The teaching-research tightrope

Last year – I didn’t know it at the time – but I used teaching as an escape, or at the very least, a distraction. Looking back, I didn’t have much support with developing my project in my first year, which meant I went into my second year with grand plans but zero scaffolding to ensure I wouldn’t completely fail, or would actually know which direction I was going and how that fit into my thesis. As such, I was a great teacher, dedicating 15+ hours to developing the course material and making sure everything was organised so it was a smooth ride for my student. They loved it, and I think to some extent, actually liked me as a teacher.

Cue me as a final year PhD student. I need to get out of here, I need to finish. Teaching is no longer an escape, because I don’t want to have to have an escape, or want to be distracted. I need to finish. On time. I have been in my current research group for five years this year, and so I am looking forward to leaving and finding a new research group – or, a new job out of academia. And so, I am balancing on that ever so delicate tightrope of teaching at one end, and research at the other. My class is smaller this year, and I am trying something that was/is quite challenging for them – and with a, let’s say, high maintenance, cohort, it didn’t go down so well, at least in the first half of the year. They were not forgiving in the least, with any small error. That is when I noticed that those 15+ hours a week really made a difference, but I could no longer manage that.

This semester, with even fewer contact hours (and sadly, a smaller paycheck), I am managing that balance better, and am having an impact across two cohort, working hard to make sustainable change within their program, and for their student experience. I am very glad that I was able to develop such a rapport with most of the students last semester, as that has made a huge difference in connecting with them, particularly when I compare to my experience of teaching a four-week intensive course with students from across the world.

Developing rapport, and caring about my students’ learning and development, as both students and people (although, they aren’t mutually exclusive), are my strengths as a teacher. And now I have been able to optimize time expended and impact, which, has come from practice, necessity, confidence, and maturity.

15 September, 2016

The lack of professionalism in academia/exhibited amongst or towards PhD students seems to come from the fact that people don’t consider it a real job – so, let’s dress like its a professional job.

This is how I justify spending $500 on new clothes. They were on sale and super professional!