Course proposals and other things that go bump in the night.
August 25, 2011 7:32 PM   Subscribe

Have gotten invited to be part of an academic research center. Will you tell me if I should approach them with the biggest proposal I would complete in three years?

About to graduate and found a company to sponsor my work visa. Result! My life depends on landing work that will allow me access to research libraries, I have two journal articles up for consideration and possibly doing a PhD this fall. My job won't provide access to anything and a PhD would not be enough to allow me to stay in the country and my research depends on a kind of business that is indigenous to this country but it is hugely successful in creating accessible and long-term work for artists from many backgrounds without government assistance. The government here has a requirement that I show an academic affiliation in order to hold any job but I cannot work on a student visa or hold two full-time jobs with work visa. What a country!

Going home would mean landing in a place with a very high cost of living. To do the research centre and get an on-campus desk which my job is OK with because I do account management for very long-term clients. I need to show the university I will be willing to shepherd a project they won't use existing funds for. A leading member of the faculty expressed fear of a foreign invasion by my people when I arrived and there is generally an atmosphere of surprise I have managed to be successful in areas of high social deprivation, academe for example. I am pursuing a PhD only now I know I have the patience to do a few kinds of research and write commentary well.

The thing my current school has a case for bringing back a master's course of previous years in an updated format without spending existing money on faculty. I want to propose a course that I would lightly direct at first and then personally lead marketing and help identify an admissions team. Can you recommend a book, articles, or actual proposals that were used to make the academic and business sense for a humanities master's degree course in a two-semester system? I would not be a lecturer on the course and I do not feel qualified to teach now. Do you think I'm jumping the gun? These faculty are all losing income because their courses are not being taken up. Would it be terrible to introduce a completely new one at the expense of other courses even if this one created paying jobs for existing faculty? Try to talk me out of it and tell me what you think I should do with this research centre. Am I looking a completely horrible process straight in the eye? Should I only ask for commission? Should I even think of asking for a budget?
posted by anonymous to Education (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I believe to answer the question - we need to know what country you are working in.
posted by BuffaloChickenWing at 7:43 PM on August 25, 2011

I don't really understand your description of your situation, but I can give some answers to some of your more specific questions. Of course, my answers are only true for the countries I am most familiar with, and yours may work differently.

These faculty are all losing income because their courses are not being taken up. Would it be terrible to introduce a completely new one at the expense of other courses even if this one created paying jobs for existing faculty?

In my experience, this is usually not the solution. It takes a lot of time to build up a popular course. Students often choose courses based on (1) recommendations from friends, (2) prerequisites and (3) reputation of faculty. For a brand new course, (1) and (2) are not likely to bring students in, and (3) obviously isn't enough, since these same faculty are not drawing students to their other courses.

Secondly, most faculty are very resistant to having outsiders design courses for them to teach. They prefer or even demand to have free reign over course design, even if they are not good at it. You may find that you will have trouble finding people willing to teach your course, or if they are directed to, they may change it beyond recognition.

Thirdly, if you don't have experience teaching, and it sounds like you don't, you probably wouldn't do that great a job of course design. The two things go hand-in-hand.

Should I only ask for commission? Should I even think of asking for a budget?

If your affiliated institution is losing so much money, I don't think you will get very far asking for a budget. And if they are like mine, they wouldn't necessarily make a profit on a course unless it were very popular (see my above comments for why this might take a while with a new course). So commission probably wouldn't get you very far.

Sorry, but you did ask to be talked out of it :)
posted by lollusc at 9:05 PM on August 25, 2011

In terms of course design, then if possible the easiest option would be to try and ptu together something from modules already delivered - this means little additional cost but potentially new students drawn in. If going down this route you would need to consider the recruitment cycle in the country concerned. Where I live in the UK we are already into the cycle for October 2012 entry. It would still be possible to start running a new MSc from then but even now the earliest we could run a new UG programme would be Oct. 2013, and a new course takes a while to take off so even if successful it might not benefit you very much on the next 3 years, plus it will take out a fair amount of your time this year in getting it set up and shepherded through your university approval procedures.

