For many PhDs and postdocs securing any, but especially, a fulltime, permanent teaching contract is their ultimate career aim. Research across Europe*# consistently shows over 60% of PhD students stating they are seeking a permanent academic career. A lot of people are applying for teaching positions, but they are few and far between. So, if you do find a teaching position you think is right for you, how do you make sure your application stands out?
If you want to teach at a university as a lecturer you need to gain experience of teaching during your PhD and/or post-doctoral research. You are going to need to show as much and as wide a range of teaching experience as you can. Get as much teaching experience of different types of teaching scenarios as possible. You may have done some undergraduate lab supervision, maybe run some tutorial groups, maybe even delivered some lectures. You need to show all this and more.
How are you going to get that experience? Wait until you’re asked to do some? What if no-one does? The onus is on you to make it happen, if teaching is what you want to do. If you are doing a PhD or post-doc actively ask for teaching/lecturing experience rather than wait to be offered it.
When you start your PhD or post-doc be clear that you want to gain some teaching experience. It might take a while to organise or get arranged but the sooner you ask, the sooner it can start to happen. Obviously, not every role will offer these opportunities, but if it’s important for your career goals, try and find out if this is an option before you start. Always be on the lookout for opportunities to teach. These can arise when a department is firefighting. e.g. if a lecturer is away, off sick or on a sabbatical for example. Offer to take some of their teaching on, you might be solving a problem for the head of the course and (hopefully!) they’ll thank you for it. Filling in in these situations can be a good way to get a range of experience quickly.
Make the most of your experience
Once you have gained some experience you need to show it on your CV. Don’t just list the modules you taught, show how much you understand about developing and creating a course module. If you are doing any sort of teaching – try to find out how the course runs and is developed. Then try and seek opportunities to be involved in future course development. Any involvement in course development and/or administration (such as helping a course get accredited) can really help you stand out from other candidates who have “just” delivered lectures or “just” done lab supervision. Understand how your research can be used to inspire undergraduates within the existing course structure or how it could be used to introduce a new concept or technology to update a long-running course. If you can include this in the lectures you are delivering great, do it. If you can’t at this stage, have a clear vision of how you might do this in a future role. This will help you when you come to write a philosophy of teaching (or similar) statement during an application.
If asked to write a teaching statement don’t just say you taught XYZ, say you used a particular type of approach to teach XYZ in this setting and achieved this level of success/student engagement/satisfaction etc. Collect useful feedback that is personalised and quantifiable – this should go on your CV or be useful during interviews.
In addition to experience, many roles require a HE teaching qualification, as well as a PhD. If your host institution offers the opportunity to apply for an FHEA for example, or similar, do it. If you are seeking a postdoc, consider picking one that offers the opportunity to secure a teaching qualification at the same time. Getting qualified can provide you with a structure to developing your teaching skills. Be thinking about your preferred teaching methods or teaching style and how you will show this in your application to differentiate yourself from other applicants. Do you use problem-based learning, pre-lecture or lab activities, or utilise the latest technology such as audience participation multiple-choice apps to check student engagement? Be on the lookout for recruitment adverts asking for particular types or approaches to HE teaching to gain an understanding of what university employers might be looking for and ensure that you incorporate these into your teaching practice, even before you are ready to apply for a specific role.