To Teach or Not to Teach

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Image on a man standing at a lectern as if about to start teaching

Last Thursday, January 24th, we had our first Doctoral Discussion of 2019. This Monday, January 28th, we held our first Twitter chat. The subject of both was teaching during your PhD.

There’s a reason for this preoccupation. For two of us Hive scholars, the past few months have been absorbed by teaching. We’ve both been dealing with our first groups of students, teaching our first seminars and marking our first essays and exams. Even though we’re in different schools we’ve realised that we had more in common with our experiences and talking to other doctoral tutors around the campus the same things come up. I hosted both the discussion and the Twitter chat so I’d like to take the opportunity to draw together some of the themes and questions that came up repeatedly over the past week.

Firstly, I’d like to thank our panellists and everyone who came to the Doctoral Discussion. It wouldn’t be much of a discussion without either.

What became very clear was that there are a lot of people passionate about teaching but people have a lot of questions – and it’s sometimes hard to find the answers. So hopefully this post will answer and few and send you in the right direction to find out the answers to the rest.

Let’s start at the beginning. When’s the right time to start teaching? Well, answers to that varied a lot. Some people preferred to wait until the very end of their PhD so they didn’t get distracted, other’s thought the earlier the better, especially if you already have teaching experience. The general consensus seems to be that getting some experience in your second year is best. You’ve settled into the groove of the PhD work but you’re not racing for the finish line yet. If teaching swamps everything else that first term (and let’s face it, that is a risk) then you can get back on track. Don’t forget that you need to discuss your teaching with your supervisor. They’ll need to sign off that you can handle the extra workload.

Be careful how much you take on. Teaching does take up a lot of time so don’t take on more than one class unless you’re absolutely sure you can handle the workload. There are supports in place but ultimately it’s down to what you can manage without burning out – which is no help to you or your students. Remember that it’s not just a matter of how many hours actual teaching you do. If you are taking a seminar then there is also preparation work to do, reading to catch up on and it’s a good idea to attend the main lectures as well. All doctoral tutors give an hour contact time to their students. This is usually fixed at an hour no matter how many hours you teach. Doctoral tutors are generally paid for four hours for every hour teaching – but in all probability you will probably spend more time than that getting things ready. It’s always advisable to remember exactly what you are getting paid for although balancing that with doing a good job is something every doctoral student seems to struggle with.

Next up is Starting To Teach. A lot of people were interested to know how useful the course is and whether it is possible to get anything out of it if you’ve no teaching experience. Well again, there seems to be a bit of a consensus there. Most people will agree that Starting to Teach is a very general course that is simply an introduction to teaching. You get out as much as you put in and there is a lot of extra reading you’ll need to find for yourself using the reading lists provided if you want to get the most out of it. The course is designed to complement your first teaching experience and you won’t be able to do your final assessment until you have some teaching under your belt. However, you won’t be able to sign a teaching contract until you are at least on the waiting list. On the subject of the waiting list, get used to the idea. The Starting to Teach team is a small one and they can only teach so many courses. If demand exceeds supply waiting lists are going to happen. You can find out more about Starting to Teach, including booking / signing up to the waiting list here

We were asked about teaching when you are doing your PhD part-time. This shouldn’t prevent you from getting teaching experience although there may be limits to how much teaching you take on. The flip side of that is that when you are doing a PhD part-time there is actually more time available to take on extra-curricular work but as with any other kind of job vs doctorate situation time management is always key. The more you take on, the more you will have to juggle. While teaching contracts tend to be standard it’s worth checking with your school for individual policies and arrangements.

A question that gets asked a lot is simply how do you go about getting teaching work. Doctoral tutor work is not advertised centrally as it’s short term, flexible contract stuff. Each school will have a mailing list for doctoral students interested in teaching work so the best thing to do is to get in touch with your REC (that’s the Research and Enterprise Coordinator – every school has one) and ask to be put on the mailing list. If you have expertise across a couple of different disciplines you can ask to be put on the mailing list for teaching opportunities at several different schools. You can also ask your supervisor, who’s likely to know if there’s any particularly relevant teaching opportunity coming up and this is one area where talking to the doctoral community can be really useful. Starting to teach can be a scary and somewhat overwhelming time but remember that many of your peers are going through exactly the same thing. Talk to them. Talk to us.

