All posts by Fiona Saunders

Grappling with management responsibilities in academia

This semester I came back from a refreshing and highly productive six month sabbatical to a maelstrom of teaching activity and my first proper management role within my department.  As is often the case within academia, the role was new and ill-defined.  It involves enhancing teaching quality (whatever that means)  across 40 undergraduate and postgraduate units delivered by 18 academics .  Three months in, I wanted to share some reflections on how I am adapting to my new management responsibilities*.

*Note: The quickest way to get rid of an unwanted managerial responsibility in academia is simply to do it badly, but people who naturally want to do a job well may struggle with this approach!

In my view, management responsibilities in academia are akin to a medieval game of football.  There are few rules, many hundreds of players,  several often conflicting objectives,  and pretty ineffective levers of control.  So, here are some strategies for playing the game…..


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Student generated videos – a novel way of reinforcing core concepts

My colleague Dr Susie Riley at The University of Manchester has deepened students’ understanding of some of the core concepts within aerospace engineering by getting 1st year students to produce short videos of the four main forces that act on an aircraft – lift, thrust, drag and gravity- and how they interact to get and keep an aricraft airborne.  The results are impressive, especially when some of the students hadn’t heard of elevators before the course.

Another colleague Dr Martin Gillie (@martin_gillie) teaching Structures to 1st year civil engineering students at The University of Manchester was  pleased to receive this particularly creative coursework submission .

It came in response to a coursework brief that asked students to ” identify study and research the behaviour and design of an existing structure. Present your findings on a maximum of two sides of A4 or equivalent (e.g. 1 side of A3, or a short video or any other means of communication)…”

Such student generated content can be a powerful tool for learning, and the content created can be reused or repurposed for future cohorts.

Additional Material posted 3rd April 2017

Dr Keith Brown at The University of Bath posted these instructions on a quick and simple method of generating short videos armed with nothing more than powerpoint, a storyboard, a USB microphone and a mobile phone camera.  Its well worth a read and I will definitely be doing a bit of experimenting with this over the summer.  My thanks go to Keith (@KeithBrownBath) for allowing me to share his work.

A light hearted look at uncertainty

Here’s a little light reading from Manuela Saragosa of the BBC on the topic of uncertainty, although it still contains some essential truths about how we respond to uncertainties that we face.


1. that we humans are not that good at dealing with uncertainty
2. that we suffer from “ambiguity aversion” – a desire to know what the risks are and what options we have
3. that we prefer risks with numbers attached, rather than open ended uncertainties even when those numbers may themselves be laden with uncertainty or even unreliable.

The BBC article is available here How to deal with uncertainty

Enjoy (courtesy of the BBC)






Study Skills for MOP Students

The study tips contained in this presentation, have been drawn from my 8 year experience of teaching and assessing over 1500 Management of Projects students here at The University of Manchester.

study-tips-for-mop-studentsI am also indebted to Mike Courtney and Xiangping Du of the University of Hertfordshire, whose book “Study Skills for Chinese Students” I wholeheartedly recommend to all Management of Projects students.
It is available to buy from Amazon here,