Portrait of the Academic as a Student: Adam Dalton


Dr Adam Dalton started at Falmouth University as a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing in January 2019. Here is something of his experience as an undergraduate, an experience that many of us might recognise.

To speak or not to speak? That is the question?

I did my BA at Warwick University – a strange campus university isolated from everywhere. Not a prison camp as such, not exactly. There were 14 bars on campus, which presented certain social opportunities, let’s say. So it wasn’t all bad.

I was one of those students who would speak up in seminars when the tutors asked questions or asked for opinions. It was a bit weird, cos a lot of the other students just wouldn’t speak. After a while, when the tutor asked a question, I started waiting for someone else to speak first. The silence would stretch… become painful… and then I’d crack and say something… even if I hadn’t read that week’s text.

I couldn’t understand why the others wouldn’t speak. It wasn’t like I was smarter than them or knew more than them – cos the students would speak about the texts plenty in the café. They would say I was more confident than them… but confidence isn’t genetic or in your DNA… so I didn’t quite understand what they meant really. Often, when I spoke in a seminar, I would answer the tutor with a question – to test or to expand my understanding. I couldn’t understand why the other students weren’t doing the same. After all, getting time with a tutor isn’t all that easy – so it’s worth making the most of it (almost selfishly) when you can.

Then I overheard a few things and guessed that some of the students were worried about saying something in case they sounded stupid. It sort of made sense. We’re all afraid of sounding stupid… especially when in the company of the sort of people who might laugh at us.

I pondered that. Perhaps I’d been lucky that my parents had never laughingly told me the things I said were stupid. Perhaps I was lucky that none of my friends had ever really done it. Perhaps I was lucky none of my teachers had ever done it. Why would they? After all, they were meant to care about me, right?

And the tutors at Warwick weren’t looking to laugh at us, I suspected. It’s not like they were trying to ‘catch us out’ in the seminars or anything. Just to be sure, though, I stayed behind after a seminar to talk to one of my tutors (the wonderful Dr Martin Wright). I apologised in case he thought I was dominating or speaking too much in seminars. He smiled affably. ‘Don’t be daft, Adam! Imagine how desperate the seminars would be for me if I didn’t have a student like you speaking up. Imagine! It would be agony. We tutors want to help students learn – but if the students don’t venture an opinion or ask a question, we can never know what they don’t know, if that makes sense? We don’t know what they’ve taken on board and what they need more clarification on. We only teach because we care about helping students learn. But we can’t help them learn if they don’t meet us at least some of the way. It’s only the students who speak up who give me any sort of emotional reward in this job. It’s the students who speak up that keep me going. Never apologise for speaking up!’

So if you should encounter me in a seminar, don’t hesitate to speak up. I – for one – promise not to laugh at you.

You can find out more about Adam by visiting his personal website.

by Adam Dalton