How to start teaching as a doctoral student
Find out more about how to get involved with teaching, the training you will need and what support is available
Once you've decided that you would like to teach during your doctoral studies, you should discuss your interest with your supervisors. This will enable you to understand how you can get involved and ensure that you carefully consider whether you can teach alongside your studies and any other commitments.
When considering teaching, you should make sure that any commitments comply with any funding conditions and the conditions of your visa, if you hold one. Processes vary across departments, so you should check what regulations apply in relation to your specific arrangements.
Usually, someone in your department or School will coordinate all teaching: typically the Director of Teaching or Department Coordinator.
Teaching opportunities are normally advertised within your department. This process can be different across departments so it may be worth contacting your relevant teaching coordinator. Depending on your experience and research area, there may be teaching opportunities advertised in other departments that you may want to be considered for.
Within the University there are opportunities to participate in a range of teaching activities including leading seminars and tutorials as well a laboratory demonstrating.
As well as opportunities to gain valuable teaching experience within the University there are plenty of opportunities externally too, via organisations like The Brilliant Club.
Training and approval to teach
Approval to teach
Before undertaking any teaching activities, the University has to ensure that you have the necessary experience or training. This is done through an approval process, conducted by the University Board of Studies (Doctoral). Your Head of Department (or teaching coordinator) is required to submit and 'Approval to Teach' request to the Board. You should not undertake any teaching activity before this approval process has been completed.
The following courses, delivered by The Centre of Learning and Teaching, are an excellent introduction to teaching that can be evidenced by students in the approval process:
- full-day course intended for those who are expected to lead lectures, seminars and tutorials
- half-day course intended for those who will be facilitating laboratory classes, workshops or problem classes
These courses are principally intended for students who have been recruited into teaching roles within the University. If you are unsure which training course is relevant to you, then please check with the member of staff who recruited you.
Department-based training is provided for doctoral students in Maths, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering and Psychology so attendance on the University course is not normally required.
The University’s QA9 statement makes clear the opportunities for, and expectations and requirements of, all staff and students who teach and/or assess students.
Induction and support
In addition to any introductory training completed, your department should provide an appropriate induction to any teaching activities you undertake. This should include information such as local policies, procedures and payment guidelines. You should also expect a briefing from the Unit Convenor to describe what is expected of you in your teaching role.
Whilst undertaking teaching activities you should expect ongoing support from your department. Some departments offer teaching mentors, others run peer-to-peer networks and some have dedicated members of staff who can support you. At the end of a teaching unit, you may find it useful to arrange a 'debrief' with the Unit Convenor to get feedback on your reaching, including comments from students.
We have produced this checklist which you might find useful when starting out.
Teaching contracts, claiming payment and additional expenses
Before starting any teaching work you should have signed a casual worker agreement with your department.
Claiming payment for teaching work
In order to receive payment for your teaching work you will need to submit a monthly online time sheet. Make sure you submit this before the monthly cut-off date to enable you to receive prompt payment. Try and submit claims on a frequent basis rather than saving all your hours up until the end of the year. Please check what you are able to claim for. Please talk to your relevant departmental teaching coordinator for more information.
If you are required to print or purchase teaching materials as part of your teaching activity please check with your relevant departmental teaching coordinator first. Do not make assumptions that you will be reimbursed for these without checking.
Recognising the value of teaching experience
You may find the Vitae Teaching Lens on the Researcher Development Framework a useful tool to reflect on, and express what you have gained from teaching. The Cambridge Early Career Blog also has some useful tips, including how to talk about your teaching in interviews for academic and HE teaching roles.
It is important that you reflect on and recognise the transferable skills that you will develop through teaching. For further advice about how you can use your teaching skills to help your career, please contact Anne Cameron (Research Career Development Advisor).
Teaching enhances doctoral students' ability to translate their research to different audiences which is an essential skill for a successful researcher.
Dr Cassie Wilson, Associate Dean for Learning and Teaching, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.
As part of the Education Awards, the Postgraduate Teacher of the Year recognises postgraduates who teach, who have helped and supported their students and have been creative in their teaching.
Contacts and support
Department or School
Your main points of contact will be the Unit Convenor, Departmental Coordinator or Tutor Coordinator. Your department or School should tell you where to direct different kinds of enquiries, depending on their individual arrangements. Additionally they may have a mentoring scheme for doctoral students who teach.
The Postgraduate Association (PGA)
The PGA has a dedicated student representative responsible for helping to enhance the experience of postgraduates who teach including training, conditions and support. For more information, or if you have any suggestions on developing and improving the experience of postgraduates who teach, please get in touch.
University and College Union (UCU)
If you are a doctoral student employed to teach, you qualify for FREE UCU membership. UCU is offering up to four years free membership to support the rapidly increasing numbers of postgraduate students who are paid to teach but who do not have a permanent teaching or lecturing contract.
Members benefit from free employment and legal advice, the opportunity to have a say in local and national decision making and a range of career development opportunities. Call 0333 207 0719 for your free membership or sign up online. If you’re already a member you’ll still qualify for free membership – simply login to their website and amend your membership status.