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Future academics offered teaching skills

Friday 7 March 2014 11:46am

Otago’s Division of Humanities is running an innovative programme to help doctoral candidates hone the teaching skills they will need if they pursue an academic career.

Dr Simone Marshall of the Department of English and Linguistics, who designed the year-long Professional Training programme for doctoral students, says she saw a gap in PhD training.

“Students are well prepared for the research required in an academic job, but less well prepared for teaching,” she says. “This programme helps to fill that gap.”

Run by Dr Marshall and Associate Professor Jessica Palmer of the Faculty of Law, the programme is made up of three parts: students attend seminars to discuss the theories behind effective teaching and learning; they observe lectures across the University to see a range of teaching; and they deliver a lecture themselves to an Otago class.

The programme began in 2009 and, as far as Dr Marshall knows, is unique in New Zealand.

Grounding in practice and theory

“We have two specific outcomes,” Dr Marshall says. “The first is actual experience teaching a large lecture, and the second is a range of documentation for them to use when applying for academic jobs such as a teaching philosophy statement, teaching evaluations, self-reflections on their teaching, and references of their teaching.”

Thirteen PhD students have signed up to this year’s programme, which began this month. One is Classics PhD student Joel Gordon, whose thesis is exploring the topography of the underworld in Greek thought.

As a former youth pastor and music teacher he has always been interested in teaching, and says he wanted to have a firm grounding in the theory and practice of lecturing in an academic context.

“I think it is a great opportunity: it represents a chance to learn from some of the best teachers that are employed within Humanities at Otago. It is also a good opportunity to meet and discuss our own experiences (both in learning and academia generally) with other PhD students who are in similar stages but from across our discipline.”

He says he hopes to find a position within academia after he graduates, and hopes this will help him stand out from the crowd when he is applying for jobs.

Gaining an edge

Dr Marshall says, “I hope this gives our students the edge when applying for academic jobs. About 75 percent of our students from previous years now have academic jobs.”

Joel believes it should be available across the University’s four Divisions.

“Not only am I learning heaps but I am having a great time doing it! I feel very strongly that every single PhD student should do this course - those who don't are seriously missing out.”