Becoming a Lecturer 2 – Finding your Voice

Lecturers are performers. Like singers, your voice is your instrument and finding and using your ‘voice’ effectively is really important. I am fortunate that from a young age, I had the opportunity to sing in a choir and to take part in musical productions and plays. Although I was personally quite shy, I learned to ‘perform’ and act the part to portray different characters. Taking part in amateur dramatic productions, was something I continued through my University studies. I enjoyed the on stage side, there was a reassurance about being a team member and an exhilaration after a successful performance and production. I considered becoming a professional actress but had enough self awareness to know I didn’t have the talent or ambition to succeed. My range was limited and I didn’t want it enough. Instead, I took the opportunity to follow my engineering interests to degree, Masters and PhD level. I really enjoyed research and as I neared the end of my PhD studies, the idea of Becoming a lecturer had some appeal.

I was 29 and working in industry when I saw the role of lecturer in Manufacturing Engineering advertised at the University of Salford. I made some enquiries, put in my application and was called to interview a few weeks later.

The interview was very formal with a panel of six or seven illustrious academics seated across the boardroom table from me. I remember being daunted as the chair of the panel introduced the great men opposite me Professor X and Professor Y, Dean A and Head of Department. One of me and six of them, difficult to know who to answer when they asked questions. They took it in turns. The questions were along the lines of why do you want to be a lecturer? Why do you think you would make a good lecturer? I answered as best I could.

One of the panel surprised me when he said ‘you are quite softly spoken, do you think you would be heard at the back of the lecture hall?’ I assured him that I knew I would be heard because I knew how to project my voice. From performing in plays, I knew that I could be heard at the back of a packed theatre, so being heard at the back of a lecture hall would not pose a problem. The interviewer looked sceptical and I asked if he wanted a demonstration. He agreed. I got up from my seat, went to stand in the corner of the boardroom, took a deep breath and announced ‘THE BOY STOOD ON THE BURNING DECK……..’ to the very surprised interview panel. The questioner seemed taken aback at the volume, the other panellists laughed. The chairman asked me to sit down. The panel asked me some more questions but the atmosphere had changed. It felt as though I was accepted and had overcome the challenge.

Am I the only engineering lecturer to have ever recited poetry at my interview? Certainly, it wasn’t rehearsed or anything I could have foreseen. I don’t know why I chose that poem. It is not one that I am very familiar with and I have never studied it, but the opening line had made its way into my subconscious. Somehow, it was the right message and communicated to the panel that I had the right qualities to be a good lecturer.

Standing on a burning deck and being able to face a classroom of challenging students. Years later, I can see the similarities. Let me know your views.

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