So you’ve got your PhD, applied for lectureships, and after all the blood, sweat and tears, you’ve landed yourself ... a teaching contract.
The first thing to say is—well done! Teaching contracts are highly contested in the very competitive academic job market these days. Furthermore, a teaching-only contract may offer a route to a teaching career in HE which is valuable in its own right.
But it must be acknowledged that for most people who have invested years in doctoral research, the prize tends to be a research and teaching post —i.e., a lectureship.
If you’re in this situation, here are five ways to make the most of a teaching-only contract.
1. Remember your exit plan
It is easy to be despondent when faced with a situation which doesn’t appear, on the surface, to suit your many years of research training, your expertise, and perhaps even your qualifications. But go in with a plan. It should be something along these lines: I will complete the terms of my contract as fully as possible, and will leave with as much experience as possible, the best references possible, and with one new publication.
2. Regard your position as an opportunity...
... not a penance. While it may seem to you that you are overburdened with teaching and have no time to pursue your glittering research career, remember that you are still in a university, surrounded by research resources, excellent contacts, and all the amenities a university provides. If you feel your teaching load is burdensome, try to view it as a fantastic opportunity to expand your portfolio rapidly, to a degree that will put you ahead of the field when it comes to the next round of lectureship posts.
Use your time as wisely as you can to keep your research ticking over, even minimally. Seek out opportunities for collaborative publication. Remember, prospective employers will understand that it is not possible to write a monograph while holding down a teaching-only contract, but if you can demonstrate that you have nevertheless kept the research fires burning, even in some small way, that will count in your favour.
3. Acquire enhanced teaching and admin experience
If you can, ask for postgraduate teaching experience as well as your undergraduate load. Not only will this allow you to spread your research wings a little, it will really differentiate you from the upcoming PhD, who may have done some undergraduate tutorials, but who will not have taught at postgraduate level.
In addition, pick up any administrative role you can, however small. Once again this will stand you in good stead against that newly-minted PhD—who may be the next best thing in her field, but who may have no idea how to chair a meeting, handle student liaison committees, organise a conference, or convene a module.
4. Acquire enhanced qualifications
Once again, use your teaching contract as an opportunity to gain both experience and qualifications. If, for instance, you are offered the chance to do a PGCE for HE or similar staff training, take it. It is very likely that you will have to do this anyway if you get a lectureship, so it this is an excellent chance to get ahead of the game, at a point when most of your focus can legitimately be on teaching matters.
5. Nurture your professional contacts
Remember your aim is to leave with a growing network of professional contacts, at least one of whom may write a key reference for that longed-for lectureship. Your attitude is key here: if you give the impression that you think a teaching-only contract is less than you deserve, that will make a poor impression on your potential future colleagues and professional community. If, on the other hand, you do your utmost to embrace your position and to turn every aspect of it into an opportunity for professional development, then you will be remembered—and for all the right reasons.
In short, while a teaching-only contract may not be what you had in mind when you invested all that time, money, and energy in your PhD, it does offer you opportunities to build your career and turn it in the direction you wish.