By Jake Smith (Vice President Postgraduate Students)
If you’re a Cardiff University student, chances are that at some point you’ve been taught by one of Cardiff’s PhD students. From delivering seminars, marking essays, holding feedback sessions, ensuring safety in experiments or supervising lab based work, PhD students working as Graduate Tutors or Demonstrators deliver a substantial proportion of Cardiff University’s teaching while juggling the not-insignificant commitment of actually completing their PhD.
Clearly the support for, and conditions of, these postgraduates who teach has a direct impact on the quality of teaching thousands of Cardiff’s students receive every year. In my role as Vice President Postgraduate Students’ I hear how rewarding PhD students find their teaching work, but I very often hear as well how they feel they are not being given a level of support and recognition that would enable them to teach to the best of their ability in the University. From concerns over the organisation of teaching, the support they receive and clarity over duties, many feel their job is being made harder than it should be.
After receiving numerous comments from PhD academic reps in the Students’ Union Postgraduate Forums that I chair, and after receiving many emails from PhD students, last year I co-chaired a working group with the University to look into these issues. We heard from University HR, College Postgraduate Deans, the Doctoral Academy and crucially from Tutors and Demonstrators in focus groups and forums. The Students’ Union also conducted in-depth research into the teaching arrangements at comparable Universities. We were able to identify numerous areas where the University could take action to secure more clarity and support for those that teach us.
We also heard from many Tutors and Demonstrators that they wish to be given contracts for their work, a practice that can be found across many UK universities. At the end of October, I represented the Students’ Union at a meeting with the UCU trade union and the senior management of Cardiff University to discuss the employment status and connected issues of the Tutors and Demonstrators who teach us. Working with the UCU and the University I hope we can achieve real progress for the postgrads who teach us soon.
Postgraduate researchers who teach make a huge contribution to teaching at Cardiff University. They all deserve to feel valued, recognised and supported. By achieving this, thousands of students every year will receive a well-resourced teaching experience, confident in the knowledge that their seminar tutor or lab demonstrator has the support they need to teach, succeed and thrive. There’s a lot more work still to do. If any student, undergraduate or postgraduate, would like to discuss this issue I’d be very happy to hear from you at VPPostgraduate@cardiff.ac.uk.