It is often possible to gain valuable teaching experience during the course of a PhD through teaching with your PhD supervisor. While for PhDs in the Sciences, this might involve demonstrating in your supervisor’s lab, for the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences this could well involve coordinating much of the module as well as teaching seminars. Whatever the situation, teaching with your supervisor can pose a challenge at the same time as representing an opportunity. This article aims to provide some suggestions for dealing with teaching with your research supervisor and some tips for overcoming the most frequent challenges.
Try to see your supervisor as a colleague when you are teaching. It can be easy to retain the supervisor-supervisee dynamic in this context, but you won’t really enjoy the experience unless you see them here as a supportive colleague.
Separate the research from the teaching. If you find that your supervisor is asking about your research when you should be talking about teaching, ask politely to keep the two apart. In this environment, you should be judged on your teaching, not how well the PhD is coming along.
Don’t feel obliged to take over the whole module. If your supervisor asks you to take charge of everything, from submitting reports on students to dealing with all of their queries, don’t be afraid to say no. These requests can prove very time-consuming and will end up taking much longer than anticipated.
Never be afraid to ask for help. Whether the problem concerns student attendance or participation, or you don’t understand the material, asking for help is always the best course of action. Ask what they would do in the situation, and always ask for specific advice (‘Can you help me with…’) rather than dealing in generalisations.
Don’t consider yourself as second-best. It can be easy to think that your supervisor is the real ‘expert’ in this situation, and that you can’t compare to their expertise. That you are teaching with your supervisor at all means that you are competent; concentrate on what you add to the student experience by your presence.
Don’t be afraid to innovate. Your part of the course is exactly that: if you have time and are willing, don’t be afraid to apply your own teaching methods and techniques to the existing material.
Seize any opportunities for marking or setting exams. This is a brilliant chance to gain some practical experience in the administration of a module which you can draw on when applying for jobs, so make the most of any openings.
Gain independent feedback on your teaching. Often course feedback forms do not differentiate between the lecturer and seminar tutor; seek feedback from students on your teaching and ask a colleague or mentor (who is not your supervisor) to observe you in action.
Keep your supervisor in the loop. Especially if they are only contributing lectures to the course, your supervisor might not know much about the students or indeed about what you have been doing with them. Regular teaching catch-ups help to make sure that you have a unified teaching strategy.
Keep track of everything you do while teaching. Record any reflections you have on developing the course or any particularly successful teaching techniques you used. You never know…you might be invited to teach the same course again!