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08/03/2021

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UK PhD

You generally can only gain teaching experience as a teaching assistant or seminar tutor, which involves leading small-group seminars, marking assignments, and holding advice and feedback hours. You never design and teach your own course - at most universities I know, that is simply not allowed. However, you might get the chance to give a guest lecture, which you should definitely do.
I'd also recommend looking into the HE teaching qualifications your university offers - I was able to get one for free during my PhD, and some of the work done for this was genuinely helpful for my teaching as well as for writing teaching statements.

As for publishing, in my experience, different supervisors place different amounts of emphasis on trying to publish before you complete your thesis. Some might encourage this, some might give you helpful comments on drafts, some might not encourage this at all. So it's up to you how much energy to devote to this, and you have to find your own readers.

If there graduate reading groups and work-in-progress seminars at your department, those can be quite useful for developing ideas, learning beyond your thesis topic, and getting feedback. You can also easily start a new reading group with other graduate students. Hope this helps!

Trystan Goetze

Fundamentally, yes, the degree is imagined as a 3-4 year project to write the thesis. It's like skipping the coursework and qualifying exams/papers stages of a PhD in the USA or Canada: you're effectively ABD from day one.

We had a lot of contact with supervisors, meeting about once a month. Each meeting was meant to be a discussion of a substantial piece of written work that could be a research paper, literature review, book review, or thesis chapter. So you get a lot of writing practice. The meetings also served as a check-in on progress and discussion of plans for the next piece of work and the thesis overall. These meetings were instrumental in polishing work for publication and strategizing about which journals to target. Some supervisors may even be able to find opportunities for you to contribute to edited volumes. If your supervisor is savvy about this sort of thing, I could see these meetings also being useful for discussing post-academic career plans.

Good teaching experience was not easy to get. Everyone had the opportunity to teach seminar discussions and tutorials, which came with grading work as well. But it is much less common for a postgrad student to get a course (or rather, "module") to teach themselves. Additional experience may be available through special events being put on by the university or outreach in schools or prisons. And I agree with UK PhD, above, that it's worth it to spend some time getting a teaching qualification from Advance HE (formerly the Higher Education Academy). The certificate you earn is recognized across the UK and the training itself is decent.

There are also plenty of opportunities to get involved in research events. The UK is small enough that you can go several cities over for a conference and be back home the same day by train. And the learned societies and research councils are quite enthusiastic about funding postgrad-led events. Some of the most fun I had during my PhD was organizing and hosting conferences.

That's just my experience -- I don't know how much this might vary between institutions, and it's possible that Brexit may have changed some things (particularly when it comes to sources of funding, I gather). But I hope that helps!

RJM

Just to note that, at least at some institutions, it is possible to get actual lecturing experience. At my current place we have PhD students giving a few lectures on some of our modules, and it was the same where I did my PhD. But these opportunities are scarce, and only a few PhD students will get them. So it is worth seeing if this is possible where you are. But the posters above are right: apart from in exceptional cases, you will not be given your own module to co-ordinate.

The advice to get a teaching qualification is excellent. If nothing else, you'll be able to speak confidently and knowledgeably about pedagogy in your job application materials, interviews etc. But you may get a lot more out of it eg a chance to conduct your own pedagogical research.

As for other things, I would say that your supervisor, and how good they are at their job (!), matters an awful lot in the UK. If you have a good supervisor, they will not only help you with getting your PhD done, writing papers etc but also give you professional opportunities (invites to conferences, edited volumes etc). If you haven't got a good supervisor... well, these things are a lot harder to come by.

Alex Grzankowski

Two points of reference, maybe useful for those planning on a PhD somewhere:

1. My department is seeking a teaching replacement for a grant winner who bought out a class. A college-level requirement is a PhD in hand. Things like this tend to be pretty standardised across the country so this suggests to me getting one’s own class won’t be easy, sadly.

2. For those thinking that a U.K. PhD sounds very thin or rushed, the norm is that one does an MA or MRes or MPhil pre PhD. I do think one has more time and support in important ways in a North American program but, just for the record, one wouldn’t go from a BA to a PhD thesis here.

advice

I'll tell you about my experience. The UK system has some advantages for those who are prepared to conduct their own research and can manage their own schedule and not procrastinate. You are very much on your own. If you have an active advisor who likes you, you may get a 2 hour meeting every 2-3 weeks. If you have a less active advisor, you may only see him an hour or so a month (this is based on what other students told me their experience was). When I did my PhD at a Russell Group University, now quite a few years ago, my advisor was great, and we had a 2-3 hour meeting every 2-3 weeks. These meetings were like custom classes for me based on my research project. I enjoyed them, although they were stressful. Regardless, they were more than sufficient for me to learn what I needed to in order to write a thesis on time. I didn't have any trouble writing a strong PhD thesis. Publishing was hard, but I did manage to publish a few papers in respectable places before graduating. This took some luck and a great deal of work. I probably worked 50 hours a week as a student without anyone managing me. So, the UK system worked for me in this respect. I even enjoyed it at times!

