Students are what make academic life great!

I’ve realised that my last 8 blog posts have probably been quite depressing; accusing Criminology of lacking any soul and being too egotistical; damning the gender discrimination; challenging the purpose of the REF and so on. It got me thinking why the hell am I still in academia, is it all that bad? So I wanted to write a much shorter more positive piece on students and why they make the job all worth the while.


Just this week I had one of my new 1st year students email me asking what their homework was for this week and it really made me laugh – ok so it’s apparent that this student hasn’t quite realised the difference between school and university and my head fell into my hands, but the innocence of the email made me smile. I have a good laugh with my colleagues about some of the strangest things students say and the stories they come out with. Some examples include:

‘I was going to come to class but my dog looked sad and I was worried so thought it best I stay at home’

‘It wasn’t my fault I submitted late, I was on my way to hand in my assignment and I got pooped on by a bird so had to drive home for a shower’

‘I understand my misunderstanding, how can I understand better?’

‘I don’t really get theory, so can I just explain something without using any?’

‘What’s the easiest way to pass without doing much work?’

‘Sorry I missed our meeting, the rain was really bad and I couldn’t find my umbrella’ 

I like to think I’m not the only person that receives such correspondence and wonder how on earth these students plan to make it in the working world. Whilst such statements are unbelievable at times I have learnt to enjoy them, allow them to bring a smile to my face and lighten up my days a little. They remind me of my undergraduate days when spending the student loan, attending the social events and deciding on what posters to buy for my student halls far outweighed the importance of my studies. It takes students until their final years to understand the importance of their degree (for some it isn’t until they graduate) and we shouldn’t get too mad at them. Allow them to find their way and make mistakes; encouragement and motivation is part of our job, and at the end of the day it is us who actually reap some of those rewards.

I feel privileged to be able to stand up in front of students and teach them a subject area I love and watch their amazement as I undo all their preconceptions, bias and stereotypes. Witnessing them furiously write down my every word in lectures hoping not to miss the key information and engaging them in some of the most topic contemporary criminological debates is what makes it worthwhile. I love taking a classroom of 1st year undergraduates who support the death penalty and working hard with them so that they choose to write essays on why we shouldn’t have the death penalty. The weeks of trying to get students to grasp those key concepts of anomie, modernity, class, power and risk and then in one moment you see it, their eyes light up, because they get it. It’s these little moments that make the job so enjoyable.

I’m not going to lie, running courses and lecturing is hard, it’s time consuming, often very frustrating (particularly when students don’t attend and refuse to engage) and I feel myself rolling my eyes at least once a day. Nevertheless, the sense of achievement gained watching our students graduate and knowing I played a small role in their success is ultimately rewarding. Witnessing the transformation of a student who on their first day wanted to know what makes a serial killer, to a student writing a dissertation on the political underpinnings of anti-social behaviour orders, is phenomenal. Having 3rd year students knocking on your door  for help with applying for postgraduate study or asking for a reference for that criminal justice job they’ve applied for are signs that I’ve done my job and I feel a sense of pride.

Inspiring students to go out and make a difference, take a stand against injustice and be the voice for those marginalised groups often silenced, is what makes it all worthwhile. So in those darker days when everything seems near impossible, I open my email folder entitled ‘things students say’ and remind myself of the wit, imagination and innocence of my students and gently smile wondering how many more sad dogs will stand in the way of my students attending. I love to teach criminology and that is why I remain.