Teaching Fellow in Politics, Malcolm Harvey tells us about his role in the School of Social Science and life with his family in Aberdeenshire. 

Tell us about your role at the University

I’m a Teaching Fellow in Politics in the School of Social Science, which I guess most would see as the lowest rung on the post-doctoral academic ladder, a springboard to a lectureship and a successful academic career.  I see the role a little differently (though, obviously, I’d be delighted to end up with the successful academic career!).  To dive wildly into clichés and mixed metaphors, teaching fellows are very much at the coalface of teaching, building a bridge from the academic research that is undertaken throughout the university to the undergraduate students who are trying to engage with it.

How do you usually start your day?
One of two ways: either my three year old daughter shouts from her room that it’s time to get up (though most of the time it isn’t) or my cat walks all over my face telling me that it’s time for his breakfast (again, most of the time, it isn’t).  But sleep is overrated anyway (which, I think, is something that most people don’t really figure out until they become parents and can regularly function on three hours a night).  Between my wife and I, we somehow manage to get ourselves and our daughter ready for leaving.  This means making lunches the night before and adding juice (for my daughter) and coffee (for me) before we’re set.  I usually leave the house around 8am from Ellon, arriving around 8.30am when there are still plenty of spaces around the Edward Wright Building.  If my wife is away, I’ll take my daughter to the childminder.  I used to do a lot of running, and so I’d love for this section to read “I get up at 5am, run 10 miles, shower and change, ready to face a barrage of student questions” but family life really doesn’t allow that kind of commitment at the moment – especially if you want any kind of sleep.  Maybe in a few years if we do this again, that’s how this will go…
What brought you to the University of Aberdeen?

A happy accident I guess.  When I submitted my PhD, my wife and I lived in Edinburgh, and were awaiting the birth of our daughter.  I had a telephone interview in January 2013 (it was the same day as our 20-week scan) for a research fellowship on Professor Michael Keating’s “Future of the UK and Scotland” grant.  Not long after my daughter was born, we moved up to Aberdeenshire, and the fellowship led to a second (and third) follow-on position, involved with the Centre on Constitutional Change (an inter-disciplinary, multiple-institution centre, established to examine the issues surrounding the Scottish independence referendum) and the “UK in a Changing Europe” programme.  My work on those programmes came to an end in June 2016, at which point a teaching fellowship was advertised in Politics.  After interviewing for it, I started in this role in September 2016.  Although I have been contracted through the University of Aberdeen since the initial job in February 2013, most of that work was undertaken either at home (writing) or on research trips, and I was rarely in the office here.  In that sense, I’ve only felt like a ‘real’ member of staff since then and my colleagues have helped make me feel very welcome.

What’s your favourite thing about your job?
I think the variety it entails is something that is a big plus (much like the Swiss flag – and yes, that’s the kind of joke my students get almost every week).  Given the salience of my research area (devolution and constitutional change) there has been a lot of media interest in the topic, and I’ve been involved in everything from live TV on the night of the independence referendum (on CNN and BBC World), telephone interviews with Australian radio, recorded packages for BBC Scotland (and BBC Radio Leeds) and articles for local and national press.  The events Professor Michael Keating and I did to publicise our 2014 book – including at the Edinburgh International Book Festival – were really good fun, as too were the school information events I undertook to help 16 and 17 year olds familiarise themselves with the issues around Scottish independence.  What links all of these things is the sense of enjoyment I get from passing on what I’ve learned.  In that respect, this new role is ideal for me, because it means I’m doing more of that – though it is in a more formal learning environment (lectures and seminars).  The variety in this is also great – obviously when you are teaching honours level courses, those are more in your specialist area, and I developed and now co-ordinate my own course in constitutional change.  But as a teaching fellow, you also have to take a share of first and second year courses, which are more general introductions to politics.  So you might be teaching on the concepts of power and authority one week and feminism the next, which can be challenging, but also good fun.  One of the things I find really useful about politics courses is that we have a significantly high proportion of international students, which can be really helpful in drawing out different views and experiences of key concepts.  You didn’t ask about the worst bit, but I can probably speak for teaching fellows everywhere when I say that seeing a massive pile of unmarked essays on your desk is probably everyone’s least favourite job.
What are your work priorities at the moment?
Mostly to keep enjoying my job, and to make sure that comes across in my teaching.
How do you like to relax outside work?
There’s time to do that?  My daughter is three, and has a much better social life than me, so outside of work we’re usually finding things to do with her.  Favourites are walking around the gardens of Haddo House (if the weather is good) or at a soft-play centre (if the weather is, well… Scottish).  When she’s (finally!) asleep, it’s usually a DVD boxset or a fast-paced novel (reading a lot of Clive Cussler right now) and early-to-bed, trying to get some sleep while we can…