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My relative is a fairly big academic and works at a university.

Is this correct? or should I have used in instead?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 4 down vote accepted

My relative is a fairly big academic and works at a university

is correct.

My relative is a fairly big academic and works in a university

is wrong.

See a similar example at Cambridge Dictionaries Online.

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2  
I'm not sure I would definitively say that using "in" is wrong because a dictionary doesn't use it in one of the examples for the noun "university". Said dictionary has an entry for "in" that seems like a valid use for this case: dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/in_3 –  Dr. Wily's Apprentice Jan 13 '11 at 14:49
2  
@Dr. Wily's Apprentice: This was a very quick answer. Certainly, there are cases where the construction in a university would be correct. In this case/context, however, in a university is absolutely wrong. I just did not have the time to come with a reason. In fact, the only reason I can think of is at is simply the correct preposition to use here. I only cited the dictionary example to lend more credibility to my answer, as the example's context is exactly the same as the one here. –  Jimi Oke Jan 13 '11 at 14:54
1  
My appologies for being abrasive in my first comment. Let me say that I agree that using "at" seems like the more natural/appropriate choice here, and your citation of the dictionary's example does back that up. I think I mistook your citation as evidence that using "in" is wrong, which may not be what you intended. Personally, I don't really agree that using "in" is absolutely wrong for this case, although I don't have any evidence that suggests one way or the other whether it is acceptable. –  Dr. Wily's Apprentice Jan 13 '11 at 15:42
    
@Dr. Wily's Apprentice: Oh, no worries; no offense taken, at all, although I admit that my rejoinder may have been slightly curt. And I do agree: absolutely is too strong a modifier. Indeed, evidence is hard to find :) –  Jimi Oke Jan 13 '11 at 15:47
3  
I completely disagree that it is "absolutely wrong". There is no way to determine what this person is trying to say without proper context. Counter-example: My friend is a fairly big academic and works outside mainstream academia in the mountains of Tibet doing geological research. However, my relative is also a fairly big academic and works in a university. –  treeface Jan 13 '11 at 19:22

The quoted sentence is fine.

'In' is usually used when speaking about the general kind of work someone does, e.g.

My father works in telecommunications.

but

My father works at the telephone exchange.

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Using 'in' is not just plain wrong - although in that context it does sound it. I would possibly use 'in' if I meant that he works there, but is not directly involved in the university establishment, for example someone who is for whatever reason doing an unrelated job but using the university for accommodation, or a cleaner etc.

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I would also use "at" in that case. It's completely correct.

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AT university

  • My son studies at a university.
  • My brother teaches English at a university.

But...

  • My friend Sohan is a painter. He is now working in a university.

A student studies or a teacher works AT a university while a person not directly involved with studying or teaching for which a university exists, like a carpenter or a painter, works IN a university. At the same time you should use at when the name of the university is mentioned:

Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to study at University Oxford.

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