Managing Student Expectations

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Many PhD students and Early Career Researchers strive to enhance their CV through gaining teaching experience. Yet one of the most problematic aspects of teaching for the first time can be balancing student expectations and the ‘student experience’ with the realities of maintaining a research profile, or indeed finishing a PhD thesis. This article aims to provide PhD students and Early Career Researchers who are new to teaching with ten tips for managing student expectations.

  1. Make it clear from the outset who you are and the nature of your role. When teaching for the first time, it can be tempting to make it appear that you have more experience than might be the case. Honesty is the best policy when teaching for the first time, and through making it clear that you have other responsibilities as well as teaching you are setting out your stall for future interactions with students.
  2. Make your office hours clear from the start. There can be a temptation amongst students to try to come to see you at any time of the working day; choose one or two slots in a week and ensure that these are the dedicated times in which students might come to see you.
  3. Don’t set any precedents that you might regret. Replying to student emails in the early hours of the morning can give the impression that you are available to contact at any time of the day or night; respond to emails in the working day wherever possible.
  4. Check the marking and feedback policies for the university or department and ensure that your students are aware that you will be adhering to the institutional expectations for feedback turn-around. Do not make any unrealistic promises about the return of feedback.
  5. Ensure students are aware of the limitations of your role; it is rare, for example, that a PhD or Early Career Researcher employed for research will be asked to act as a personal tutor. Check whether the department has policies for referral to appropriate sources of help and advice and ensure that you refer students to personal tutors or other support services should they disclose or raise significant personal issues.
  6. Make your approach and style clear from the start. If you expect students to undertake certain activities in preparation for your session, then make this clear from your first class. Setting these teaching expectations from the beginning ensures that all students are aware of your approach.
  7. Ensure that you have the details of the course convenor or Director of Undergraduate Studies to hand and don’t be afraid to refer students to these sources of advice should they have a question or query that you can’t answer.
  8. Don’t be tempted to ‘blag’; if a student asks you a question to which you simply don’t know the answer, ask them to report back at the next session, or suggest that you will go away and find a suitable response ahead of the next class. If you appear to always have the answer to a question, this can set an unrealistic expectation for students.
  9. If you are asked to lecture, ensure that your practise is in line with departmental or institutional policies; if, for example, there are no existing expectations for recording or capturing a lecture, check with colleagues before attempting to record the lecture.
  10. Finally, keep a record of student marks for formative assignments to ensure that you can deal accurately with student queries about developing their work in the future, but ensure that you are not drawn into any debates or questions around predicted student grades, which may simply develop unrealistic or unachievable expectations.
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