As part of a PhD course, many universities will expect their students to teach first year undergraduate lectures as a means of demonstrating subject knowledge. Even if it isn’t a compulsory part of your course criteria, it can be an amazing opportunity to further your skills and build valuable experience.
What are the advantages of teaching?
Many PhD graduates find work within universities as paid lecturers. If this is a particular career path that interests you, then an academic establishment such as University or even a school is much more likely to hire you if you can demonstrate that you have previous experience within a teaching role. For some lecturing jobs it is even a requirement.
The majority of institutions will pay their postgraduate students for giving seminars and lectures to younger first year students. Unlike many other courses of study a PhD qualification is incredibly time heavy and demands as much – if not more commitment – than a full-time job meaning that although the course is financially draining most students can’t commit to evening and weekend shifts in order to subsidise their lifestyle. Teaching lectures and seminars within a university setting is a more flexible way of earning a little more money, without distracting yourself too much from your research.
One of the other great things about teaching university undergraduates is that most of them have a genuine interest in their course of study. As such, the students you teach are much more likely to ask insightful questions and instigate discussion and debate which many lecturers find both rewarding and inspirational.
It is often stated that the way to truly understand something is to teach it. In this respect, working as a lecturer will also enhance your own personal PhD studies as preparing information to be taught will allow you to view what you know with a fresh perspective.
What are the disadvantages of teaching?
A key disadvantage of teaching is the pay. While it may seem to be a rather lucrative way of earning some extra income – after all the average salary of £19.95 an hour isn’t too bad – preparing for first year seminars will require a lot of extra unpaid work. In reality you are only likely to be paid for half of the hours that you actually dedicate towards teaching.
There is also something a little unstable about the income provided by teaching lectures. Recently the National Union of Students (NUS) discovered that 31% of PhD students involved in university teaching did not receive contracts of employment. While on the most part, this doesn’t cause too much of a problem for those who choose to lecture during their PhD years, it does mean that the University can terminate employment without prior notice should they choose to do so.
Similarly, the report also discovered that 20% of PhD students received no form of formal training before their first lecture or seminar. This can not only have a negative impact upon your confidence, but can also mean that you lack the skills to deal with more difficult students who may attend your classes.
How do I prepare for teaching my first Seminar?
Whether you are given formal training or not, there are a number of ways in which you can prepare for your first seminar...
1) Attend undergraduate lectures
The only way to understand the differences between good and bad lectures/seminars is to attend as many other classes as possible. Which lecturer grabbed your attention and why? Once you understand this, you’ll know how to present your information in an interesting and engaging way
2) Speak to other PhD students with teaching experience
You aren’t the first PhD student to teach, and you won’t be the last. Try and get in touch with other PhD students who have been in the same position as you and ask them if they have any tips they can give someone new to teaching.
Good lectures are well-structured and prepared in advance. You should make sure that you are concise so you don’t lose the attention of your audience!
4) Cue Cards
As a PhD student you’re going to know your stuff (hopefully), but anyone can get tongue tied when they’re feeling a little nervous. Once you’ve planned your lecture, write the key bullet points on some cue cards so you have reminders should you lose your way.
5) Practice, practice... then practice some more
Practice makes perfect, so make sure to test your lecture out on a willing (or unwilling) audience of friends before you start teaching. Hopefully, your friends will be able to give you constructive feedback on your strengths and weaknesses, so you can alter you lecture accordingly.
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