By Richard Parfitt |
I’ve been having something of a moral dilemma as we begin the new academic year. After offering my services to pretty much everybody I could think of, I’ve been able to get myself some limited teaching this term. Teaching experience is a vital aspect of the PhD experience, and increasingly so. The availability of opportunities, however, is very restricted.
The limited number of opportunities has been a big annoyance for me. I hear experienced academics and even some doctoral students complain constantly of the amount of teaching they have to do and how it interferes with their research time. Meanwhile, I was shouting from the rooftops for anything to put on my CV to say I could teach.
I have, hurrah, been rewarded for my efforts with a barnstorming two seminars on a ten week continuing education course. Those two seminars will be planned and led by me, and will constitute my most substantial hands on teaching experience to date. While this is less than I would like, I’m grateful for the opportunity.
There is, of course, a ‘but’. The students on the course (there are around 25 in the class), each pay £195 to attend, but I am not paid a penny for my services. There is a rationale to this. There is an experienced lecturer who leads the classes on the other eight weeks of the course, and she would be both willing and able to lead every session if I were not enrolled on the scheme in question. After the sessions I lead, I will get feedback and advice from said lecturer, and thus this can be looked upon as a training scheme, rather than work for which I am required.
Does that mean that I should shut my trap and get on with it? That’s essentially what I’m going to do, but I’m still torn. An ever increasing number of doctoral students are scrambling over a small number of teaching opportunities, and if they can get people to do that work free of charge for paying students, is that a trend in which I want to be implicated? What if the availability of free or cheap labour from postgraduates means that departments can get away with hiring fewer teaching staff? Are we undermining our own career prospects in a race to get ahead at an early stage?
I don’t have an answer to these concerns. I may be exaggerating the issue, and ultimately I’m still taking the chance that I have in front of me. Nevertheless, I’m deeply apprehensive. Most experience that people get at work is good for their careers, but they are still paid. Playing Harry Potter was great for Daniel Radcliffe’s career, but I’m pretty sure he took a few quid home.
Should we take these unpaid positions? Should they be offered in the first place? Would we be better or worse without them? I’ll leave these questions open, and hope that my two seminars are the difference between unemployment and JRF.
Richard Parfitt is a Committee Member for Pubs and Publications. You can find him on Twitter and on on academia.edu.
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October 10, 2016 at 11:41 am
Your struggles may be some what related to the university you are attending. My experience of a science-based PhD and experiences of friends, is that lab demonstration at other universities is basically forced upon you at some point as often there aren’t enough eligible PhD students to cover the hours. The nature of our PhD funding means you have to be compensated for your time. The value of this compensation and whether it covers time for marking the work was a major sticking point with the group of PhD students I worked with. I.e we were paid only for the time in the lab and not for the 3 or so hours it would take us to mark that weeks work.
At your university there are so many PhD students in the sciences and relatively so few teaching slots that like you the PhD students have to fight for teaching if they want it, although some supervisors actively discourage taking demonstrator roles.
Friends studying subjects more like your own i.e arts based, at smaller universities once again teaching is not only strongly encouraged but is often used as a wage for the individual to live off as funding is often minimal. From reading your situation I think unfortunately for you it is the balance of being at a top institution where there are large numbers of academics who are already being employed and therefore contractually required to take these roles and so the university is able to take advantage of those desperate to add to their CV. Out of curiosity have you offered your services to other unis in the area?
As much as you probably feel you are being taken advantage of unfortunately there will probably always be someone to take your place in this situation, so as demeaning as it may be, you might as well add it to your CV. And remember it’s part of the compromise of being at your university.
October 10, 2016 at 12:08 pm
I would like to add that it doesn’t mean the university are in the right in this situation. Unfortunately they’re just in a position of power.