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Teaching focused career paths in academia: what, where and how?

By uczjvwa, on 9 September 2014

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Although the majority of academic roles require a combination of teaching,research and administrative activities, there are plenty of academic positions in which the primary focus of the job is on teaching.

What are the roles?

This kind of role allows you to spend the majority of your time in a student-facing role: teaching core modules in your discipline, contributing to curriculum development, planning lessons, assessing learning and generally developing your teaching practice. Supervision of dissertation at undergrad and postgrad level may also be expected.

You’ll typically also be expected to provide administrative support for other teaching-related activities such as student recruitment, admissions, examinations, placements and teaching quality assessment.   And even if you’re not actively involved in research you’ll certainly be expected to stay up-to-date on new developments in your discipline.

Where are they?

The majority of such roles tend to be fixed-term or contract positions, but there has been movement in some HEIs towards developing permanent career paths for academics who excel in teaching rather than research and wish to develop a career from this excellence. These roles tend to be found more frequently at post-92 institutions, although some of the more traditional Russell Group universities are adopting this approach too.

Be warned that job titles can be confusing. For example, in some institutions the job title “Teaching Fellow” is a permanent teaching-focused academic role whilst in others it’s a non-academic, fixed-term position.   It’s increasingly common to see titles such as “Lecturer (Teaching Focused)”, although once again, this isn’t typical of all institutions.   Do your homework and check job descriptions carefully before applying.

How can I best position myself for this kind of role?

If you’re interested in pursuing teaching-focused roles within academia, you’ll need to ensure a) that you understand your own motivation and b) that you get teaching experience, and lots of it.

a)      Understand your reasons for seeking this kind of role. You’ll certainly be asked at interview why you want this particular position, but it’s important for your own career planning that you’ve thought through the pros and cons of a teaching-only position.   Have you clearly considered the implications of moving away from research? Is there anything about research that you’ll miss? What is it about teaching that particularly attracts you? What are the long-term implications of this route for your academic career?

b)      Get plenty of teaching experience. Put yourself in the shoes of your future employers: what are they going to want? Any institution is going to want you to demonstrate your passion for student engagement and expertise in teaching. This means getting involved in as many situations as possible where you teach, assess or support students’ learning. There are plenty of opportunities to do this at UCL, and UCL Arena can support you in these endeavours – including providing a pathway towards a nationally recognised teaching award.

– Hilary Moor, Careers Consultant, Careers Group University of London

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