So you want my job

The Oxford Classics Faculty and Worcester College are currently advertising a Departmental Lectureship to replace my teaching and administration duties for a year – because I am taking leave to spend a year at the New York Public Library!! – and given that it is actually quite a good job, and I’d like a lot of people to apply, I thought it might be helpful to put together some notes on how it actually works. Because these jobs work in quite a similar way across the Humanities Division at Oxford, and even to some degree beyond it, this might also be useful to potential applicants for other temporary posts. All corrections, confusion, questions, additions very welcome indeed, via the comments, Twitter, or any other communicative process.

First of all, some background on just how odd this institution is.

How does teaching at Oxford work?

From the point of view of undergraduates, it’s all about the Colleges. Our students apply to and are admitted by a college, not the department or university, and that is their base for the three or four years they spend at Oxford: the college feeds them, houses them (most of the time), organises their teaching, and enters them for exams.

Their engagement with the Faculty (as we call what everyone else calls a department) is secondary: they might go to supplementary, non-compulsory lectures there, they might attend ‘intercollegiate’ classes held in the building for convenience, and if they are taking one of the smaller and more centralised degrees they may well have dealings with the administrators there from time to time, but for the most part they deal with their college, and their college tutors.

(For graduate students, it’s the other way round: they are admitted by the Faculty, which also organises their teaching, and they have a secondary attachment to a college – though often still a meaningful and useful one.)

Three other important points:

  1. Students are admitted to study a specific subject: Classics, for instance, or Classical Archaeology and Ancient History (or English, or Physics). There are no breadth requirements, and very little opportunity to change direction.
  2. The core teaching for most courses takes the form of ‘tutorials’, where a tutor meets weekly with between one and three students for an hour to discuss essays they have written (of c. 2000 words) on the basis of a reading list she has composed and provided. Students will have 8-12 of these compulsory tutorials for any course, as well as the opportunity to attend further lectures on the topic. And they will be doing one or two of these courses at once, so one or two essays and tutorials a week.
  3. Students only take two sets of exams, one at the end of their first year (or during their second if they are studying Classics), and the other at the end of the whole course, which is three years for most degrees, but four for Classics. And they all take the same exam for each course, although they will have been prepared for it by a number of different tutors, all using different reading lists, none of whom will necessarily be involved in setting and marking the exam. (Oddly, this works)

Skeleton details of the courses ([exam] ‘papers’) we offer can be found on the Classics Faculty Admissions pages, and fuller details (including set texts) are in the various degree Handbooks. What you can’t get at from outside Oxford is examples of past exam papers, which may be the most useful way of getting to grips with the kind of teaching involved: if you email me at my faculty address I can provide some samples, with apologies in advance if they come without a lot of chat!

So how does it work for the tutors? For the most part, this system means we have two jobs (literally, with different contracts, different salaries, different tax codes…but that’s another story).

One is with a college, for which we teach a set number of hours of tutorials a week (between 6 and 12), which are usually ‘weighted’ – ie an hour’s tutorial with one student counts as an hour, an hour with two counts as 1.25 hours, three students bring it up to 1.5 hours – etc. So a 6 hour ‘weighted stint’ (as in the advertised job) might be 6 ‘singletons’, 4 ‘triples’, or any number of combinations and versions. And those 4 or 6 tutorials could all be for the same course, or all for different ones, or (usually) somewhere inbetween. And it’s largely up to the tutor how they want to organise their own teaching, though the gratuitous avoidance of pairs is somewhat frowned upon. Finally, the stint is averaged over the three terms, as teaching demand often varies.

Of course, we don’t all teach all the courses for all the degrees offered in our area if our students happen to want to study them. There is a fair amount of swapping between colleges – I’ll take a student from another college for a term of Roman history in return for their Ancient History tutor taking my student for Alexander tutorials, or for some revision classes, or taking me for a drink – and then their college pays mine for my time, and it counts towards my own college stint. There are also a lot of brilliant graduate students and post-docs who offer some teaching, which is an amazing resource for college tutors and their students – apart from anything else their reading lists are usually way more up to date – where the decent thing is to offer them some mentoring or other support as well as your college’s cold hard cash at the meagre hourly payment rate.

Just as important as teaching itself however, and sometimes more time-consuming, is our role as what Cambridge calls a ‘Director of Studies’, organising and monitoring all the teaching, exam revision, and related administration needed in our area, as well as offering our students advice and pastoral support as needed. ‘Related administration’ isn’t to be sniffed at: this includes seeing the students (individually or in groups) at the beginning and end of every term; setting (and if relevant marking) mock exams at the beginning of each term on what they studied in the previous one, or are supposed to have studied over the vacation; and, by far the biggest one, Admissions, where college tutors process and evaluate the applications to their college in their subject, and then spend several days doing interviews with most of the applicants, which they also have to organise, and then deciding with the other tutors concerned who to actually take. This is a huge task, but it does at least all happen within a month or so, from early November to early December. There’s other stuff too of course – college committees, open days, etc – but that doesn’t take up too much time.