Rather unsurprisingly at both the Doctoral Discussion and the subsequent Twitter chat, marking was a particularly hot topic (both were held smack bang in the middle of the spring marking season).

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The general consensus was that the problem with marking is that it feels like you are sticking your finger in the air and pulling out a grade. It feels random. However, many departments do have marking rubrics which will break down exactly what you are looking for when marking an essay or an exam. They provide a structure and can be very helpful indeed. When in doubt ask your course convener. They will be signing off on your marking anyway so it’s always better to ask. That goes for most of the teaching experience. When in doubt ask your course convener.

Finally when it comes to finding out about your students then Sussex Direct is the place you need to go. When you start teaching you will get an extra tab on Sussex Direct. This will link to profiles of all your students and allow you to send group emails and have an over view of the administrative side of your course. You will be notified about students requiring extra support on the Sussex Direct homepage and there will be further details on their student profile. If you are concerned about a student then raise it with your course convener. They will be able to point you in the right direction. It’s worth exploring Sussex Direct fully as there’s a lot of useful information on there.

If you have any further technical questions the Technology Enhanced Learning department will be able to help. TEL run courses that cover all sorts of teaching technology and can also come and observe you teaching so that they can advise you about how to enhance your teaching practice further with technology. They also run a very useful blog.

Hopefully this post has given a good round up of what we covered in the Doctoral Discussion and Twitter chat on teaching. You can find out more about both by clicking on the hashtags in the embedded tweets above.

Teaching is a challenging and rewarding part of the doctoral experience. Hopefully this post has summarised the main questions. You can leave any other questions in a comment on this post and we’ll try to answer them

 

 

 

 

Attending your first conference

 

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A decision to send your paper through and present it at your first ever conference can be overwhelming! You have the right to feel like that, and do not ever think that you are the only one here- the truth is that we are all on the same boat and have felt or will feel challenged by the thought of presenting in front of strangers at some point in our academic life.

I started very early and presented at my first conference three days after submitting my MA thesis. It may sound impressive, but truth be told it was an absolute nightmare. You can imagine how well one can prepare within three days of celebrating/moving/travelling to another country for a conference. Not very well… at all. Unfortunately, the following conferences did not go much better. In my early 20s I got into a very unhealthy habit of ‘collecting’ conferences- applying to all and going to all. For some reason I thought it would look good on my CV, and perhaps it did, but I would never want to go through the hell of presenting ill-defined ideas in front of professional academics nor would I want to recommend that approach to any of you.

Instead, I have a list of tips I wish I could have been given before my first conference, which remain things I tell myself every time I go to a conference:

  1. Choose wisely #1- know your needs: Just for the record- there are plenty of different kinds of conferences: small, quality-driven ones, hands-on ‘let’s discuss’ workshops, invite-only symposia, and take-all, huge conferences etc. It is worth deciding what kind would serve your needs best at different stages of your work- are you looking to improve your project and need some comments and criticism? Do you need colleagues to apply for a grant/networking? Want to share your project with as many people as possible?
  2. Choose wisely #2- know your limitations: There is only as much material and original ideas you can produce within a specific time. You don’t have to present in order to attend a conference. It is absolutely fine to go just to learn, observe, take part in Q&As if you don’t feel that you are ready or your paper is at a presentable stage.
  3. Don’t produce fake abstracts that sound legit just to get in. See point #2.
  4. Prepare well, so you feel as confident as possible. Start working on the presentation as early as possible, even if you are to spend 15 mins daily, and give yourself at least one day to learn your paper. I also recommend making a list of things that you will need to take with you: pen drive, notes, charger…
  5. You might want to schedule a mock presentation and read/present it to another human being 🙂
  6. Once at the conference, enter with openness and positive energy. Instead of worrying that you don’t know anyone or might not be included by the crowd, try to approach other people and include them the way you would like to be included. Remember that most people in the room feel exactly the way you do- stressed and self-conscious. Same goes for the panels- look at people and be attentive when they present the way you appreciate being listened to.
  7. Try to make the most of your time at the conference- approach people you want to talk to and try to come up with a question for each presentation.
  8. It’s ok to leave if you feel tired and overwhelmed. Don’t be too hard on yourself- conferences tend to be exhausting. Sometimes it’s worth taking a morning/evening/couple of hours off to be able to come back reinvigorated.
  9. It’s also ok to be criticized. It is not personal and don’t take it as such. Think of critique as a natural and much needed part of your conference experience- it is one of the reasons you are there for. Remember that no academic and non-academic project is perfect and people who offer their suggestions and critique want to help you, not attack you.

