To teach or not to teach – is there a choice?

Being involved in research on employability of doctoral candidates I am interested in how they view the skills, knowledge and dispositions that they need to develop to have a successful career. Teaching has been an object of discussion with many doctoral candidates that I have interviewed. The majority of them view teaching as an essential skill required to develop a successful academic career.

However, not everyone has an opportunity to undertake teaching duties during the PhD. Unfortunately I did not have opportunities to teach during my PhD. I would love that!!! I like interacting with students and learning something new from them every day. Also teaching is such a great way of transferring  knowledge and engaging the audience in the results of your research study. But apart from the fact that the teaching duties should be available to PhD researchers, there is a whole load of other questions and issues that need to be considered here.

Recent statement  by Eurodoc highlights a number of these problems such as time availability, for example. My friends doing PhD in Russian universities, for example, have to do up to 20-25 hours of teaching per week. Where on earth will you find time to do your PhD then? It is the case with some European higher education institutions  as well where teaching workload is not officially regulated. There is also little information on remuneration of doctoral candidates for teaching duties. In some institutions scholarship holders are expected to contribute 6-7 hours of teaching per week which includes preparation for classes, marking etc. Anything above that should be officially paid for. However, many PhD researchers report that their workload is much higher and is not financially acknowledged.

Another problem of course is the lack of skills and knowledge in how to teach. Those who teach know that it is not enough just to be an expert in your subject, you have to understand how people learn, what teaching methods are available etc. How many of us have actually been given proper teaching training before we started teaching? Having taught at the university myself, I know that a lot of it is about being thrown into the abyss and trying to survive 🙂 Providing proper teaching training for PhDs is not just about them being successful at this, it’s firstly about the quality of learning of poor undergrads who have to suffer because of lack of appropriate training for us.

What are your experiences of teaching? Have you tought during your PhD? What were the main challenges? Advantages? What advice can you give to doctoral candidates who just start teaching?

Comment here or on LinkedIN

Interesting reading: Graduate student teachers should demand professional status


About elenaphd

I am a PhD fellow at Glasgow Caledonian University, Scotland. In my research project I am looking at employability of social science doctoral researchers.
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8 Responses to To teach or not to teach – is there a choice?

  1. poor undegraduates and postgraduates:) There must be sometraining programs – there is plenty online – it’s called Open Source. Some of them are:
    Udemy that offers free online courses on many subjects

    Massachusetts Institute of Technology Open Course: A free and open educational resource for educators, students, and self-learners around the world.

    Stanford on iTunes U: A public site that includes courses and faculty lectures.

    Open Yale Courses: A free open website offering a number of introductory courses taught by Yale University professors.

    Open Culture

    Using expert communities is also a good idea, in short – harness Web 2.0, people! 🙂

  2. Having taught in higher education before starting my PhD I was aware of the burden placed on some of my colleagues, both in having to teach subjects that they were only just starting to explore and also for those colleagues having to supervise them. You are right that too much teaching detracts from PhD studies, although as a part time PhD student doing a full time job I know that it can be done.
    Sometimes having to prepare a lesson enables you to understand it more so teaching becomes a tool for greater learning.
    But it really depends on the student, if they want to impart their knowledge and can express their enthusiasm then they will have better results both in the classroom and in their own thesis.

    • elenaphd says:

      Dear Anita! Thanks for sharing your thought:) I would looove to have that kind of burden on my shoulders:) I think if you balance it all correctly, it can be the best learning experience ever. I compensated the lack of it by doing some training programmes but that’s something different. Hopeyou PhD is going well:)

  3. Ben says:

    I taught on practical classes and in a few seminars throughout my PhD. It was a great experience and we were paid for it as well which is a bonus. While you say teaching is important for academics, I would go further to say that whatever career you are in, the ability to teach is an important skill. Any institution or business needs people to pass on important information and train members of staff. If you can learn how to do this during your PhD then you’ll be in a very strong position when you’ve finished, especially if you look for employment outside of academia.

    • elenaphd says:

      Hi, Ben! Great to learn how teaching impacted on your life after PhD. I am already predicting the negative impact of not having this opportunity on my post-PhD experinece but we’ll see. I’ll try to compensate if with other things that I have done. I am hoping to write a blog post soon about the potential life after PhD as I imagine it:) Hope to hear your views:)

  4. Rob daley says:

    Hi! The report of an event held in Edinburgh in March 20122, organised by the HEA and the QAA on “Postgraduates who teach: developing the next generation” can be found at

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