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我为何不是讲师 Why I'm not a lecturer
Occasionally a student asks me why I haven't applied to become a lecturer, seeing as I've got my doctorate and I've chosen to help with small-group teaching work in the lab for over 20 years.
The short answer is that's not how you become a lecturer.
Cambridge is a "research-led" university, which means they recruit lecturers who excel in research. Teaching comes second. That means the students interact with some very good researchers, who might also be good at teaching, and the system of supplementary small group tuition (called "supervisions") is meant to make up for any problems.
In my case I had a promising start to a research career with a good PhD, but my postdoc 'went pear-shaped' a few months in when it turned out a corporate sponsor had misunderstood my proposal and cancelled the funding when they realised. They offered me an industry job in America instead, but I wanted to stay in the UK so I turned it down. I was shortlisted for junior research fellowships but didn't quite make it, and then I was invited to apply for a new lectureship at Manchester that specifically wanted what I'd worked on---but by this time I'd become involved in helping Cambridge's local Chinese immigrants so much that I was worried what would happen to them if I left Cambridge for Manchester. So my 6-month postdoc turned out to be the last research position I'd officially hold, although unofficially I've continued to help with various bits of research, and sometimes my name still ends up on papers---for example, when I wrote a bioinformatics algorithm to help a team at the pathology lab, I also sent it to a couple of contacts at other labs hoping it would help there too, and one said she's only allowed to use software that's been peer-reviewed in a biology journal, so we wrote it up for an OUP journal and they put me as first author---but that sort of thing is unlikely to get you a lectureship when you haven't had the official appointments to go with it. (It does however get me lots of unsolicited emails from predatory journals, plus some strange company that keeps wanting to buy the Illumina machine.)
But not to worry: I could still help with the teaching work in the "supervision" system (plus some voluntary teaching), and supplement this by working part-time for local industry on pro-rata pay. Insisting on part-time work so I still have energy left for teaching has restricted my options, and sometimes when one job finished it took me longer than usual to find the next (which is why I prefer to write CVs with years not months), but it has been possible, especially if I can join a company while it's still small enough to be able to change the rules if they want me. The only time it really didn't work was when I tried to put in just one or two days a week at a company---we found the overhead of catching up and context switching hurt my productivity too much---but three days a week has worked. The computer lab alumni newsletter has been a good way to find out about lab-related companies wanting lab alumni.
Jobs in industry have "finished" for various reasons. Sometimes the company ran out of money. Once it got taken over and the new owners didn't want to keep the developers for long (which was probably a bad decision: I tried to teach their other engineers what I could, but time was limited); another time I survived a takeover with my job intact and more stable, so it can work both ways. In one case I'd been offered shares in the company (which, it later turned out, would have earned me about a million when it was sold) but I turned these down because I felt anxious about the concept of "owning" part of a company---if I own a dog that bites people, I'm held responsible, so if I own (part of) a company and didn't know they messed up their taxes or something, do I go to prison? I'd dropped out of the lab's Business Studies module when all their talk of "capital" made me feel like some kind of Dickensian villain; I wasn't expecting to end up owning companies. I later discovered that, as long as it's a "limited" company, there's no legal provision for punishing shareholders for a crime---they might punish directors (after investigating which ones were involved), but non-director shareholders have no liability once their shares are paid for. Unless you've also taken on some other responsibility (like guaranteeing the company's loans), the worst that can happen is you lose the shares. I can still make moral decisions about holding shares (if I know a company is heavily involved in something bad, I won't hold shares in it, but I don't feel a need to be excessively thorough about checking every little thing they do, any more than I'd feel bad about working for the General Post Office just because some mail is bad), but legally you can hold paid-up non-director shares in any limited company without being arrested for their actions. But I didn't know this at the time (and couldn't put the conversation on `pause' to check what being a shareholder implies), so I said "no" and missed it. (I then accepted shares from the next company, but those ones disappeared when the company shut down.) I don't mind; I'm just mentioning this in case it's useful for the next person to know.
- if you want to be a lecturer, you'll need to optimise your first postdoc more than I did,
- if you must limit the place and/or time you'll work, there's fewer options but sometimes you can still work with startups etc,
- and if you do go into industry, make sure you know how shares work.
This page is not legal advice.
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