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Undergrad experiences of teaching at UK universities question

(18 Posts)
lljkk Thu 16-May-13 07:50:45

Sorry this is long, I think ignore if you have been to Oxbridge:

I attended 2 USA colleges (very similar sizes) as an undergrad & worked as postgrad researcher for 2 rather similar Uk universities.

The system at USCollege-A, each undergrad class almost always consisted of 2-3 hours of massive hall lectures per week + 1-3 hours of tutorials; the tutorials were always run by paid postgrads (PhD students) without lecturer present. We were supposed to direct most of our queries our assigned tutor, discouraged from directly approaching lecturers.

At USCollege-B we had much smaller lecture rooms and the lecturers themselves ran all tutorial time although some technical staff or postgrads (typically masters degree students) might be present as helpers, too. The lecturers had well published office hours, easy to approach.

College-A was known as a prestigious theory/research Uni & College-B was known as a top partying/teaching/practical skills Uni.

All this was in the context of yesterday's news story about disatisified English students, I said how in the US system the more you pay, the more prestigious the degree, the less contact time you get, especially with lecturers.

DH said that College-A was exactly the system he had in his English Uni (UKUni-1). I worked in a different department at UKUni-1 and socialised heavily with my department PhD students; they did not in my experience do hardly any tutorials as sole lead. Certainly not 2-3 hours every week all term. Nor did the PhD students when I worked at UKUni-2. From I can tell, the lecturers at Uni-1 & Uni-2 ran their courses pretty much like college B, present at nearly all tutorial & practical sessions, too, often with PG helpers. I guess it must vary by subject or department.

So which was your experience as an undergrad? College-A or College-B system? Which do you think is more common in UK or maybe just in English universities?

lljkk Thu 16-May-13 10:02:05


MaterFacit Thu 16-May-13 11:22:43

Most of my tutorials were led by PhD students. The lecturers for each course took a tutorial group each and divided the rest amongst their students so often I only saw the lecturer for actual lectures. We were encouraged to email the tutorial leader (either PhD student or lecturer) if we had any problems. I have some happy memories of being squeezed into a tiny office with my tutor group and everyone fighting to be first so we got a unbroken chair from the odd selection provided.

Sometimes the group was so small e.g Latin BII that it was just a weekly study group in the lecturers office. In another course there were only enough of us to make up two tutorial groups so the lecturer took both of them. It was a very small, relatively unpopular department in an ancient converted Victorian building though, with very few teaching rooms.

When DH was a physics PhD student he supplemented his income through teaching tutorials and labs. When he became a lecturer he used his PhD students to supervise his labs etc, I don't think he did any tutorials himself although he did check and remark final year projects.

turkeyboots Thu 16-May-13 11:41:17

Was never taught by PhD students at all. All lecturers were done by Dr this or Profess that as were tutorials. Except our intro to IT class anyway.

But didn't have many tutorials, more large lectures and practical labs.

turkeyboots Thu 16-May-13 11:42:50

Oh but did have some PhD students as assistants to lecturer in lab. Prevented us destroying the place!

TheOriginalSteamingNit Thu 16-May-13 11:47:43

Had a phd student in first term of first year.

DId a few 'specialist' courses, which would be a tutorial a week and assessed by a long essay.

Other courses were one or two two hour seminars and four lectures a week, with tutorials perhaps fortnightly - also assessed by essays of various length and one seven-day open paper.

This contact time issue is misguided - students seem to think we get the money they will pay (later, possibly, in bits) as an extra to what was already there - and that this means they should be awarded extra time and help as they want it. Whilst also, of course, frequently not bothering to turn up for the contact time we do give!

MagratGarlik Thu 16-May-13 12:02:25

I used to be a lecturer at a RG university (not Oxbridge) and did my PhD at a different RG university, Dp is a lecturer at another institution (not RG).

At the two RG universities, lectures were never done by PhD students (actually it was against university regulations), but PhD students acted as teaching assistants in lab classes. Lectures were usually large class teaching (200+ students at a time), minimal tutorials, each academic (lecturers and above, never PhD or postdoc) had minimal contact time - max of 200 hours per year. This was to allow sufficient time for research activity. Undergraduates were expected to be very self-sufficient.

