Thursday, 31 October 2013

Teaching (as an ECR): Top Tips

Following my recent first forays into academic teaching, here are my top tips for researchers new to teaching.

1) Set aside far more time than you think you need to prepare

I was amazed at how long it took me to prepare each session. Each two hour teaching session took at least 6 hours to prepare, sometimes more. Give yourself plenty of time, and practise going through the slides.

2) Be prepared for demanding students

I was surprised at how demanding the students were! They told me they wanted the slides available online two days before the seminar, and I agreed... I wish I hadn't! I really struggled to get the slides prepared two days in advance. I spoke to colleagues who said they start off by telling students when the slides will be online, and don't give students the opportunity to request them earlier. By putting the slides online after the session, you will be able to make last minute changes which may even be done during the lecture (when you notice a mistake on the slide!).

3) Ask for regular feedback

At the end of my sessions I gave each student a post-it note and asked them to write down one positive thing about the session and one negative thing. I found this immensely helpful. It was particularly good after my first session, following blank looks on faces and feeling like I'd done an awful job. I read the post-it notes and was reassured that each student had taken at least one positive thing away from the lesson. It was of course also helpful to see areas for improvement.

Such regular feedback may not be possible for larger groups of students, but mid-module feedback could certainly be done.

4) Figure out what your role is and set boundaries

During my lectures I told the students that they could email me and arrange a meeting if they had any questions. I assumed the students would only contact me with questions relating to the content of my lectures. However, I ended up in a 30 minute meeting with a student asking me about all aspects of their project design. In retrospect, I should have explained to the student that this was not my role and they should speak to their supervisor about these issues. Not to mention the fact that I wasn't paid for this time!

5) Enjoy it!

Despite the comments above, I really enjoyed getting involved with teaching. Compared to the very slow moving world of research (waiting for ethics approval, weeks spent recruiting, sitting in the office reading papers etc) it was really nice to feel like I had definitely achieved something in those two hours. The students I taught were very friendly and genuinely wanted to learn and become good researchers. Nobody will be a perfect teacher first time round, so try to enjoy it and figure out how you can improve for next time.

Good luck!