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TAKING AN INTERMISSION

Many of us have thought of taking it, but most of us simply can’t be bothered to research how to go about doing it. No worries- we have got you covered 😛 Today we are presenting a short interview with Katharina Hendrickx, 2nd year PhD researcher from MFM, who took an intermission a couple of months ago and helped us to make sense of it all…

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  1. What are the reasons one might want to take an intermission? Why did you decide on that?

There are a lot of different reasons you might want to consider taking an intermission: financial reason, personal reasons such as bereavement, mental or physical health problems and reasons such as maternity leave. I think generally speaking intermission is designed to give you the opportunity to take a longer break from your studies to deal with other things and without having to pay fees. Everyone knows that things happen in life when you are busy making other plans, so it’s just a good way to be able to take a break from your PhD. For me personally I took three months intermission to be able to apply to the CHASE scholarship that I would have otherwise not had the chance to apply for. My supervisors suggested this and we discussed it to be the best option for me at that time. I took the three months over the summer to not disrupt my studies too much. That also meant I didn’t have to pay my fees for three months, which was another reason why I took the intermission.

  1. How hard is it to do it? How much paperwork does it take?

It is super easy! It is just one quick form with your personal details and the general reason for taking intermission. No need for evidence like a doctor’s note or anything (unless you are funded by an organisation such as CHASE- I think then they will need some sort of evidence). It needs to be signed by one of your supervisors and the Director of Doctoral studies in your faculty. I recommend speaking to both beforehand explaining the reasons for your decision. This made the process in my case really easy and smooth, as everyone knew and was on board with my decision.

All the relevant forms can be accessed here: https://www.sussex.ac.uk/rsao/forms/

  1. How much time off can I take?

I think it is up to one year in total during the duration of your studies for full-time students and two years for part-time students. You can take intermission in one-month blocks. I think there might be a difference when you are in the UK on a Tier 4 Visa.

  1. Can I be in touch with my supervisors during my intermission? Or continue my involvement in societies? Am I allowed to be at the uni at all?

Technically speaking you are not allowed to have any supervision during your intermission. However, my supervisors were incredibly supportive of my decision and we discussed beforehand in detail what I would be doing in those three months. During the three months I did not see them for face-to-face supervision but I was able to email them whenever I needed help or advice and I got a lot of work done during this time. Of course, you can still be at uni and your access to all university platforms such as the library and your email are still available to you. During my intermission I still came to campus a lot to work and I was still involved in societies.

  1. Can I take a break without defining how long I need?

I think you will need to give a time frame of minimum a month as you can only take intermission in month long blocks but you can always extend your intermission if you need to. For example, if you ask for two months intermission thinking that will be enough to deal with things and you find yourself needing another month, you can go back to ask for more time on intermission. The only limit is that you can have up to a year of intermission for the entire duration of your PhD.

Doctoral Discussions: Teaching During Your PhD

For the first of this year’s Doctoral Discussions series we are taking a look at the complex subject of teaching during your PhD.

Are you already teaching? About to start? Wondering how on earth you’re going to juggle the workload? Do you teach in more than one subject area?  If you’re swamped with marking, passionate about pedagogy or loving interacting with your students then come along and join the discussion.

Join a panel of doctoral tutors who will share their experiences and offer hints and tips about teaching at Sussex.

Doctoral Discussions are peer-led discussions about subjects that affect us as doctoral students or tutors. There is also lunch.