However, the downfall of the UK system is that it's too anachronistic. The idea that a PhD is a research degree without a teaching component is out of touch with the modern world. For the majority of schools in America teaching is the primary focus, and even in the UK, for most universities, teaching is as important as research, if not more. When I finished my PhD I had only seminar teaching, which does not involve designing and running your own course. What little lecturing, or full-course teaching, was available was given out in a mysterious fashion that seemed to be based on who you knew. Anyway, it wasn't available for all of us as just part of the program like it would be in the US. So, unfortunately, despite having a strong thesis and a few publications when I graduated I did not have any lecturing. What I saw over and over is that people with US PhDs and people who had somehow gotten more lecturing experience would be selected for lecturing jobs over me--surprise, surprise!

This is how you get trapped in the UK system. If you don't have lecturing, you cannot get it, because no one will hire you to lecture if you don't have the experience. Not knowing what else to do I continued writing, and I continued to publish and got better at it. I published paper after paper. I thought that if I got enough papers in respectable places I'd be hired somewhere for my research. I also started applying for grants and early career stuff. Long story short, nothing helped and after a few years I gave up. I am now many years out of academia. Good riddance! I am much happier now and less stressed than I was when trying to be a professional philosopher. I share my experience and thoughts with the hopes that it will help to inform your choices.

To answer your question about what a PhD in philosophy entails in the Uk more directly, it entails very little. Somehow you need to write a semi-readable thesis in 3-4 years. They basically pass everyone. Some of my colleagues wrote their theses in a few weeks or months right before the deadline and passed. Don't worry about what the PhD entails. Worry about how you're going to do 100x more than it entails in order to stand a 1% chance at a job. Worry about how you're going to get lecturing experience when the department guarantees you none. Worry about how you're going to professionalize yourself and do all this work on your own to make up for the fact that the program actually offers very little (a meeting or two a month with your advisor, no lecturing, probably no or little help with applying for jobs or grants). In sum, don't worry about what the PhD entails, worry about how to actually get the credentials you need to be employable, because it is unlikely the PhD program is at all concerned with giving you these credentials.


Sad about UK situation

I work at a UK University. What others have said above regarding the paucity of teaching experience offered to UK PhDs reflects my experience as well. I make no claim that the explanations given below apply everywhere in the UK. But I’d be surprised if they were all only true of my institution.

The long and short of it is: many undergraduates in the UK do not want to be taught by PhD students. They often complain (on national surveys, on end-of-semester course evaluations, etc.) whenever they are not taught by lecturers. And nothing seems to strike fear into UK University admin quite like undergraduate students’ complaints do. For the record, I think this prejudice against PhD students on behalf of many undergraduates is unjustified and regrettable. But sadly, it exists.

Given this, universities do not want to entrust an entire module (read: course, subject) to any PhD students. They will trust PhD students in their later years with the odd guest lecture. And they’ll trust them with a small selection of tutorials. But that’s often about it. In fact, at my institution, PhD students aren’t even allowed to take *all* of the tutorials in a module beyond level 1. At levels 2 and 3, PhD students are only given about 10 *token* tutorials per subject. So if Professor A and Professor B are teaching level 2 Epistemology, which has 5 tutorials a week over 10 weeks (a semester is about 11 weeks in the UK), the student will only be given 10 of those 50 token tutorials. What’s particularly frustrating is that Professors A and B will also be pressured by admin not to simply assign the PhD student to (e.g.) the Monday 4pm class; they will be pressured into ‘spreading out’ the PhD student’s tutorials. This is undesirable, as it prevents the PhD student from building a rapport with a class of the same undergraduates. Why are we pressured to do it then, you ask? See above: undergraduates are apt to complain about being tutored solely by a PhD student for an entire semester at Level 2. And when they do, you can be sure that they’ll talk about ‘value for money’ in their course feedback. Sigh.

In my view, this is a horrible system. The PhD students who have discussed it with me say that it makes them feel infantilized and distrusted. And that is entirely understandable. As others have mentioned above, it also deprives them of important teaching experience, which makes them less competitive on an already ruthless job market. And, of course, it deprives over-worked University staff of some desperately needed help fulfilling their teaching duties. I suppose this is just what happens in a world where undergraduates have transformed into customers who are ‘always right’.

