Recently the Research Hive held the latest in our series of 'drop in workshops' for those doctoral researchers who are contemplating becoming Associate Tutors at the University.
Becoming an Associate Tutor is quite a big step away from being 'just' a researcher. You move out of your own research-based world and take on a responsibility of teaching undergraduate students. Of course this can be a great boon for your CV, particularly if you want to stay in academia, but it can be a daunting challenge nonetheless.
It was dealing with this new challenge that proved of greatest interest to the group of doctoral researchers who gathered in the Research Hive to discuss the matter with Karen Burrows, an AT from Media, Film and Music (MFM), and two of the Hive Scholars (ATs in MFM and History, respectively).
The discussion largely focused around the perceived 'horror' scenarios that new ATs might face; quiet students, heavy workloads, the difficulties of marking essays. Through group chat and shared experiences Karen and the Hive Scholars were able to dispel some of the the real nightmares (undergraduate students can't really smell fear) but also to facilitate some brainstorming of solutions to issues the future ATs may face.
Combatting a quiet seminar room with small group activities proved a popular suggestion as it would place the onus of interaction into the hands of the students within a smaller and 'safer' environment. Also of importance was the idea of meeting semi-regularly with other ATs on the same course (or indeed on other courses) to exchange notes, ideas and tips. With doctoral research being a fairly solitary exercise at times it can become easy to accidentally carry that mindset into teaching work, when there is a wealth of shared experiences available from your peers.
In fact it was this commonality that proved of greatest use to those who attended the drop in session. The feedback received repeatedly highlighted the positive benefits of meeting with new researchers who were about to undergo roughly the same experiences. The subjects being studied (and possibly taught) ranged from history to engineering but the pathway to becoming an AT is almost entirely inter-disciplinary. Which means if you're reading this and considering being an AT then start talking to others; those you know are ATs, those who are thinking of becoming one, those who have done it in the past. Discuss your ideas and fears and, if you want, come to the Hive and discuss them more with us.