Teaching: On the front line

August 6, 2004

What is your experience of teaching?

Name: Nicola Carslaw. Age: 36.

Job: Part-time lecturer in the environment department at York University. I have worked part time since returning after the birth of my son in 2002.

Salary: £18,384

Qualifications: BSc (chemistry with environmental science), MSc (atmospheric science), PhD (atmospheric chemistry) - all undertaken at the University of East Anglia. My PhD involved measuring an important atmospheric oxidant.

Experience: I gained my first postdoctoral post at the School of Chemistry at Leeds University in 1996. On starting at York, I was enrolled on the York Certificate of Academic Practice course. This trains new lecturers in best practice in teaching, and I completed it in summer 2002. My research interests include measurements and modelling of key atmospheric species and indoor air chemistry.

Hours spent teaching: On average six hours a week. I run two modules, in environmental management and current issues in atmospheric science.

Hours on red tape: About three hours a week, but it can be more at certain times of the year. I sit on two university committees - prizes and scholarships, and the library committee. I am also departmental library representative.

Hours on research: Fifteen hours a week on average, although it is a lot less in the autumn and spring terms when I do the majority of my teaching.

Teaching bugbear: I wouldn't say that there were any pressing issues now that I've taught for a few years. Probably the main issue is associated paperwork as a result of exercises such as the teaching quality assessment.

How would you solve it? The TQA should involve more observation of teaching and conversations with students, rather than the examination of a large quantity of paper.

Worst teaching moment? Probably my first lecture at York, when I realised I had pitched the level of my lecture far too high and the students didn't have a clue what I was talking about.

Best? Being told by a student that I had inspired them to follow a career in atmospheric science.

Teaching tip? Keep material up to date, make the topic relevant to the real world and encourage student participation. The students' favourite part of the environmental management course is where we have a mock global debate on climate change. The students play the role of different countries (US, Russia and so on) or stakeholder groups (business, scientists, pressure groups and so on) and reach a consensus on how to tackle climate change.

Outside interests: My son, cycling and other outdoor activities.

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