Stepping Down

I was planning to be on leave now; I intended to make up for the fact that I didn’t get a summer holiday last year by taking most of July off. Unfortunately that was not to be and I have to stay at work for at least another week to participate in an interview panel. I may still get a couple of weeks after that but if I do it will be taken up with organizing the move of the rest of my belongings from Cardiff to Maynooth, rather than being an actual holiday.

Over the last few days, in an exhausted and demoralized state, I have been looking back over the best part of two years I have been Head of the Department of Theoretical Physics at Maynooth University – most of which has coincided with the Covid-19 pandemic. Frankly, I have found the burden of administration on top of the heavy teaching load required of me to be unmanageable. Because we are a very small Department teaching a full degree course, all of us have to teach many more modules than is reasonable for for staff who are expected to do research as well. I had to teach five modules* last academic year; that would have been bad enough even without having to do everything online and without the additional and frequently onerous duties associated with the Head of Department. There is no prospect of that burden decreasing for the foreseeable future.

I was appointed as Head of Department for three years, but last week I asked the University to let me step down from my role as Head of Department of Theoretical Physics from the end of September 2021, a year early. I’ll carry on as a Professor, hopefully with some time to do research, although my teaching duties will undoubtedly remain heavy.

At least now, if I do get some holiday this summer I’ll be spared some of the dread of what I’ll have to return to afterwards…

*For those who are wondering, two of those modules are 36 lectures (3 per week for a 12-week semester), two are 24 lectures (two per week for a semester) and one is computer-based (1 lecture + a 2hr lab session per week for a semester). That load is about average for full-time staff in the Department; if I did less someone else would have to do more.

UPDATE: 6th July. The University has agreed to my request. “Freedom Day” for me is October 1st 2021.

14 Responses to “Stepping Down”

  1. Five modules?! And you’re HoS. Unmanageable is definitely the word I’d use. Good decision, Peter.

  2. Francis Says:

    That teaching load is more like what might be expected for an education lecturer (i.e. someone who is full-time teaching; no research component). Indeed probably even higher. Add on the fact that you are HoD and do research, its no wonder you never have time for a holiday. Indeed where do you get the time to post on the blog? And eat. And sleep….

    • telescoper Says:

      Quite so. I’ve pointed out on several occasions to the powers that be that my teaching load – and that of the other staff in the Department – is what you’d expect of an FE College rather than a research university.

  3. Anton Garrett Says:

    Is it a formality that the university will say Yes?

  4. Does physics need two heads of department?

    • telescoper Says:

      Does it need two Departments? That’s the real question.

      • Yes, I did wonder. But I don’t know how much the added value is of keeping them separate. There may be good reason

  5. That seems a very high teaching load for a university. In the Institutes of Technology, which were set up as teaching colleges, the norm is 16-18 contact hours per week which translates as 4 modules per semester – but that includes practicals, tutorials and at least one first-year module (service teaching). The more I hear from university staff, the more I think I got lucky…

  6. […] On a more personal note some things will change less than I originally planned. Back in July, exhausted after a difficult academic year, I wrote this: […]

  7. […] as Head of the Department of Theoretical Physics ends on Wednesday August 31st. I did try to step down a year ago. Here is what I wrote […]

  8. […] short-staffed and struggling to deliver our programmes. My workload then was unmanageable and I asked to step down. I changed my mind when were eventually allowed to recruit two lecturers and saw out my three-year […]

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