This year we’re also going to be keeping the discussion going over on Twitter. Join us on Monday January 28th from 6pm until 8pm under the hashtag #sussexphdchat for an informal chat about teaching.

 

Making connections with other doctoral students

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Image by iLeader Club

The doctoral process can be a lonesome and difficult one if you decide to go at it alone. It’s very important that while doing your PhD you make connections with other researchers and people on campus, not just within your department. This is an invaluable opportunity during your time at Sussex. These connections, or rather networks, help us stay sane as we get to talk to other people who are experiencing the same things, other students who understand what we are going through. Connections are valuable not just for social reasons, but for professional reasons, too. You might find that there is link between your research and someone else’s—they may be from a different department, or possibly a different school and you could decide to do collaborative work with them in the future.

There are a few ways of making these connections, and the most important one is being present on campus. Whether you do research alone or in a group, work in an office/lab or from the Hive in the library, it is good to be on campus as you will invariably meet other researchers. If you are based in a lab, take time and leave your workspace to mix and mingle with other students in the common rooms, sit with them during lunch and have a chat. These simple practices help to form these connections.

Once you find yourself frequently coming to campus, you attend various seminars at the University. These also do not have to be based in your department or school, but can be related to anything you find interesting enough to briefly take your mind off your own research. At Sussex, there are a whole variety of seminars taking place around campus every week, so do some research about them, follow their pages on social media, and take time to attend them. More importantly, when you attend them, talk to other people in the room and mingle! You never know, you might walk out of there having gained some interesting perspectives about other departments that could be useful for your next career move.

Similarly, attending conferences and making the most out of them is another way of making connections not with just other PhDs, but also faculty members from different universities and industry professionals. Doctoral/post-doctoral conferences work in a similar fashion. When attending by yourself, strike up conversations with people and get to know them. If you attend the conference with a colleague/supervisor who knows more people there, stick with them and they will likely introduce you to people in their network. Equally important is not to focus solely on meeting high-level delegates at a conference, make connections with fellow PhD students from other institutions as again, they might offer you insights about their department and university.

When you have made these contacts on and off campus, try and stay in touch to maintain the connection. If you made some new friends from a different department on campus, organise get-togethers where you can meet and simply chat over lunch or at the pub, and share information regarding seminars you think they might be interested in (I think you guys know this! 🙂 ). If they are guest speakers at seminars or conferences, send a quick email to congratulate them on their thought-provoking presentation. Do make sure you maintain these connections as you will find that building a network like this is useful professionally and socially. We all need people for support especially during the frustrating PhD process and it is enormously beneficial to have people around us who know and understand the process.

I hope this advice is useful to all fellow researchers!

Merry Christmas from the Hive scholars

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Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

We wanted to wish everyone a very happy holiday. Enjoy the break if you’re meeting up with family and friends over the festive period but if you’re taking advantage of the peace and quiet to catch up on some work – and let’s face it, that thesis won’t write itself – enjoy that too.

We won’t be at the Hive from today but we will be back in the new year with lots of plans for events and doctoral discussions for 2019 – more details of that in due course. We will be monitoring email and social media over the period though so if you have any problems with the Hive do let us know and we’ll try and sort it out. Don’t forget that the Hive, and indeed the rest of the library, will be closing at 5pm on Sunday, December 23rd and will be closed until 10am on Thursday, December 27th. Opening hours will be 10am till 7pm until Sunday, December 30th. The library is closed again from 70m December 30th until normal 24 hour opening hours resume on January 2nd. When the library’s open the Hive will be too.

Even if you are planning on using the break to work, do take some time for yourself. The International Student Support has made up a great guide of things happening over the holiday period in and around Brighton if you want some inspiration.

Christmas Guide 2018

However you celebrate at this time of year, or if you don’t and you just want it all to be back to normal, we’ll see you on the other side.

