Search
Close this search box.

Advice and support for your academic journey.

If you aspire to be a lecturer after your PhD, then teaching experience is paramount. There can be apprehension to teach among PhD students based on a perceived lack of subject knowledge, not feeling ready, or having concerns about public speaking. This is only natural. Nevertheless, this article details five ways around this if you give yourself enough time during your PhD!

Teaching during your PhD gives you very valuable experience, but can be a source of anxiety and apprehension. Check out these five things you can do to feel more prepared for the lecture theatre or seminar room.

1. Start by Shadowing an Academic

Ask one of the lecturers in your department if you can sit in on some of their classes. Seek some variation so you can get a feel for how teaching methods differ across year groups, modules, and class type (lecture, seminar, laboratory session). This will also help you build some recognition and rapport among classes you may teach in the future. It’s always more comforting to work with a group you already know! 
 
Take a notepad into each class and absorb as much as you can. Note what the lecturer does well, and how the class interacts with their teaching style. Lecturers aren’t perfect though, so don’t hesitate to also write down some of the teaching methods you feel are not effective. You will learn heaps from a great lecturer, but you could learn even more on how not to lecture from the bad ones! 

2. Reflect on the Core Skills

Now you have visited a few classes, think about how you would stack up as a teacher. This does not mean making direct comparisons with the academics you have shadowed (this would be unfair), but you can break down the basic components of teaching and what you feel comfortable or uncomfortable with. See the examples below: 
 
– Creating an eye-catching PowerPoint. 
– Setting up interactive tasks in class. 
– Public speaking. 
– Keeping students engaged in class. 
– Promoting discussions in class. 
– Communicating with students. 
 
How do you feel about these aspects right now? Reflect on this and think of ways you can strengthen your perceived weak points. Ask an academic mentor for some feedback on this as well. Remember to treat this as an opportunity to reflect and develop rather than a time to put your perceived weakness under the microscope.

3. Practice Makes Perfect

Put yourself in the position of a musician or actor. They wouldn’t perform without rehearsals, so why should a lecturer? The reason a concert or dramatic performance runs smoothly is because they have prepared for this moment over a long period of time. 
 
You don’t need the rehearsal commitments of a performer about to sell out the O2, but you will feel a lot more comfortable in class if you have rehearsed lectures beforehand. As a PhD student I would create multiple drafts of a PowerPoint presentation and then rehearse the session a few times by myself. I would start off very informally to see if I can remember the structure of the session, and then progress to more intricate details like the timing on my animations, change in voice tone, plus my movement across the room. 
 
The more you do this, the easier teaching will feel. The more you visualise teaching, the more normal it will feel once you are in the moment. Even if you don’t have a lecture coming up soon, spend a couple of hours playing around with PowerPoint and practising your public speaking skills. You should see a correlation between time spent preparing and perceived readiness to teach.

4. Assist in Some Classes

Once you have shadowed and reflected on your teaching skills, ask to assist in some of the classes. This can be supporting students when they are completing in-class tasks, contributing to group discussions, or being on hand to answer any questions the students may have. 
 
Show your face in class and exhibit a real desire to help students. This will boost your credibility amongst the classes, and you should see a rise in your confidence. 

5. Begin with a Small Cohort

Starting your PhD by teaching 300 students can naturally feel daunting, so see if you can lead a smaller cohort to begin with. (In many subject areas, your department is likely to match you with small seminar groups to teach first anyway.) Master’s modules are always a good option due to their small cohort and your ability to resonate with their current situation. It probably wasn’t that long ago that you dealt with the same issues they are experiencing, so they will appreciate you! 
 
As you gain confidence, look for opportunities with larger groups. This could also be at other institutions where you can give some guest lectures. Overall, put yourself in different scenarios by mixing up the class sizes, year groups and delivery methods (face-to-face/online). At a future job interview, the academic panel will want to know how adaptable you can be as a lecturer, so don’t cling on to the small class sizes forever! 

Final Thoughts

It is completely normal to feel apprehensive about teaching as a PhD student, but I would suggest confronting this early. I have met many final year PhD students who have strong academic aspirations that were yet to take on any teaching duties. Combining that with a hesitancy to address a large audience can make cramming in teaching at the end of the PhD a daunting prospect and add even more pressure to impending academic job applications. 

State your intention to teach early into your PhD. I asked to teach in the first week of my PhD, allowing me to build up three years of experience in the classroom and experiment different teaching methods and innovative ideas.  

If you’re excited at the prospect of teaching, don’t put it off any longer. Speak to your PhD supervisor now! 

Spare Me the Lecture: A Short Guide On How to Excel In Your First Teaching Role

If you are reading this, it is assumed that you are about to embark on an exciting new journey in teaching at university level. Congratulations! You are about to enter a highly rewarding area of academia where each day is different and full of opportunity to inspire those around you. This blogpost goes through five key considerations to help you prepare for success before entering the classroom.

Read More »

Academic Job Interviews: 5 Questions You Should Be Ready For

Regardless of your PhD stage, you can help your future self by getting interview-ready now. This article goes through five interview questions based on your research that are commonly asked at academic job interviews, with advice on what you can do now during your time as a PhD student to be more prepared in the future!

Read More »

I’m Only a PhD Student, Get Me Out of Here!: Overcoming Your Apprehension to Teach During Your PhD

If you aspire to be a lecturer after your PhD, then teaching experience is paramount. There can be apprehension to teach among PhD students based on a perceived lack of subject knowledge, not feeling ready, or having concerns about public speaking. This is only natural. Nevertheless, this article details five ways around this if you give yourself enough time during your PhD!

Read More »

All views expressed are those of the individual authors and do not reflect the views of The PhD Place Ltd.
See our Disclaimer

Update cookies preferences