At dp's university, contact hours are huge. Lots of small group teaching and continuous assessment. Less prestigious institution. At his university, some PhD students do teach, but not routinely.

lljkk Thu 16-May-13 13:49:34

I had a history class with about 800+ other students for each lecture. The lecturer was a Nobel Price nominee. That was CollegeA. I can't even remember what history topic it was.

creamteas Thu 16-May-13 18:17:28

I have worked in both RG and non-RG research-intensive universities.In both the structure was more or less the same.

I lecture on the modules (with the occasional guest lecture that might be a PhD student, a prof or from the outside world). I also run seminars, Seminars can be timetabled at parallel times, so others including PhD students might be involved (at u/g level but not at p/g).

I devote 4 hours a week to office hours. This is both to any students on my modules (not just those in my seminar groups) and my personal tutees.

turkeyboots Thu 16-May-13 19:26:11

800 people! We were the biggest course in the science dept and had core subjects as group lectures, but was only 350 of us. No Nobel prizes but member of IPPCC.

MagratGarlik Thu 16-May-13 19:42:47

There was a noble prize winner in another dept of my last institution and the IT students apparently had 800 students per lecture at times (spread over 3 lecture theatres - the lecturer running between the three being broadcast via web link to the other places).

Lonecatwithkitten Sun 19-May-13 19:38:38

Attended two UK Unis and recognise neither A nor B. first degree very prestigious small Uni 2-3 hours lectures and 2hours tutorial per course per week all given by the organ grinders.
Second degree vocational course so everyone did everything the same 27 hours lectures and practicals per week no tutorials all given by world leaders. Did exchange for one semester and went to US college to be frank standards considerably lower. In UK always taught by world leaders in US often taught by residents as 'profs' to busy.

BackforGood Sun 19-May-13 19:49:14

Well, I was lucky enough to do my degree at a Polytechnic (has now changed it's name to some University title of course wink) and we always had lecturers, no PhDs, and we had lectures for most of a (school hour) day, every day of the week.
The way it should be IMO - you then have the rest of the afternoon, evenings and weekends, to do your own study, but are actually being taught by people who are employed as lecturers for most of the week.

PiratePanda Mon 20-May-13 22:27:18

In my RG uni (am lecturer) permanent academic staff do all the lecturing, and seminar teaching if the whole class is under 30 students. If above 30, then senior PhD students take seminars but never lectures. Staff do all the marking.

This was also true IME of Oxbridge - PhD students only did supervisons/tutorials, never lectures.

GrendelsMum Tue 21-May-13 13:24:28

For us, it was very much left up to us. We were pretty much expected to attend lectures 10am-1pm, and then additional lectures and classes and small group seminars were available in the 9am-10am slot, and in the 2pm-5pm slots, which you could go to if you wanted. Those were all always with lecturers, as far as I remember. I don't think I was ever taught by a PhD student.

prettydaisies Tue 21-May-13 14:03:21

My OH is a member of faculty at our local university. He lectures 2 hours per week and runs a practical for 3 hours a week for his 2 courses which run in 2 different semesters. He is not the only lecturer and on 1 course only teaches about 1/4 of it, the other is more like 3/4. He does not do tutorials at all although will happily help anyone who needs it. He has a couple of PhD students to help out in the practicals.

prettydaisies Tue 21-May-13 14:03:53

Oh and at the moment he is very busy marking exams!

Copthallresident Tue 21-May-13 14:57:02

I've attended three unis, all RG / 1994. First degree was lectured and tutored in every case by Drs or Professors, a lecture plus tutorial per week in four modules plus tutorial in interdisciplinary module, also visiting lecturers who also did tutorials eg EP Thompson. Tutorials never more than 5 students and you had to have done the reading and expect to be challenged. That uni not especially well regarded at time but now probably mid echelons of RG but further up for subject. I think I was in on the beginning of a good era for the subject there . The odd bonkers academic who didn't much relish students but on the whole a good educational experience

I have two masters degrees and in both cases some courses were lectured and tutored by PHD students but that didn't stop them being extremely good at the job. All were published and quite well on in their lecturing careers, just hadn't got around to getting the letters I suppose. Since in both cases I was paying I would have been first to complain. Only exception was a Finance PhD lecturer, now Prof in one of the elite unis, won't say where, absolutely clueless about his subject and how to lecture. Have heard other complaints about postgrads teaching Economics / Finance modules who though they knew their stuff were not good at communicating but I guess that reflects that if you have talents in those subjects you may well be using them to earn a lot of money......

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