Teaching vs Writing

For a number of reasons, I have no funding while I am completing my PhD. I am not in a position to apply for any of the standard doctoral scholarships, and being white, middle-class, and male, most of the other scholarships do not apply for me. Now, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a reverse discrimination complaint, and I am receiving some support from my family in order to get through this. But what it does mean is that I have needed to take on work in the department. For this, I will be eternally grateful.

I have no idea whether or not I would have taken on as much, or for that matter any work, had I not needed it. But instead, I am in my 4th year of work as a GTA (graduate teaching assistant), on three difference courses, and have just completed my first co-convenorship of a course. The money earned on any of these is not great (not the department’s fault, just the reality of the tertiary education system in NZ), but my CV is now starting to look a lot healthier than it might have done. As well as an undergrad course on television, I have worked on an upper-undergrad media studies course, dealing with some fascinating and very current issues, as well as a course on video games. Both of the latter two were slightly outside my wheelhouse to begin, but have given me some strong skills, as well a the confidence that I could get myself up to speed to teach on pretty much any course that I might need to.

The opportunity to convene/lecture on the media studies course this semester was an incredible one, and so lucky – the regular lecturer got a research grant, and used it to buy out of his teaching for the semester. Another PhD student and I were given the opportunity, and seized it with both hands. We both had to very quickly get used to the week-in, week-out production of lectures (very different to the first lecture I gave a couple of years ago, where I believe I spent 50-60 hours preparing and rehearsing the lecture). We also had to get used to being the place where the buck stopped, the person to whom all the most difficult questions come. I feel incredibly grateful as well that I had a co-convenor who was also very interested in the material of the course and interested in trying some pedagogically-interesting techniques, as well has having a tutor who was dedicated, interested in the material, and who really worked to inspire her students. And we got there, and from the accounts I’ve received, did pretty well.

The semester is now over, the exams have been graded, and all that remains is a little paperwork (and by a little, I mean a lot more than I ever realised was possible). And now I look at the sorry state that my PhD has been left in. The amount of work I was doing, and how much I was enjoying that work, meant that my PhD has been a little neglected. A couple of bits and pieces were done, but now I sit and survey the amount of writing I should be doing between now and 3 weeks time, when the second semester will start. There might be some other reasons why my PhD hit the back-burner, including some structural and conceptual issues that are still haunting me, but I think they should be the realm of a separate post.

But it does raise some interesting issues of balance in the modern PhD (at least within the NZ system) – even those who are on scholarship still need to take some teaching (or other paid work) to be able to live, and there certainly aren’t enough scholarships to go around. So how do you balance these two elements competing for your time? Teaching is in theory only 10 hours per week roughly, but I think anyone would agree that, especially when marking/grading is on, it’s closer to 40+ hours per week.

And so it comes down to balance. This semester, that balance failed. And I’m ok with that, because it was an opportunity that just couldn’t be turned down. But it does raise larger questions about how people balance teaching and writing, whether they are still grad students, or even post-employment, when they have to balance lecturing, departmental requirements and administration with the production of their own writing, research and publication.

Any suggestions or comments gratefully received.

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Posted in PhD

2 thoughts on “Teaching vs Writing

  1. Erika

    The director of my program would always remind us that we were still students first and teachers second. It’s hard to remember sometimes. I had a schedule the last two semesters of completing my dissertation. There were times to do teacher things and times to write. If it meant some grading had to wait, it waited. I’d never let things get too far behind, but finishing was my priority.

    • Mark S

      I think that a schedule is an excellent idea. I had plans of doing something similar – basically writing off my own writing for the 2 weeks of the semester that I was really under grading pressure, but limiting my time spent on teaching for the other weeks. Unfortunately, I also need to develop self-control. I’m going to work on it more this semester!

      Thanks for the advice!

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