Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Academics Anonymous

Do they have these anymore?

According to a recent survey carried out by a market research company, University students think their lecturers are 'stuck-up, disorganised, unpunctual, unfunny, badly dressed and too desperate to be "hip"'. As reported in the Times and by the BBC, the responses from 648 students found many thought academics were "snooty" and had "objectionable facial hair". I found that amusing, as I remember most of my lecturers would fit the bill exactly - in fact, I wondered why the press seemed to find it so surprising. Mind you, I did study science - a discipline where wild facial hair and crazed expressions seem to be a pre-requisite.

I studied at two Universities, and always marvelled at the mannerisms of some of my lecturers compared to those from other departments. There's something about the Biological Sciences that encourages oddball behaviour, and the longer you spend in that environment, the more infected you become. My supervisor at my first University was a cycling obsessive - so much so that he used to spend all day in his lycra biking outfit, lectures and all. He was a great bloke, if amazingly scatterbrained, and looked exactly like Richard O'Brien from the Crystal Maze. That photo's uncanny, actually. I once left him a vital form to sign, and when I went back a few days later he spent 20mins looking for it. Eventually he found it in the bin, uncrinkled it, signed it with a flourish, and handed it over. I've just checked the staff website, and was pleased to see he's still there.

Another character was a silver-haired biology lecturer who was once described to me as a 'bit of a ladies man' by another member of staff (I have no idea why he told me). He did actually have an affair with a student, but I can't remember if he had to leave because of it - he's not there anymore. His trademark was a large silver belt-buckle of his initials - which mirrors one of the main findings of the poll - "The poll suggests that many students find their lecturers' attempts at being trendy insufferable". I once went to see him to discuss an essay I was writing about deep-sea fish, and he raised a finger with a sudden cry of 'Ah-hah!', and rooted around in a cluttered cupboard before bringing out a blueish deep-sea fish in a test tube. I can only guess as to how long it had been there - or what else was in the cupboard. I once found a dried seahorse on the dashboard of the department minibus.

Academics also have a bizarre sense of humour - I once noted in an ecology paper I wrote about the problems of accurately measuring saplings with a tape measure (because I couldn't reach the tops), only to find the lecturer had written 'SHORTARSE!!' in the margin in red pen. Another left a binliner of fish for us to study in an unplugged lab fridge over the weekend (on purpose I always thought), so when we turned up on Monday morning to sort through them the smell was so awful it almost made the entire class ill. Ahh...happy days...