Diana Spencer and fellow academic in graduation robes outdoors
Professor Diana Spencer at the Liberal Arts and Sciences graduation on campus.

Q: What’s your role in Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences?

The role of Dean is very much about providing leadership and supporting the department’s ability to take really creative work in a whole range of different areas and to support our staff in identifying new areas that we might want to move into. So, an example of that would be new majors, for instance. I’m also involved in the work we do on civic engagement, working across different kinds of communities. I also bring the idea of interdisciplinarity as an undergraduate experience into focus for the university as a whole. Part of what I find most exciting about my role is that it gives me the chance to change the university’s agenda and its understanding of the relationship between undergraduate students and our distinguished professors. So that we’re providing leadership to the university and changing the whole face of higher education, potentially. Unlike most of the senior leadership figures in the university, I still get to talk to students on a day-to-day basis.


Still from Diana Spencer video with academic presenting to camera from a home

Q: What’s life like in the department?

It’s really friendly, really companionable. Whatever you’re doing, whatever programme you’re in, you will always have timetabled meetings with tutors, and you’ll see people for group work, go to lectures, etc. But it’s very hard to build a community out of that. In the LANS hub, there are lots of informal moments of conversation, including chitchat and gossipy interchanges, and it’s that kind of dynamic that I really like, the informal encounters. That’s the thing that our new members of staff have been struck by. It’s the unplanned encounters, the creative moments, when you have a chat with somebody, and ideas are sparked.

Q: What advice do you have for new LANS students?

I think a crucial piece of advice is to be curious and open-minded, and to learn to think laterally, and to understand that something that looks like failure might actually lead to a new and better opportunity.

Q: What’s been your impression of how the university has responded to the pandemic?

After the initial dismay, and being upset that we were losing some of what we had expected to be able to deliver, it’s clear everybody took it as such an opportunity to look creatively at how we frame and assess the important skills and content from each module, and to re-examine our curriculum. We’ve had the scope to rethink the kinds of things that we do and whether the traditional ways that we did them were always the best ways. This is something we’ve long thought in LANS, but covid has allowed us to develop more blended learning, use alternative modes of delivery for skills, not just to support our core modules but to support our students to learn flexibly across their pathways. I think that overall, for how we continue to evolve in LANS, that’s a really good thing.

Q: What are your research interests?

At the moment, I’m interested in working out how better to understand the ways in which perception in classical antiquity is comparable to material perception today. I’m using literary and material cultural evidence of ancient Roman understanding of metal (in particular gold) as a way of interrogating the commonality of material perception as a lived experience.