A space for graduate student supervisors to think about teaching
The Graduate Ethical Teaching Forum is a space for postgraduates to come together and talk about teaching. As Graduate Reps for the CUSU women's campaign, and as supervisors ourselves, we feel that we should be talking more about how we teach, and how we can teach more ethically. We know we want our teaching to be accessible for our students, to build their confidence and independence and their love of our subjects; we know that higher education - and Cambridge in particular - can be difficult to navigate, especially for students from marginalised or oppressed backgrounds; we know that the supervision and teaching systems in which we participate are equally capable of perpetuating structural oppression as mitigating it. Our aim here is to open up a conversation on how we can address structural issues in our own teaching: we all have experiences of things going well or less well, and techniques we’ve developed over our teaching careers, so let’s get together and pool our knowledge.
On another level, we consider that graduate students teaching in this university face certain problems unique to their role. One major problem is a distinct lack of training for graduate supervisors: training is primarily undertaken by individual faculties, with supplementary (but optional) workshops run by colleges and the Personal and Professional Development Programme, but many supervisors feel undertrained and unsupported. Moreover, as casual and uncontracted workers, not guaranteed any quantity of teaching work from year to year, and given little official guidance not only in how to go about our work but also in the very terms of our employment, we are in a particularly precarious position. In practicality, there is a lack of accountability in both directions: on the one hand, students have few ways of registering complaints about ineffective or inadequate supervisors, and even when they do, the casual nature of supervisors’ employment means that these supervisors can find work elsewhere without addressing any problems in their teaching. On the other hand, graduate supervisors who face difficulties with their students or employers have little or no recourse to take, and constructive feedback can be hard to come by.
We intend to address these problems by a number of methods. Our regular meetings provide an opportunity for supervisors to discuss their teaching issues and share perspectives and experiences between different disciplines. We intend to develop a schedule of speaker or panel events relevant to these areas, which can also help strengthen links between Cambridge graduate supervisors and those in other universities, both in the UK and abroad. We also hope to work with the Disability Resource Centre and the CUSU Sabbatical Welfare Officer to develop and design training workshops for new and existing supervisors, and to negotiate with university administration regarding the position and training of graduate supervisors. We can do so much if we work together!
All events and websites are open to all genders and all university teachers (including postdocs, early career researchers, and teachers not affiliated with the university); we particularly encourage graduate students yet to supervise to get involved, and very much welcome the input and involvement of undergraduates.
Michaelmas 2015: Monday 19th October, 5.30-7pm, in the Timmy Hele room in the Queen's building of Emmanuel college. We will put up signs from the plodge!
Monday 23rd November, also 5.30-7 in the Timmy Hele room.
Keep an eye out for a potential panel event in week 8!
These regular Forum events are a chance for graduate supervisors to get together and discuss the practical and theoretical problems and concerns specific to our position within the university. Meetings are notionally facilitated by Jenny and Talitha, and we begin with a rough agenda of topics to be discussed, but in reality conversation ranges widely and participants are encouraged to bring questions or topics to the group. Minutes are taken and uploaded here [link]; we try to provide detailed accounts of the meetings while retaining full anonymity.
Similarly to WomCam meetings, we begin by introducing ourselves with names, pronouns, area and level of study, and experience in supervising. We usually practice 'stacked hands', which is a meeting-facilitation technique designed to give everyone a say, and people are welcome to communicate using hand signals if they feel comfortable doing so.
We try to make our meeting spaces as accessible as possible by booking rooms which are well-lit, with comfortable seating and step-free access. We also take short breaks throughout the session, especially if we go on longer than an hour. Please do not hesitate get in touch via facebook or email if you have any further questions about accessibility at our meetings.
We hope to see you at a meeting soon!
This is where we link to the minutes of previous meetings.
Here's where you find contact information for the two admins of the Forum and of this site, Jenny and Talitha. You can email us at getf-admins (at) srcf.net and we will get back to you as soon as possible.
Please get in touch if you want to know anything about the forum, if you need any accessibility info about our meetings that we have not provided, and particularly if you fancy writing anything for our blog!
Jenny Harris (Emmanuel College) is a second-year PhD student in the Faculty of English. As grad rep on the CUSU Women’s Campaign last year (2014-15), she founded the Graduate Ethical Teaching Forum. She has been supervising since Easter term 2013; she also has experience in private tutoring (including GCSE courses) and teaching at English language summer schools. She studied at Cambridge for her MPhil and BA, with a year abroad at the ENS in Lyon (2010-11).
Talitha Kearey (Clare College) is a second-year PhD student in the Faculty of Classics, and is joint grap rep on the CUSU Women’s Campaign along with Jenny. This year (2015-16) is her first year supervising; she supervises a variety of papers in Latin literature, and runs classes to help with reading set texts. Like Jenny, both her previous degrees were at Cambridge.