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A Teacher’s Tale

uczjsdd14 July 2021

In the first of a new series looking at how to navigate your career during uncertain times, we speak to a Biological Sciences PhD who graduated during the last recession, and is now a Science Teacher in a private secondary school.

  • Tell us about your current role and organisation.

I work in a private school as a science teacher. At the higher levels I cover just biological sciences, but at the younger ages I sometimes cover more subjects. I also take on additional responsibilities for sports and arts clubs I’m interested in.

  • How did you move from academia to your current role? 

I’m not much of a planner, and I’d been so wrapped up in my research that I hadn’t looked ahead and thought about how to progress in academia. When I did, towards the end of my PhD, I realised I didn’t have any teaching experience whereas other PhDs did.

So I contacted people in my department who let me do a few guest lectures on their courses to fill the gap. I also got involved with a charity that puts researchers into schools. I was doing it just to have some more teaching experience on my CV, but I found I really enjoyed the whole process! I realised teaching in schools would offer me the stability and people-contact that academia wouldn’t, so I started to consider that as my plan A and academia as my plan B.

While researching teaching, I was surprised to learn that private schools didn’t always need their teachers to take a teaching qualification, which was appealing as I didn’t fancy more study at that time. So I applied to private schools, and after making me deliver a teaching demonstration, one of them took me on.

  • Did graduating into a recession have an impact on your career path?

I think there might have been something about the stability and recession-proof nature of teaching that appealed to me because of the credit crunch. Maybe that wouldn’t have meant as much to me if the world had felt more stable at that time. Also, I probably would have found the PGCE teacher-training route a bit more appealing if I’d felt more secure in getting a job afterwards. During that time it felt important to be earning money and not to go back and study again.

  • What does a normal working day look like for you?

My days are very full. I’m up early and teaching students most of the day, and then a lot of evenings are taken up by marking or prep work, and some by extracurricular activities I run for the students. I like to think of creative ways to teach, which is fun, but it adds to the prep time! Obviously adapting to online teaching over the past year or so also took a lot of prep.

  • What are the best things about working in your role?

There are lots of great things. I like working with people, I find it really energising. I missed that in academia, and so that’s probably the best bit for me. I also like still being in touch with science, and in a broader way than academia allows.

I went to a state school myself, and I never imagined I would work in a private school. But there are some particular perks to it that are worth mentioning. The pay is very good, and as I’ve progressed and taken on more responsibilities – both extracurricular and within the science department – it has increased. It sounds gauche to talk about, but I’m earning a lot more than my colleagues who remained in academia – even the very successful ones. Some private schools even throw free accommodation into the package! The holiday is also unbeatable. Of course all teachers get lots of holiday, but private schools often have even more holiday than state schools, so that’s been really nice, especially for those teachers who have young families. And just like academia, travel is one of the unexpected perks! Outside of pandemic conditions, some private schools send their pupils on fantastic field, sporting, and social trips, which always need teachers to supervise, so I’ve managed to travel to some amazing places for free – although obviously I’ve had to spend a lot of the time working!

  • What are the worst bits? 

The flip side to the amazing holiday benefits is that it’s difficult/impossible to take holiday during term-time, and during term-time the workload can be very heavy, especially if you take on extra responsibilities as I have. That way of working – very intense followed by long breaks – suits me, but it probably wouldn’t suit everyone.

  • Is a PhD essential for your role? 

A PhD isn’t essential, but the organisational and communication skills I developed during the PhD help. Having the PhD may well have helped me bypass the PGCE route too, and the teaching experience I had picked up during the PhD was obviously valuable. I also think it adds some extra credibility for the pupils and their parents, who often have very high expectations of the school.

  • What’s the progression like?

There isn’t quite the same pressure to “progress” as there is in academia, which I actually like. But there are still lots of opportunities. You can become a head of department, and then of course a deputy head/head teacher. And some people move away from teaching to work on the educational policy side or in educational charities.

  • What top tips would you pass on to a researcher interested in this type of work?