An American in London

You can think of UK programs as having split an American PhD into two degrees. The taught component is a one or two year masters (or MPhil or BPhil, the names differ from university to university) followed by the PhD which is the research component. There are two models: A one plus three model or a two plus two model. The first is a one year masters followed by a three year PhD and the second is a two year masters followed by a two year PhD. Most UK programs follow the one plus three model. Oxford and some London universities follow the two plus two model. So there is a taught component to postgraduate philosophy education in the UK it is just that it has been split off into a separate degree program. Taken together, though, the two degrees are comparable to and American PhD.

As for opportunities for teaching experience, that varies from university to university. I do not believe that the students at my university are being deprived of sufficient opportunities to teach.

So if you have a BA and you want to pursue your postgraduate studies in the UK you need to apply for the taught masters degree (bearing in mind the two models). And you might inquire ahead of time what are the available teaching opportunities.

Sara L. Uckelman

To add a bit of context to the issue of PhD students teaching, at some UK institutions (my own included), coursework that contributes to a student's final degree classification (e.g., 2nd and 3rd year coursework) must be marked by someone with a PhD. So this structural requirement is part of what excludes PhD students from being able to run their own module: If they did, someone else would have to do the marking.

UK Philosopher

To offer a slightly different perspective than that offered by "advice" above, I think there might be less expectation in the UK than, say, the US, that recent grads will have extensive teaching experience, especially designing whole modules. I had a reasonable number of job interviews, and ultimately got a permanent job, having only been a teaching assistant on modules, with a couple of guest lectures thrown in.

The UK is still pretty REF-obsessed, and so publications (and, increasingly, grants) are the main things that matter. I would suggest that a few papers in top journals will more than make up for a lack of teaching experience. Also, a fairly standard career route in the UK is to go from the PhD to one or two post-docs. This is where you can design and deliver a module or two, thus ticking that box on the CV. I'm not sure that extensive teaching experience is needed for a lot of post-docs. There are also a lot of one-year Teaching Fellow positions in the UK, which again are the opportunity to get the requisite teaching experience (and these can be landed without having lectured modules already).

I would also recommend PhD students to consider alternative ways of building up the teaching part of their CV, given the inability to convene modules. As mentioned, becoming an associate fellow of the HEA is worth doing.

Another option to consider is the Royal Institute of Philosophy's "Philosophy in Schools" scheme (https://www.royalinstitutephilosophy.org/teaching/philosophy-in-schools/). This involves running a ten-week introductory philosophy course in a local school / college (to 16-18 year-olds). Typically, this is a two-hour session per week, over ten weeks. You can design what you teach and, best of all, you get paid well for it (£1000 per course).

Finally, you could see if your university runs adult-education classes. I taught a few of these, which ran in the evening and were two-hours a week for a term. They also paid, although not very well, and I designed the courses myself. Thus, you will develop experience of designing courses.

Of course, all of this is based on my experience of things and may well be questioned by others.

advice

Obviously different people can have vastly different experiences thus making it hard to know what's going on. I want to add a few bits of info to my account.

1. I applied to dozens and dozens of 1 year teaching positions and never got one, although I got a few interviews. I was told on two occasions that I was ultimately not selected because I did not have enough teaching experience.

One time I was able to meet and speak with my competition. For the 1 year teaching job my competition included people who had already had postdocs and people who had already had 1 or more teaching jobs. So, when you graduate with your PhD, if you didn't get much teaching experience, you will nevertheless be competing with others who have it. This is because the universities have pumped out so many PhDs over the years that there is a huge backlog.

2. It's true that teaching experience isn't needed to get postdocs but the vast majority of postdocs in the UK are at Oxford. I aways had my eye open for postdocs and applied to almost every postdoc I saw in the UK. If you didn't go to a super prestigious university good luck getting a postdoc at Oxford. I never even got an interview.

Uk Philosopher says "a fairly standard career route in the UK is to go from the PhD to one or two post-docs."

I find this pretty hard to believe given how few postdocs are available. I guess it was quite a few years ago now that I was on the market, but there were very few postdocs and they were almost all at Oxford. If I had to guess way more people go from the PhD to a 1 year teaching gig.

Anyway, obviously this is just my experience and as I said different people will have vastly different experiences. I also think it matters a lot where you do your PhD. If you go to Oxford or Cambridge, I suspect my experience is largely irrelevant.

Okay it's stressing me out thinking about those old times again. I've done my duty. Checking out now.

advice

One last thing. Uk Philosopher says,

"I think there might be less expectation in the UK than, say, the US, that recent grads will have extensive teaching experience, especially designing whole modules."

This is probably true or used to be. US PhDs are routinely hired in the UK though. I suspect as the market has gotten more competitive more US PhDs have started to apply to jobs in the UK, and I suspect that they often look better to hiring committees due to their additional teaching.

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