If you are considering pursuing an academic career at the end of your PhD then getting some teaching experience at some point is probably going to be necessary. But how important it is to gain this experience now will depend on your subject area.
In the sciences, the typical academic career path involves undertaking several ‘post-docs’ or research positions (possibly before applying for a lectureship or a research leader role in the future) so concentrating on the research output during your PhD is probably more important. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t look out for teaching or demonstrating opportunities during your PhD but if time is an issue then the research will probably come first.
For the humanities and social sciences, the situation is slightly different. Of course, it is equally critical that you focus on your research output, gaining your PhD and thinking about how and when you will be able to publish from that research. But as the academic career path in humanities and social sciences often involves roles such as teaching fellow or temporary lecturer after a PhD (as well as some opportunities to continue focusing exclusively on research as a research fellow or associate) then trying to gain some teaching experience during your PhD may be more important.
So what can you do to develop your teaching experience?
- Search out formal opportunities for tutoring, demonstrating or teaching on courses within your School. Some Schools will actively advertise these opportunities but if that’s not obvious to you then ask your supervisor or graduate school administrator.
- If your work is interdisciplinary, remember that you can look for teaching opportunities in an associated School. Look at the courses offered at undergraduate level across the university and find matches with your subject expertise (remember to think about what you studied at Masters level as well as your PhD if appropriate). Get in touch with course organisers and ask about opportunities for tutoring or demonstrating.
- Ask your PhD supervisor / s if you could develop or deliver one or two lectures for courses they organise or on which they lecture (if they have a teaching commitment).
- Think about attending workshops on effective tutoring / demonstrating offered by the Institute of Academic Development to increase your skills.
- Look for other opportunities to gain teaching experience. For example, you could suggest developing a course for the Office of Lifelong Learning.
- Whilst not directly linked to university level teaching, you could consider getting involved in public engagement activities where you have an opportunity to explain your research to different audiences. The Beltane Public Engagement Network is a good place to start exploring opportunities.
Of course, you have to find a balance between conducting your research and gaining this experience which is not easy. Maybe that’s for another post on effective time management?
If you have any other ideas of how to gain teaching experience please share them in the comments box.