s certainly been edifying: I now feel I have a much better appreciation of why things happen the way they do.
Of particular note to readers of this blog, one of the big gains of taking on a post like this has been the opportunity to see how other disciplines operate. My insight into the full range of social science and humanities teaching is now that much greater, especially I’ve had lots of chances to get involved in particular issues and see how my ideas work (and don’t work) in new contexts.
Of course, it’s also highlighted how the problems that political science educators face are the same ones as everyone faces: engagement, development, assessment, etc. The more we can share our problems and our solutions/work-arounds, the better for all of us.
As a good institutionalist, I’ve also learnt to appreciate the importance of structural and organisational issues. I won’t claim that I’ve been responsible for any significant policy development – except a faculty policy on photocopying – but I like to think that I have been pretty good at getting policy to reflect and accommodate the needs of my faculty and of teaching staff more generally, by making the most of my opportunity structure. Even if my agency hasn’t always been that big, the lessons I’ve taught my students in negotiation have proved very useful in navigating the structure of the organisation.
But now it comes to an end.
In January, I start up on a research fellowship, which I couldn’t fit in with my current role. Rather than trying to do two things poorly – and looking at my to-do list, maybe that should be ‘two more things’ – it’s been agreed that I get to devote myself to this Fellowship through 2016. So it’s back to my department and my colleagues who I’ve not seen so much of recently.
It’s a big change, and one that comes with its own anxieties, as I try something new. But then I remember that I felt this way two and a half years ago, when I worried about stepping up to a big management role. I remember that all those things that seemed so daunting at the time proved to be manageable with a bit of patience, common sense and help from colleagues. And in particular I remember my favourite Montaigne quote:
“Et les Rois et les philosophes fientent, et les dames aussi”*
So as I pack up my office (again) and get set for the festive break, I encourage you all to think about what new opportunities might be out there for you, and about what might be holding you back. Maybe it’s time to take the step.
- Alright then, my only Montaigne quote.