ECH – Teaching while a PhD Candidate

1 October 2014

A PhD candidate ought to undertake some teaching. Such experience not only provides a welcome diversion from research (on which it also offers new perspectives) and offers its own intellectual rewards, but can be a useful (though too often paltry) source of income. Teaching also gives early indications of your aptitude for this aspect of the profession, and whether you enjoy it – and not everyone does.

Most departments now have policies on at what stage and how much postgraduates should teach. Don’t underestimate the commitment it involves – not only contact time, but preparation and training. It is important not unthinkingly to take on the maximum permitted load even if your supervisor approves it. Avoid doing it solely for ‘the money’: in CV terms, the quantity of teaching you do is less important than that it is sufficiently well prepared and executed that it generates approval from both students and the department. If you get the chance to teach in more than one year of your studies, carefully weigh up the benefits of repeating teaching a second year (which may well but will not necessarily reduce the preparation involved) against those of expanding your repertoire (which may make you look more attractive to a future employer).  You are unlikely to be designing your own module at this stage, but you will almost certainly have the opportunity to demonstrate that you can plan a class imaginatively around the topics you are assigned to teach, and it is important that you do (training helps here).

In an ideal world, by the time students receive their doctorates, they should have added much of the following to their CV/portfolio:

  • Evidence that they have experience of leading seminars, and planning the sessions (such as trying out different ways of increasing student engagement, thinking how to tackle a tricky topic).
  • Evidence that their teaching has been well received by students in the form of feedback comments/scores.
  • Evidence that they have experience of teaching undergraduate students on courses which extend significantly beyond the specific focus of their research (e.g. ‘Europe in the Twentieth Century’ rather than ‘The German Economy in the interwar period’).
  • Evidence in the form of an ability to obtain a reference from someone who knows not just their research but also their work as a teacher and how effectively they have acquitted their responsibilities.
  • Evidence they have undertaken appropriate training.

In addition, where the opportunity arises to give a lecture as part of a course, or participate in a session related to your research on someone else’s MA module, for example, it is a good idea to take that up to broaden the range of your teaching portfolio.

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