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Lack of teaching experience


User: PhoenixFortune - 24 December 2020 16:12

I'm just coming to the end of Year 1 of my PhD in a humanities subject in the UK. I have enquired about getting teaching experience with my department, but the short answer is: "We don't have enough TA spots to go around; keep a look out of emailed advertisements, but don't hold your breath".

I have noticed that my department seems to prioritise current/former TAs (by not advertising posts and just reoffering them to the PhD students who taught the exact same modules/seminars last year), rather than allowing new students a chance. No PhD students at my university are getting enough teaching hours to qualify to do the PgCertHE, but any experience is better than none.

I am worried about my employability within academia if I have no teaching experience under my belt come completion, so I was wondering if anyone else has been in the same situation, or has advice on what to do? I don't have another university local to me who offers the subject I could teach in, so I can't offer my services elsewhere.

User: abababa - 28 December 2020 01:12

Speaking as an academic who's been on many panels, it's not really an issue in terms of 'job after PhD'. It will just be assumed you can teach it and you'll be appointed on the basis of REF-ability and potential to bring in funding. Quality of teaching is usually based on internal NSS proxies, which are as much to do with how students like you, as it is the quality of your content.

This isn't how it should be, but it's how it is. The problem I've seen more recently, is Unis care about on-time completions to the level they won't let PhDs engage in teaching, because (in their blinkered view) it reduces the probability of a 'timely' completion. Obviously, teaching and research go hand-in-hand in academia, and it's a false assumption, but since Unis are run by managers, it's a logical consequence.

It's also understandable these things are re-offered, because academics are human and will invariably want to avoid screwing over the TA that worked really hard on x the last year, to appoint new person y. Objective checks and measures should be used, but I'd think anyone would realise that what you want to look for are opportunties when people leave, rather than to kick a TA out of post on the promise of doing a better job (you may well be able to do it better, but it's a hard-minded manager that would enable and support this).

In short, you don't really have to worry about the lack of experience long-term, as a post-doc nobody really cares about your teaching portfolio, even if you're applying for a lectureship. But it will be a struggle to get one at your current place, since TAs are, for reasons above, generally 'stitched up'.

You could volunteer for free if you're particularly worried, but I'd be skeptical - likely the Uni would take your effort and there wouldn't be a commensurate return.

User: Lawphd - 28 December 2020 15:17

Your experience sounds normal. I found it a struggle to find teaching in the first year as well. Often the process of filling vacancies is not very transparent.

In my experience, most of the posts are filled prior to September for the upcoming academic year, so the best time to be trying to land a post is in the months prior to this. It can be competitive, but much depends on the size of your department and what areas you are willing to teach in (In particular, students who are required to teach because of university scholarships are allocated slots first). If the department is large enough, there should be positions freed up by PhD Students that graduated during the past year.

It is standard that the module will be offered to the TA who taught it the previous year first. Although it seems unfair when you are desperate for an opportunity, once you do land a position you will be thankful that this is the policy and that there is an smidgen of stability in the whole process.

Regarding employability, i can only comment on my own discipline. If you are applying for a lectureship, teaching experience is now considered desirable. The completion of teaching modules and PG Certs are also becoming more common as well. I would talk about this with your supervisor(s), as they will be in a better position to advise on your subject area specifically.





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