Which is lucky, because then there’s our other job, with the Faculty. Formally, our Faculty ‘stint’ is a certain number of lectures – in this case 36 – over the course of the year. In practice, a number of these are usually translated into class teaching, which is done in weekly co-taught sessions of, typically, 1.5 hours, with, typically, 6-10 students, sometimes for popular classes in several sections. 8 classes = 8 lectures; 2 x 8 (of the same) classes = 12 lectures; 3 x 8 classes = 16 lectures. Class teaching is huge fun, and there is less prep than for first-time lectures, but it also comes with a marking burden – most of the students will be writing an essay every week. And this job could involve, for instance, giving eight lectures in the first term, teaching two weekly classes and giving four lectures in the second term, and giving eight lectures in the final term.

There are also Faculty committees and other duties, but the biggest Faculty job beyond the teaching itself is examining: first setting between about two and five papers (usually during the first term), then marking 50-100 ‘scripts’ towards the end of the third term.

What is this job then?

There are three kinds of temporary lectureship in the Humanities at Oxford (at least to my knowledge); this Departmental Lectureship is the third.

  1. College Lectureships. These simply guarantee a certain number of hours teaching for a college, at hourly teaching rates, with a small additional retainer and sometimes also a responsibility allowance, if there is significant administration involved. These often involve very small stints, the local labour pool, and are rarely advertised.
  2. Stipendiary Lectureships. These replace the college side of a tutor’s role. They can be full or half-time, depending on the balance of the underlying post between College and Faculty work. Either way, they aren’t lucrative, but they can be quite good jobs for post-docs or (for the half-time version) advanced graduate students at Oxford or nearby institutions.
  3. Departmental Lectureships. These are much rarer, and much better paid; they also involve considerably more work, as they replace (within a single contract) both the college and (within reason) faculty side of a tutor’s role. They kick in when someone has leave well-funded by a grant, for instance, or (as in this case) is taking unpaid leave.


Do I have a chance?

The demands and breadth of the teaching required mean that we are looking for someone with a reasonable level of relevant experience, including experience in or close to the specific topics mentioned in the ad, related in this case to mid-late Republican Roman history. (Just how close might be close enough depends realistically on the applicant pool.) ‘Teaching’ at Oxford, whether in tutorials or lectures, doesn’t traditionally involve conveying information to the students – unless it is about recent scholarship in languages most of the students can’t read – as libraries are provided for that purpose. Instead it involves studying the evidence and problems associated with a topic with the students, sometimes modelling a variety of possible approaches, sometimes putting them right(er) about their own interpretations. The students are (often!) highly motivated, and they come from a great variety of backgrounds in Britain and elsewhere; for both these reasons teaching them can be demanding as well as rewarding. In addition, although this job does not require language teaching, for many of their courses the Classics students (who make up about 75% of the college students involved) are expected to be dealing with ancient texts in the original language, and so their teacher has to be in a position to help and guide them in that.

In terms of research, this is not a REF job, but we do want to support and encourage the most promising scholars not (yet) in permanent jobs. Applicants’ research record and potential will of course be assessed in relation to their career stage and profile, as well as any relevant life experience we are told about – but they will be assessed.

Will I get any research done?

It should be possible. The first term will be punishing and with Admissions, Christmas, New Year, and then Noughth Week there will be precious little time in the first vacation to do anything other than sleep. But by the end of the second term most of the teaching and lecture prep should be out of the way, and it is often possible with a little diary discipline to carve out 3-4 weeks of the 6 week Easter vacation in the library. And then the job is paid over the summer, although teaching finishes in mid-June, and even examining duties should be over by the end of the month, leaving nothing but the odd open day to interrupt three months of library fun. You won’t write up your dissertation on this job, but you might well get a couple of chapters under your belt, or prepare an reasonably substantial article for submission.

Could I afford to live in Oxford?

The university publishes its cost of living estimates here – note that these are based on the costs of a single person with no dependents, and adjust as required.

What about all those famous college perks?

Not masses of them attached to this job, I’m afraid, as it is based on a university contract, but the lovely Worcester College will give the Departmental Lecturer their own office/teaching room in college, a modest ‘entertainment allowance’ to spend on the students, and they will also be entitled to three lunches and three dinners a week. And the food is quite something…




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