The Comfort Pursuit

‘To teach or not to teach’ (while undertaking a PhD)?

foto (4)Although ‘not to teach’ is not an option in many countries, most Masters and PhD students have at least a chance of teaching, but should we go for it?

For many years before officially starting my doctorate studies in New Zealand I decided I wanted to study in an English speaking country. I couldn’t explain, I just had that feeling that it would make all the difference for future opportunities.

I focused on the UK for a while, but throughout the Masters and following years the comments were all the same: for us Brazilians, is very difficult to study in the UK without a Brazilian scholarship. Following ups and downs of the world economy we have had good and bad times, but our currency has always been weak when compared to British Pounds. For that reason we need support from our country – as there the difficulties are well known – to be able to study comfortably without worrying about subsistence. But to make things harder, at that stage Brazilian scholarships were very much nonexistent.

So the plans changed and I decided to work and have some experience before diving into a doctorate life. Throughout my career I’ve always focused a lot on experience and what would open doors in the future. Therefore I moved to the north and lectured for 3 years before deciding to focus on the PhD again. In Brazil the opportunities in academia are very limited without a PhD, especially if you like researching. So it was time to move on.

For personal reasons, at that stage I decided to change the focus to New Zealand, and came without a scholarship. The idea was to look for local scholarships and if they did not exist I would work part-time.

I started the PhD without any assurance that I would have a scholarship, but then the ‘PhD Teacher Fellow Scholarship’ came up, and I applied for that. Students who hold this scholarship research 30 and teach 10 hours per week. It sounded perfect at the start, because I always liked to be very busy and to navigate between tasks of different nature. Teaching associated with research was then the best idea.

The downside of this path is that although it covers your fees, it just pays the salary of working 10 hours per week. The upside, however, is that it is possible to combine it with other scholarships.

Here in New Zealand is easy to find students with international or full scholarships from universities, industry or government. Which is great because gives you more time to focus on your research. But is it really a good thing? I still don’t know the answer to that…

Although sometimes it can be difficult to be half-staff and half-student, my experience as a teacher fellow at Lincoln University has been great. It is not easy to manage hours in class, marking and still have time to research, but it has added a lot to my perspectives of teaching and the relationship I have with the members of the staff at the School of Landscape Architecture. It is a completely different system from Brazil and makes me feel much better prepared to face future challenges as a professional researcher.

Of course it doesn’t work for everyone the same way, and you should find what is best for you, but I believe it was the right decision for me. I also think a full-time research scholarship is a good idea, however getting involved in a few courses throughout your doctorate journey, even as a volunteer, can add a lot to your future.

What is your experience? Do you teach while in your postgrad studies?

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