If you think teaching might be for you, give it a go – you’ll soon find out! There are lots of opportunities to work-shadow teachers and deliver sessions in schools, so seek them out. Teaching experience at university level will help you too, but it’s fairly different, so you really should get a bit of experience in schools to see if you’d like it.

I’d also advise getting involved in as many different things as possible, especially if you’re not sure where you want to end up, because you never know where they may lead – look at how I ended up in teaching!

  • Are there any specific tips you would give to people graduating into a recession?

I think people have to go with how they feel. The recession made me nervous, so I went for a stable well-paid job to reduce that anxiety. Not everyone will need to do that though. I suppose when I look at all of my PhD peers who also graduated in the recession, they’re all doing fine. So maybe my advice would be, don’t worry too much about it. You have the highest qualification you can get, and you’ll have developed loads of useful skills along the way, so you’ll be employable even in a recession, you just might have to compromise for a bit depending on what you want to do.

 

 

Enhancing university teaching for a living

uczjsdd19 August 2019

Dr Alex Standen has a PhD in Italian Studies, and now works at UCL as Associate Director, Early Career Academic and Research Supervisor Development, in the Arena Centre. Alex helps researchers every day as part of her job, and she kindly agreed to help you even further by telling us her career story.

Tell us about your current role and organisation.  

I work here at UCL in the Arena Centre for Research-Based Education. We work across UCL to support colleagues to enhance their teaching and improve the student experience in their departments. I am one of three Associate Directors and have oversight of all our training and development of PhD students who teach, new Lecturers and Teaching Fellows, Personal Tutors and Research Supervisors.

How did you move from academia to your current role?

During my writing up year I was also employed as a Teaching Fellow in my department, a role that I continued for a year post-PhD. I loved teaching and working closely with students in departmental roles such as Admissions Tutor, Year Abroad/Erasmus Coordinator and Personal Tutor, but it left no time for research. By chance, my partner was offered the opportunity to spend a year in New Zealand and we leapt at the chance: I had been at the same institution since I was an undergraduate and, while I loved my department and role, I needed a change of scenery and to give myself some time and space to focus on my research. Only that wasn’t what happened! I found I had little enthusiasm to re-visit my PhD research and no new projects I wanted to pursue; instead I was gravitating back to roles involving students. Back in the UK I got a job here at UCL as Education Officer in the Faculty of Brain Sciences which gave me so many valuable insights into HE administration, student support and wellbeing, quality assurance and enhancement, and the wider HE landscape. It was also in a Faculty whose research was so far removed from my own that I got an amazing insight into disciplines I had previously known nothing about. Working in the Faculty offered me a chance to get to know lots of the central teams at UCL and as soon as I got to know and understand about the work the Arena Centre was doing I knew that was where I wanted to be!

What does a normal working day look like for you?

It is a complete mix! I am rarely at my desk, and more often to be found delivering sessions, talking to colleagues and departments about their teaching, supporting them to gain professional recognition for their education-related roles, or  liaising with other teams like the Doctoral School and Student Support and Wellbeing. Since becoming Associate Director, I also now manage a small team and am involved in finance and strategic planning conversations which has been a big learning curve!

What are the best things about working in your role?

Meeting so many inspiring colleagues from across the institution and feeling like the work we are doing is actually having an impact on students.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your work?

Not everyone is keen to hear from us! Lots of colleagues, understandably, have so many competing pressures that they just don’t have time to think about their teaching role on top of everything else. But when we do manage to convince them to make even a small change it makes it all worthwhile!

Is a PhD essential for your role?

No, but lots of experience of teaching in HE is essential, and so is a broad understanding of the HE environment. My PhD gave me the confidence to present in front of a range of audiences, to consume large amounts of information quickly and critically, to be persuasive, and to manage my time effectively – all of which are absolutely key to my role.

What’s the progression like?

There is an absolute wealth of roles in HE beyond teaching and research and I have been able to progress quickly. Centres like ours exist in all universities so there are also opportunities to move between institutions. But I have no intention of going anywhere anytime soon!

What top tips would you pass on to researchers interested in this type of work?

