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Learning Enhancement and Development

Experiences and identities of postgraduate research students who teach

Principal investigator: Dr Jessica Hancock

Teaching is increasingly undertaken by PhD students, and many scholarships at City, University of London are contingent upon teaching responsibilities. Following a 2012 QAA review, the City Graduate School approved a ‘Research students who teach’ (2013) policy which requires PhD students to undertake adequate and appropriate preparation for their teaching, which, for the vast majority who do not have evidence of equivalent prior learning, involves completion of the EDM120 Learning, Teaching and Assessment (LTA) module. LTA is a 15-credit M-level introductory module which forms part of the MA in Academic Practice programme, run by City’s department for Learning Enhancement and Development (LEaD), and is attended by significant numbers of postgraduate research students (83 in the 17/18 academic year, which is 58% of the total numbers on LTA).

Feedback and follow-up discussions with staff and PhD students from each of City’s academic schools indicated that PhD students still required (and wanted) additional training in the more practical issues around teaching (such as classroom management and presentation skills). Additionally, many students raised issues specific to PhD students, which particularly centred on the development of their teaching identities – such as their ability to negotiate between a PhD student and a teacher identity, and uncertainty about how to construct a convincingly authoritative identity for their teaching. A new 1.5 day course, Establishing a Teaching Persona (ETP), has been created by LEaD to support these additional needs and will run for the first time in September 2018 and January 2019.

This project thus seeks to both evaluate the effectiveness of ETP, and to explore further the support needs of PhD students who teach, especially in terms of identity negotiation and construction. The research will, therefore, build on research which looks at doctoral students who teach, such as Bullock and Ritter (2011) who argue that identity is a ‘fundamental focus’ of this transition. Although there is a growing body of research on the academic and teaching identities of lecturers (Kell & Camps, 2010; Hallet, 2014; McAlpine, Amundsen & Turner, 2014), and the identity development of postgraduate research students (Fairbrother, 2012; Ai, 2017; Grant-Davie, Matheson, & Stephens, 2017), there is currently little which specifically addresses the multiplicity of identity of PhD students who teach, or the ways in which a new identity as a teacher intersects with other aspects of a postgraduate research student’s identity and experience.

The overall aim of this project is to answer the following question:
*what is the lived experience of identity formation for PhD students who teach and how can this inform improvement of the guidance, support and preparation that they receive through the ETP course and LTA module at City, University of London?

To achieve the above aim, the project will specifically examine the following sub-questions:
*How do PhD students who teach construct and negotiate new identities for themselves?
*How do these teaching identities intersect with other identities for postgraduate research students who teach?
*What are key factors that affect this process of teaching-identity formation?
*How can postgraduate research students be effectively supported through the process of the formation of a teaching identity?
*How do PhD students who teach experience changes to their identity over time?