For many PhD students seeking to pursue an academic career, the path to a full-time, permanent lectureship is a tricky one. The days of walking straight into your dream job after completing your PhD appear little more than a myth; instead, especially in the Arts and Humanities and Social Sciences, many PhDs look to either postdoctoral research projects or to Teaching Fellowships as a means of gaining vital experience while looking for a permanent lecturing post. This article deals with the transition period between PhD life and a Teaching Fellowship, offering five top tips for making the most of a Teaching Fellowship in any discipline and providing some advice on managing the change in workload and expectations.
1. Prepare for long hours.
Teaching Fellowships can often involve a lot of preparation, marking and administration. Make sure you factor each of these tasks in when planning for the week ahead, as it can be hard to find any spare time (especially for research) when dealing with an influx of formative essays.
2. Plan ahead wherever possible.
The worst aspect of some Teaching Fellowships is the sense of being constantly on the back foot when preparing for teaching. If you have chance before your contract begins or before you begin teaching, try to speak with colleagues in the department to find out if there are any pre-existing materials that you can use, and at the very least come up with a plan or scheme of work for what you will be covering during term time. Writing lectures before the week in question can prove very difficult, but planning lecture writing ahead can at least make you feel less immediately pressured.
3. Seek clear expectations about your role.
It can be very hard, especially in a new department, to work out exactly what you are expected to be achieving in your role. Ask the head of department or your line manager about expectations regarding teaching and assessment, as well as administrative duties. Find out in particular if there are any departmental or institutional expectations concerning the return of feedback, including any important deadlines.
4. Make some time for administration.
Even if you are not required to undertake any administrative roles such as personal tutoring as part of your contract, the level of administration increases massively from working as a seminar tutor or lecturer during your PhD. Try to put aside at least a morning or an afternoon to deal with student enquiries, to record any meetings with students that you believe should be reported to colleagues, and to undertake other administrative tasks like student report writing or noting down assessment results (this ensures that you have a clear record of how students are performing and enables you to track their development).
5. Try to get involved with the wider life of the department.
This might involve volunteering to help at open days or attending research events or even helping out with the social media or website provision for the department. Colleagues are much more supportive when it seems like you are trying to integrate into the department and are making an effort to provide some extra assistance. This will not be possible in all cases, but at the very least suggesting meeting colleagues for lunch or coffee can be a way of breaking the ice and making more contacts. The nature of Teaching Fellowships means that you may seem a very temporary fixture in the department; through adopting a collegial attitude it is more likely that you will be well-remembered in the future.