Treat every job with the seriousness and commitment that you give to your research role, and carry it out to the best of your abilities as you never know where it will lead. When I first came back to the UK after New Zealand I wasn’t getting shortlisted for professional services roles in HE, which I now see is because I was still presenting myself as a teacher-researcher. But at the time my main concern was financial, so I joined a temping agency which specialised in HE roles and the first role I was placed in was here at UCL as an admin assistant in the Faculty of Brain Sciences…

 

Find out about teaching opportunities for researchers

uczjvwa25 July 2016

 

The-Brilliant-Club

 

 

 

 

The Brilliant Club: teaching opportunities for doctoral and post-doctoral researchers

Book a one-to-one appointment to speak to a member of staff from the Brilliant Club on Thursday 28th July. Further details on how to book a slot below.

The Brilliant Club is an award winning charity that recruits, trains and places doctoral and post-doctoral researchers in non-selective state schools to deliver programmes of university-style tutorials to small groups of high performing pupils.

During our autumn placements, our PhD Tutors will work with twelve high-performing 10-12 year old pupils, delivering a series of six tutorials that takes them beyond the curriculum and helps them to develop the knowledge, skills and ambition necessary to secure places at top universities. Successful candidates will receive training by qualified teachers and academics that focuses on learning theory and teaching technique. The first tutorial takes place at our launch trips, where tutors accompany pupils on a visit to a highly-selective university.  To find out more or apply now, please visit www.thebrilliantclub.org/apply

We will be running one-to-one appointments at UCL to introduce researchers to the programme on the afternoon of Thursday 28th July between 14.00 and 16.30.  Bookings must be made to secure a slot.

To book a slot, please email Dr Rajbir Hazelwood at hazelwood@thebrilliantclub.org.

 

Insight into education and communications careers panel discussion event open for booking

uczjvwa4 November 2015

SONY DSCInsight into Education and Communications Careers: Employer Forum for PhDs and Researchers

Thursday 3rd December 2015 5:30pm to 7:30pm

The aim of this event is to help PhD students and other researchers with their career planning by providing an opportunity to question, to hear from and network with employers that come from a variety of roles within the education and communications sector, who are PhD holders themselves. The panel of speakers will give tips on how research students can use their qualifications and experiences to enter this field as well as information about their sector.

Panel of speakers will be:

Dr Anna Saggerson – Associate Director, Galliard Health

Dr Alex Burch – Head of Visitor Experience, Learning and Outreach, Natural History Museum

Dr Nandi Simpson – Operations Manager, Infection, Immunity and Inflammation Programme, UCLH/UCL National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre

Dr Mat Hickman – Programme Manager, Informal Science Learning (Education), The Wellcome Trust

More speakers to be added. Please see links below for further details.

To find out more about the programme please go to: http://courses.grad.ucl.ac.uk/course-details.pht?course_ID=2462

Research students book a place here: http://courses.grad.ucl.ac.uk/course-details.pht?course_ID=2462

Research staff book a place here: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/careers/events/signupform/

Find out about the specialist careers support provided by UCL Careers for researchers here: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/careers/specialistsupport/researchers

Bookings open for Careers in the Education Sector Employer Forum

uczjvwa3 November 2014

Careers in the Education Sector: Employer Forum for PhDs and Researchers

27th November 2014 – 5:30pm – 7:30pm

The aim of this event is to help PhD students and other researchers with their career planning by providing an opportunity to question, to hear from and network with employers that come from a variety of roles within the Education sector, who are PhD holders themselves. The panel of speakers will give tips on how research students can use their qualifications and experiences to enter this field as well as information about their sector.

Panel of speakers will be:

Mark Llewellyn – Director of Research, Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)

Marek Kukula – Public Astronomer, Royal Observatory Greenwich

Mary Henes – London Regional Director, The Brilliant Club

Rosalind Mist – Head of Education Policy, The Royal Society

Steve Heggie – Institute Manager, UCL Eastman Dental Institute

Steve Cross – Head of Public Engagement, UCL Public and Cultural Engagement

To find out more and to read the speakers’ biographies please go to: http://courses.grad.ucl.ac.uk/course-details.pht?course_ID=2462

Research Students book here

Research Staff book here