I would stay away from this option if you have buckets of other work to do unless someone is specifically suggesting that this is something the dept/uni wants you to do.
posted by biffa at 1:16 AM on August 26, 2011

Mod note: This is a followup from the asker.
The country is Great Britain.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:06 AM on August 26, 2011

I find this question rather confusing, but I'll try to answer it from the point of view of the UK higher education systems now that I know that this is the country in question.

What seems missing in your question is the kind of role that you will be playing in the research centre. Given that you are working elsewhere I assume that you going to be some kind of "visiting researcher", presumably on the basis of work/personal experience prior to the course that you are just graduating from?

What is confusing here is that you say that you feel unqualified to teach on the course yet qualified to design the course. This seems really odd to me - I can't see the circumstances in which someone who isn't experienced enough in teaching would be able to design a course successfully, because course design isn't just a matter of knowledge in the subject area but in terms of being able to estimate student and staff workloads, how to prepare student-focused and admin/QA-focused material, how quickly students can be expected to pick up different kinds of material, do different kinds of work, etc., etc. What you might be able to contribute strongly to (assuming that you have the contacts) is something that universities find very difficult, which is to be able to estimate the demand for the course.

I can't see a circumstance in which a UK university would pay commission on this sort of thing. if you can bring really specialist "market research" type knowledge you might be able to negotiate a one-off payment for a report on the likely audience for the courcse.

I don't see someone in such a role being able to promote such a course without the support of some of the existing faculty members. After all, a course such as this is a long-term proposition, which won't start until September 2012 at least. How long are they expecting you to be there for? For the duration of your PhD? This is fairly short in terms of how long a course will run for.

What I would assume that they are wanting you to do is to work with the current permanent staff in the centre and do research projects, write research papers with staff, and perhaps try and work with such staff to bring in external funding to support these projects. This seems more like the sort of thing that you would be doing in a "visiting researcher" role.
posted by Jabberwocky at 10:48 AM on August 26, 2011

The country is Great Britain.

I run a course at a UK uni, my advice is that you DO NOT volunteer to run a new programme.

1: If you are not technically capable of teaching on a course then you should not be attempting to run a course, since you are unlikely to be qualified for putting together course content.

2: You are seriously underestimating the amount of work it will take to put together a new course. You are also unlikely to be able to manage it with a light touch, since you are almost certain to get lumbered with sorting out the whole thing and it *will* be a lot of work. Other academics (especially more senior ones than you) will not volunteer to take on anything and you will be stuffed.

3: This is the larger lesson for getting on in life in UK academia: DO NOT VOLUNTEER FOR ANY TEACHING RELATED TASK. Everyone will be happy for you to do it, have no doubt about that, but it will not benefit you and you risk ending up as FT teaching staff, which does not have good long term prospects. Your entire career progression as a UK academic is about (i) how much research money you bring in and (ii) getting good publications ('good' varies by field, you need to aim for 3* papers in the REF, if you do not know what a REF 3* paper is, you need to find out). While some colleagues may talk about how the £9k fees will change the focus on research this has not happened yet, and research will still be the determinant of your carer progression

Regarding your nationality, I am quite surprised by the comments, UK institutions are full of non-UK staff, I would be surprised if the number of UK applicants for an academic post in my institition's science faculty was over 20% and in my small dept I have Algerian, Palestinian, German, Russian, Dutch, French, Italian and Chinese colleagues. If you bring in money and bang out papers then everyone will be happy.

I am still a bit confused as to whether you plan to do the PhD full fime, if so then most of this is moot I would think, you shouldn't be doing a significant amount of anything besides the PhD itself.


DO NOT VOLUNTEER FOR ANY TEACHING RELATED TASK - this will remain true for most of your career, only agree to teaching you are not compelled to do as a quid pro quo for something else.
posted by biffa at 3:22 AM on August 28, 2011

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