An air of mystery surrounds the university lecturer. They seem to hold a certain power in any sermon they give – standing behind a raised lectern, spouting knowledge to hundreds of students who dutifully jot down their work, filling the hall with the perpetual rainfall of their typing. It doesn’t matter if they wear the same dusty jumper every day, or if their lecture slides constitute sheets of A4 paper on a projector no longer in production, the lecturer seems to hold a sense of both power and intellectual distance from the rows of mere students before them.
Tutors weren’t quite so hard to relate to. After all, you were both being judged and neither of you had quite sorted your lives out just yet. But lecturers? Their years, even decades, of pursuing rigorous academic inquiry couldn’t have contrasted more to the feeling of total naiveté and inexperience a fresher has. The gulf between us seemed wide indeed.
That’s why, when I actually got the chance to speak to a lecturer in a small role with the University, a part of me was strangely nervous. This particular lecturer had organised an entire module that I had spent months working on, sacrificing evening upon evening as a votive offering in the hope of a reasonable grade. How could someone with this authority, experience and influence on the academic lives of their students possibly relate to someone like me?
Within an hour of the meeting however, the air of mystery and power surrounding lecturers, which had been carefully constructed in my mind for over a year, came crumbling down. There was no lectern. No presentation. No passive-aggressive stares when someone started talking. Instead, what followed was in informal chat sitting on desks where our roles were briefly outlined and the lecturers engaged in what can only be described as academic banter (like regular banter, just with strange references and a little less humour). For the first time, I saw lecturers not as distant bastions of knowledge but as people, nice people, who were simply doing their jobs. It made me wonder why I had ever seen them as anything different in the first place.
And the revelations did not stop there. Once the epiphany that lecturers were actually just normal people was over, their sheer normality was hard to avoid. It may be hard to conceive, but they sometimes even venture out of lecture halls and into the wider world. This was proved to me when I saw one lecturer choosing between bottles of cheap wine in Sainsbury’s. Another time, I complained very loudly to a friend that the lecturer had finished late only to find her a couple of feet behind me on North Street. Without the lectern, the presentations and hundreds of students terrified of failing their exams, the mystique, authority and distance of the lecturer all but evaporated.
Realising lecturers are just normal people is a strange process. It makes you question why you ever perceived them as powerful and distant to begin with. After all, it probably wasn’t too long ago that they were in our seats facing the front of the lecture hall instead of the other way around. And who knows? Maybe if we find that one comfortable jumper to wear every day, never grow tired of that questionable £3 wine, and decide that some kind of corporate life after university isn’t quite for us, we may one day be academics ourselves, creating an air of mystery and power of our own.