One of the best things for me about being a PhD student (apart from the fun of research) is that you get to try your hand at teaching. ‘Proper’ teaching – that is – taking tutorials and seeing a group learn and develop over the course of a ten week module. I’ve done a little bit of teaching here and there with undergraduates over the last few years, working on the ‘Historical Research Methods’ module, where undergrads received workbooks to work through on the computer, and I (and others) were around for assistance as needed. But that’s it, so far. It was enough to whet my appetite, and to know that I want to do more!
The University of Leicester doesn’t allow first year PhD students to teach undergraduates in tutorials, so sadly I won’t get to do that this year but I’m hoping to get to teach on a module called ‘Barbarism and Civilisation: Medieval and Early Modern Europe‘ next year. We’ll see. But, what I did get to do yesterday, and which was fab, was to attend a workshop on teaching, where we got to talk extensively with other PhD students who are ahead of us and teaching, about their experiences, and their tips, techniques, and tactics.We talked through all kinds of things, I found out exactly what they (we) get when we sign up to teach on a module like that, we’re not just pushed in the direction of undergrads and told “go teach!” (thankfully!). Each tutorial has an assigned, core reading, specific objectives, linked essay titles and the module as a whole has overall aims, which we need to bear in mind when devising our lesson plans. It’s very much up to us how we get our students there. It’s clear that there’s a huge learning curve for us the first year we do it, but as we work, we can experiment with different teaching styles (I really liked the sound of the mad professor style
one person the fabulous Jennie Brosnan described – I wish I’d had her as a teacher five years ago!) and we can experiment with different teaching activities, different room set ups. It’s very clear that teaching is, to a certain extent, an art that is learned through experience, and for that reason, this workshop is so important – because it wasn’t just a workshop where the learners listened to the more experienced and went away to try to put it into practice.
The second part of the workshop saw us paired up with one of these advanced students, who will mentor us through the next batch of teaching we do. For me, this will be the online moderation I’m doing between now and Christmas with the ‘Making History‘ module, which is a really fun module – I did it myself five years ago when I started my BA. As with the ‘Historical Research Methods’, it’s going to be very interesting to see the same module from the teaching side, rather than the student side. There’s no requirement in this work to do anything like tutorials or to build lesson plans, but there will be the requirement to gently encourage, to motivate, to try to include people as much as possible – all of which should stand me in good stead when I go on to do the tutorial-type teaching. I can’t wait – and I’m so grateful to have my mentor onboard as well. I’ll be able to bounce thoughts off them as to how I’m doing, and hopefully they, and the process, will help me to grow into the kind of teacher I want to be.
Yesterday was self-reflective in another way; I got to go through a training analysis form with my supervisor. Here, we used the Researcher Development Framework to identify where I need additional training, and ended up with a training plan for the next year. We discussed a number of really exciting possibilities – and I really hope at least one of them actually happens, because it would give tremendous opportunities for my career, would help to raise possibilities for a career outside academia and would look fantastic on my CV. My supervisor raised the point that a huge number of newly minted doctors go on to careers outside academia, and I know from my reading elsewhere that even if ECRs (early career researchers) want to remain within academia, to work in universities as researchers and lecturers, there simply aren’t the positions available for them to do so. Entry level lecturer’s positions are like gold dust…. and the competition to win one is so intense. I thought the AHRC Midlands3Cities competition was intense, but this will be far worse. I know at least two people who are really struggling to get work after graduating. But having said that, I also met one person yesterday who got a permanent job as a lecturer in a university just a year after passing their viva. Much of it seems to be about being in the right place at the right time, with the right qualities, but with odds like these, it’d be daft not to consider how to make the most of opportunities for a career elsewhere. But we’ll see. I’ve at least three years to worry about that!