Agony aunt

March 3, 2000

Q I'm a PhD research student and my head of department has off-loaded a lot of teaching on me. I need the money but I need more training and guidance. Where can I turn for help?

A Ann J. Kettle

Department of

medieval history

University of St Andrews

Yours is a very common problem as

academics are under pressure to get on with research and leave as much teaching as possible to hourly paid postgraduates. It would be unwise to refuse because teaching experience will look good on your CV and you will need references from your head of department.

However, as much as you need the money, do not neglect your research because it is that, rather than teaching experience, that will count when you start applying for jobs. You must make sure that you are offered the proper rates of pay for the job. Pay for casual teaching is negotiated by the campus union, so think seriously about joining the union to get help if things go wrong.

Appropriate training ought to be available either in your department, faculty or in the teaching and learning office, and you are entitled to expect support and guidance from your department in the form of supervision and mentoring.

Do not be too apprehensive: remember there was no training available to most of your elders, including your head of department.

In the end you will probably find that the most useful advice will come from fellow postgraduates who are one step ahead of you. Do not overlook self-help manuals; Emily Toth's Ms Mentor's Impeccable Advice for Women in Academia (University of Pennsylvania Press) is highly recommended.

A Brenda Smith

Associate director

Centre for Academic Practice, Nottingham Trent University

This is a good opportunity to gain some experience of teaching that will be really useful for your future career, so I am delighted to hear that you are seeking help.

Find out what support your department and university offers. Talk to other colleagues and see if there is anyone willing to act as a mentor and support you for the first few weeks. Tutors will know the procedures that apply to your department and will give you immediate support. Also visit other tutors' classes and learn by observation - what methods do they use?

In the longer term, find out if your institution offers a programme for new teaching staff. Many universities offer special courses, a series of one-day programmes or postgraduate certificate courses in teaching in higher education.

This is an excellent way of thinking more broadly about pedagogical issues and has the added value of allowing you to share your ideas and learn from other group members. A number of these courses have Institute for Learning and Teaching accreditation. I suggest you visit the ILT website for further information: http://www.ilt.ac.uk. The site also has details of regional and national conferences that the ILT is offering.

Read relevant books and publications. The Staff and Educational Development Association produces induction packs especially for new lecturers. Titles include: Lecturing to Large Groups and Getting to Grips with Assessment. Visit its website at http://www.seda.demon.co.uk.

Other publications include the Kogan Page series on teaching in higher education.

Good luck! I hope you enjoy working with your new students. Teaching

problems?

Send them to The THES and our experts will answer them.

Write to Pat Leon

The THES

Admiral House

66-68 East Smithfield

London E1W 1BX

Fax

020 7782 3300

Email

pat.leon@thes.co.uk

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