How long have you worked at the Uni? What does your role involve?
I have been here since September 2013 – so five years. I am a Lecturer in Educational Leadership and Management. In terms of teaching I teach Undergraduate research methods, I teach on the MA units Leading and Managing Schools and Colleges, Leading and Managing Educational Innovation and Research Methods. We have 800 Masters students, so a lot of teaching! We also have a Professional Doctorate, with about 200 students, so I teach on a variety of the units there.
Tell us a little bit about your research.
I research parent’s engagement with the children’s learning - how to support parents to support kids. The reason I do that is it is probably the best way to narrow the achievement gap for children from different backgrounds. I spend a lot of time in Scotland because I work quite closely with the Scottish Government as they mandate parental involvement by law. I’m spending a year working with a school in Aberdeen, and this time last year I was touring the Shetlands working with schools.
What would you most like to achieve while at the University?
I would like to think I have had an effect on some of the government policies around education.
Name one thing that makes you feel proud to work at the University of Bath?
There are a lot of things. Watching students enjoy learning, watching them change some of their ideas, not to any particular ideas but just learn. It’s a fantastic thrill when you watch people at Graduation, calling someone Doctor for the first time when they have finished their Viva. And also working with colleagues that you can sit down and have a fascinating conversation with.
What piece of advice would you like to give to a student?
Learn the rules of the game, play by the rules, and don’t take it personally.
Who was your most influential teacher/educator, and why?
I studied Theology, that’s my background. My first two degrees are in Theology. I think the most influential one was a Theology teacher I disagreed with entirely. No one had told me you could question these things before, and I was a Law major and suddenly I found out you could talk about these things, question them, and it opened up an entirely new world for me. He was a very controversial person and I disagreed with everything he said, but at least I knew it was possible to say the things he said.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a surgeon, and then I ran into Chemistry and decided I was never going to get a Doctorate in science! Then I wanted to study International Law, until I ran into Theology, and I ended up taking more classes in that because it was more interesting.
What’s the one thing you know now that you wish you’d known when you were younger?
Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff. A friend of mine says that when you’ve had to deal with the big stuff in life you realise that the small stuff comes and goes. Although what we do here is important, but it doesn’t need it be the only thing in one’s life.
If you could start your own dream business, what would it be?
It would be in Educational Consultancy, working directly with schools, parents and teachers, but I am better suited to actually do that here, because if I say something it’s not just me saying it, it’s an academic from the University of Bath and that carries more weight, I think.
What’s your favourite book or album and why?
My favourite book would either be Thief of Time (shows the highbrow reading I do!) or Dune. The Litany Against Fear gets me through every dental appointment: “Flow over me and through me and in the end only I shall remain”. And it also gets me through stage fright, which I don’t have very often but very occasionally. Recently I was doing some work in Qatar and there was this huge auditorium that seated 2,000 people and three members of the Qatari Royal Family were in the front row, and I got a little bit of stage fright there!
For album it would be Ghost of the Rose by Blackmore's Night. You can take the girl out of San Francisco but you can’t make her not a hippy!
When are you happiest?
When the research is coming together. When it all begins to make sense and I can pull all the disparate bits together. When I am working with students and they get it. Also working with parents and schools and seeing a change for the better for kids.
If you could meet anyone in the world dead or alive who would it be and why?
Thomas Aquinas to find out what he really thought. He’s an early Dominican theologian, and a lot of the Roman Catholic theology is based on his work. We have very little of what he actually wrote, most of what we have is his student’s work so we don’t know that much about the man.
Which one superpower would you like to possess?
That is quite simple – teleportation. I spend a lot of time on trains. On Wednesday I’m doing a lecture in Bristol then getting on the sleeper train to Aberdeen, coming back on Saturday and the next week I’m in London, then back to Edinburgh… and it would be so nice to just be in places. I don’t mind travel, but you spend a lot of time.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I have published a number of essays and books under another name. I never intended to write fiction, but there are stories that wanted to be told. I was at one point teaching a weekend class and one of these stories was being read by someone who didn’t know I was the author and they were coming up with “Oh the author meant this” and I was like “no the author really didn’t mean that!” I just had a final phrase and had to write a story to the place where they got to read the final phrase!