Occupation: Senior Lecturer in Egyptology, University of Manchester
What were your favourite subjects and who were your favourite teachers at School?
My favourite, and best, subjects were History and English. Unfortunately, I only truly realised this when I had taken the rather perverse decision to study Physics, Chemistry and Biology for A Level. I chose those subjects because I thought that they would be useful: I was thinking of a “sensible” career in medicine at the time. As a University teacher I now realise the importance of studying a subject that one really enjoys. I also realise that I would have been a terrible doctor. Thank goodness I switched to the “less sensible” archaeology before going to university!
I don’t think I had a favourite teacher – although Miss Falla, who taught me maths for two years, showed me that with hard work it is possible not only to learn a difficult (for me) subject, but also to learn to enjoy it.
What further study have you undertaken since leaving School?
I spent three years at Liverpool University, studying for a BA in the Archaeology of the Eastern Mediterranean. I then spent four years at Oxford (St Anne’s College, then a scholarship to St Cross College) studying for a DPhil in Prehistoric Archaeology. I taught for a year at Liverpool University then, as I wanted to become a writer and was worried about job security, started to train as a Chartered Accountant. That was supposed to be a temporary measure, a “day job”, but I ended up working as an accountant for almost twenty years, spending evenings and weekends writing books about ancient Egypt. Eventually I had written twenty books, including three television tie-ins. At the same time, I set up a small publishing company, producing scholarly but accessible books on ancient Egypt. Finally, I became a full-time Egyptologist and joined Manchester University.
What do you consider to be your greatest career achievement?
Winning the 2014 student’s choice of Faculty of Life Sciences Lecturer of the Year at Manchester University. That was a huge honour for me, and it confirmed that distance learning (I teach all my classes online) is totally accepted by my students. And, of course, being asked back to Bolton School to present the awards in 2011 – that was a totally brilliant, if nerve-wrecking, experience.
How did Bolton School help you to be successful in your chosen career?
Bolton School gave me a very broad education, and taught me to work hard. Both have proved invaluable in an unconventional career which has taken several unpredictable twists and turns.
How did you progress to your current role and what does it involve?
I am currently a senior lecturer in Egyptology at Manchester University, where I teach Egyptology entirely on-line. You can see my work at http://www.egyptologyonline.ls.manchester.ac.uk/.
I am responsible for designing, teaching and promoting a range of eLearning Egyptology courses for students at all levels. I also write books and popular articles about archaeology and ancient Egypt.
My background of studying for a degree and doctorate in archaeology followed by a year working as a lecturer in prehistory at Liverpool University, then training and working as an accountant led to me founding a specialist Egyptology publishing firm. At the same time I wrote a series of Egyptology books, including three television tie-ins, and worked as “Dr Dig” for a US-based magazine, answering questions emailed in by children. All these experiences provided me with the skills needed for my current role.
Who/what influenced your career choice?
My decision to study archaeology at university was heavily influenced by the national interest in Tutankhamen which started in 1972, and which saw the entire school visit the British Museum exhibition (my class did not actually get to see the exhibition, but we had great fun in London). I was also influenced by the work of Professor Rosalie David at Manchester University, who was televised unwrapping a mummy. But I never thought that archaeology could ever be a full-time career for me. I regarded it as an interesting subject and a good transferrable degree which would allow me to enter a wide range of professions.
What skills are essential for your role?
Obviously, as a teacher I have to have a good knowledge of my subject. In addition, because my courses are taught entirely on-line, I have to be able to write text for the students, and I have to be able to engage them in on-line discussion. There is quite a lot of administration involved in running university courses, and I have to have some basic computer skills. Finally I have to be able to promote my courses in order to attract new students each year.
What are the biggest challenges?
Constantly developing courses and activities suitable for students all around the world. But this is also the greatest pleasure of my work.
Why did you offer your assistance to School?
Because I understand how difficult it is to make potentially life-altering choices at just 17 or 18 years of age. While there will always be some students who already know that they want to be doctors, or vets, or dentists, there are likely to be many others who do not really know what they would like to do with their lives. I would like to suggest to those students that they follow their hearts as well as their heads, and that they pick a university subject which both engages them, and which is regarded as a good transferrable degree. In this way they will enjoy their studies, get a better class of degree, and keep their career options open.
Did you enjoy talking to current pupils?