“I have two small children so my extra-curricular activities are pretty much the same as your average 4-year old”

The ‘Getting to Know You’ series was started up by the Sphinx in order to help students get to know their lecturers better, to find out a bit more about why they do their job and what interests them.

My contribution to the series involved an interview with Alex Broadhead, an English lecturer at the University of Liverpool. Alex is very well known and liked by everyone he teaches; his humorous and informative lectures provoke a positive response from students. He’s never short of a good joke or an interesting fact to lighten the mood on a late-afternoon lecture, nor is he ever far away when a student needs help with an essay (especially regarding Romanticism).

I took the opportunity to find out a bit more about Alex Broadhead by asking him a few questions…

What is your background?

“I was born in Sheffield and live in Sheffield currently. However, I lived in Liverpool for 8 years where I completed my BA, MA and PHD between 2000 and 2008. In 2012, In-between finishing my PhD and starting on a permanent basis here, I did hourly-paid teaching at Manchester, Sheffield and Salford.”

What type of student were you?

“As a student, I was very eager and keen; probably a bit too intense! University didn’t click for me right away, I had always loved books and was obsessed with certain writers but I spent first year flailing around, not really sure what I should be doing. It fell into place for me in the second year when I was writing an essay DH Lawrence’s The Rainbow. It was a very odd essay, on the subject of bodies and language, full of odd digressions and tangents. While I was writing it I was thinking to myself ‘this isn’t what I should be doing! I’m going to fail the module!’ For some reason though, my tutor was very positive and encouraging about it.  That’s when it clicked for me and I really began to understand what study literature at university was about: taking chances and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. If one of my students handed that essay in to me, I’m not sure what I would have made of it! But for me, the best criticism is in taking chances, instead of regurgitating assumptions.

The other big change that came in the second year was being exposed to the Romantics. They lit a fire under me. They were writing at a time when the definition of the human was up for grabs, and that uncertainty energised them at the same time that it troubled them. I found the way they engaged with those things utterly thrilling, and I still do.”

Why did you choose Liverpool for your university studies?

“My sister was a student at Liverpool John Moore’s studying Consumer Studies, I stayed with her in the late 90s and was completely bowled over by the city; Liverpool has an identity distinct from the rest of Britain. On the bus, strangers will strike up a conversation with you at the drop of a hat, you don’t get that everywhere. There is warmth and humanity here, I love that about Liverpool.”

Why did you choose to work at the University and do you enjoy your job?

“When I studied at the University, I always loved the tutorials run by the English department. They were and still are incredibly intimate and informal, with the air of sitting in a living room having a chat, I wasn’t as keen on large seminars as they felt institutional. The way we do tutorials in the English department works better for literature, the small-group-teaching makes it easier to have honest and exciting conversations. I love my job; I cannot imagine doing anything else. I love to see texts through other people’s eyes, that’s the best part of teaching: the newness and energy that students bring to texts that I’ve read a hundred times. The English department itself is lovely too and we’ve got some really funny and warm-hearted people working here.”

Did you always want to be a university lecturer?

“In my teenage years I aspired to be a musician, particularly a rock and roll one. I was in bands and sang and played guitar and wrote songs, the odds were against me though as I couldn’t play guitar very well and had a completely atonal voice. I’m glad I went into literature!”

What do you enjoy doing outside of your job in the University?

“Well, I have two small children so my extra-curricular activities are pretty much the same as your average 4-year old: building dens, imaginary pirate ships, wax crayons, that sort of thing. I have seen the film Frozen 500 times.”

Finally, sum up the English Department in a few sentences?

“The thing that makes this department special is the fact that above all things it values independent thought. Our main objective is to get students thinking for themselves.”

Thanks Alex, it was very interesting talking to you.