YOU WANT ME TO BE DEPARTMENTAL EXAMS OFFICER? More on the making of sandwiches in academia….

Donna Lee



In a previous blog Nicki highlighted how academic labour is often practiced and valued in gendered ways and in a series of responses we shared how many of us had experienced these gendered workplace practices. Nicki set out some ways that we could encourage our institutions to have a better ethic of care when it came to divvying out and valuing these roles.

In the absence of this ethic of care, however, what can you do when you get the request, usually in an email – but, if you’re lucky, during your annual PDR – to be a jolly good citizen and take on the role of Exams Officer, Inductions Coordinator, Programme Leader, Library Rep……or, as Nicki put it, make some sandwiches? What if you’ve already been Dissertation Coordinator for two years, and prior to that you were 3rd Year Tutor, and now your Head of Department asks you to take over as Exams Officer? ‘Argh…I don’t want to be Exams Officer!’

How can you say ‘No’ without actually saying ‘No’?

Why not respond by saying that you are always willing to provide administrative support and that you are happy to consider taking on this new role but you’d first like to discuss how it will help your own staff development. Administrative responsibilities should be taken seriously…it is part of the job…but they should be managed in ways that support staff development.  Many of us – and I was the worst offender – take on a succession of admin roles that are, at best, a sideways move; one operational task after another. We just can’t say ‘No.’

Next time you’re asked to take on Exams Officer, why not suggest that you are open to a more strategic role (Director of Research would be more fun too). Or propose that you are seeking to further develop your administrative skillset by working at a higher (School, University) level at this stage in your career…having proven already in your previous roles as Placements Officer, Admissions Tutor etc that you’re really effective at operational tasks.  Better still, be proactive and put these proposals to your line manager in your next PDR.

And don’t forget to ask your line manager how the Department’s Athena Swan application/renewal is going…

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