Abigail, Karolina and Thabani

INTERVIEW with JENNIFER AGBAIRE from the amazing SUSSEX NIGERIAN SOCIETY

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Today we are excited to share a little interview with Jennifer Agbaire, who is about to finish her PhD in Education, in School of Education and Social Work. Jennifer has been involved in reviving of the award winning Sussex Nigerian Society! They do such much great work, it is truly inspiring! follow and share: @SussexNigSoc 

  1. What were your beginnings at the Sussex Nigerian Society?

I became really involved with the Sussex Nigerian Society in 2016 as a first-year doctoral student, but the society had existed from around three years earlier when a few thoughtful and brilliant members of the Nigerian community studying at Sussex had led the initiative. I served as the Media Officer of the society between 2016 and 2017 before I was elected Vice-president in 2018.

  1. Everyone can read about the society on Student Union’s website, but what is it actually like to be part of an award-winning society?

It is a fantastic experience to be part of the Sussex Nigerian Society!    Being part of the society means belonging to an amiable group with a strong sense of community, an inspiring range of skills, a pleasant way of doing things and such a helpful support structure that can make it easy for student members to consider Sussex University home away from home.  For many international students coming from Nigeria, the society has become like some ‘safe hands’ that facilitate blending into an unknown environment and culture without losing a sense of the known. For Nigerian students born and raised in the diaspora, it is a great platform to connect with their roots and have fun doing so. For those who might have no ethnic relations with Nigeria, it is a lovely opportunity to get to know about the country and its peoples while also enjoying the benefits of any needed support with social or academic life.  Since I joined, the society has had the tradition for instance, of running a freshers’ support group on WhatsApp for Nigerian students new to Sussex, providing them with relevant hands-on tips to make their Sussex experience beautiful. From popular demand, the group got expanded this year to include over 100 members from all over Africa as well as a few others from Asia and the Middle East.     You can find nice stories by some of this year’s freshers posted on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/sussexnigeria

  1. We often talk about the importance of mental health care during a PhD, how do societies like yours support doctoral community in that respect?

I think societies both directly and indirectly support PhD students that are members or that attend their events in various ways especially when the students can get to unwind.   As a PhD student myself, I would say that I find the activities regularly organised by the Sussex Nigerian Society a much-needed break from the pressure of doing my thesis.  The society’s events are like a mini get-away for me because planning, organizing and participating in them give me something creative, educative, fun and relaxing  to do besides stressing about my research and timelines! For instance, we very recently had our quarterly ‘Jolly Hour’ event which this time, involved a Pidgin English competition and a Pan-African film show with lots to eat and drink. This gave me time away from obsessing about my writing, an opportunity to catch up with friends, including PhD colleagues, and do lots of relaxing and laughing. After an evening like that, I go back to my writing feeling refreshed, ‘normal’ and ready again. In addition, the Sussex Nigerian Society runs a somewhat informal mentorship programme whereby undergraduate and Master’s students belonging to the society can get assigned to PhD students within their school who are also members of the society. This sort of volunteering also contributes to the mental well-being of the PhD students who might enjoy the satisfaction of being in the position to give valuable academic support to others.

  1. Is there an event you organized that you are most proud of?

We’ve organised several events that I’m very proud of and it’s difficult to pick. So, I will just go for the most recent big event which got us the Society of the Month award. It is our Black History and Welcome event themed ‘our identity – exploring culture, heritage and integration’. We had a very exciting time with German-Nigerian Leon Balogun and Nigerian-Indian Olufemi Hughes who both honoured our invitation to come speak about their experiences growing up and succeeding in Europe. Leon is a prominent footballer who is on the Nigerian national team and with Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club.  Olufemi is a Brighton-based poet and writer.

  1. How can students get to know about your society- what is the ‘recruitment’ process?

We mainly recruit members during the University of Sussex societies’ fair held at the beginning of the academic session during Freshers’ week.  But all year round, we do create awareness of our presence by connecting with the Sussex International Students Support Office, the Students’ Union, the Alumni Office and other societies particularly regarding our upcoming events.  We also use our social media pages to get people involved –  many students join us by requesting to be added to our Facebook group, for example.  We equally encourage our current members to tell their friends, classmates and others about us and what we do.

Thank you for the interview and fingers crossed for your viva, Jennifer! ❤