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


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