David Bates

Alumni profile - David Bates, History and PhD

What have you been doing since leaving Exeter, and what are you doing now?

I am now 68 years old and technically retired. But I continue to write and to develop projects. I have been employed by five universities. After 23 years in Cardiff, I held the posts of Edwards Professor of Medieval History at Glasgow, was Director of the Institute of Historical Research in London, and in my final years of employment was on the staff of the University of East Anglia and the University of Caen Basse-Normandie.

I have published many books and articles, hold an honorary doctorate and have many academic distinctions. I have just published a major book entitled The Normans and Empire with Oxford University Press and am now re-engaging with another one for Yale University Press for completion over the next two years. I am also involved in several academic projects and continue to organise academic conferences.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

Actually I enjoyed most aspects of my work. Teaching and research were usually stimulating. And, having held senior managerial posts in three universities, I can report that I enjoyed many aspects of that as well. Life as a university teacher has been both demanding and stimulating. What has interested me most? Difficult to answer! The constant intellectual challenge of keeping up with new research and channelling that into teaching. Sustaining a continuing interest in my subject and engaging with international communities.

The latest book has been a demanding one to write, but it constitutes the culmination of the interests of a professional life-time. I enjoyed work at a national level that sought to define high standards for the teaching of my subject and involvement in publishing projects that assisted the careers of others and made new research and ideas available in an accessible form. A typical day now is devoted to research and writing, but it has not always been like that!

How have your University of Exeter studies helped in your career?

In a lot of ways my career has been a continuation of my studies. I have recently been involved in publishing a memoir of my supervisor and in sorting his papers. These processes have reminded me of the academic rigour that those years brought to my work as well as the confidence and ambition that they nurtured. The skills I gained were those of an academic researcher in Medieval History founded in an awareness that these needed to be developed through awareness of the academic world beyond Exeter.

For me, my time at Exeter was an indispensable foundation for a successful professional career. As a sixth-former, I was somewhat undisciplined. It was at Exeter that I acquired a focus and self-discipline. Those years were of fundamental importance in the transition to adulthood and professional success.

Do you have any advice for current students wishing to pursue your career?

Work hard (to state the obvious!). Crucially you must have a vision of what your work can accomplish and of how you can develop it. The academic life has changed enormously in the forty years that I have been involved, but the ground rules remain the same. You must have the strength of character to insist that you can make an original contribution and you must have the will to communicate that vision through teaching and research.

What are your plans for the future?

To write more books. I am currently engaged on a major biography in an extremely prestigious series. I have been foolish enough (or fortunate enough) to reach the age of 68 with the responsibility to complete projects that will arguably represent a statement on their subject for the present generation.

Do you have any tips or advice on being employable?

Be interesting and independent-minded, ready to work with others, but also have your own opinions and vision.