Post-Graduate Teaching – Good for the Soul?

Karen O’Donnell

I came into my PhD study as a qualified secondary school teacher with a good few years’ experience of teaching Religious Studies, Philosophy, and Ethics to children of varying levels of inclination and ability. In some ways this has been both a blessing and curse when it came to teaching in Higher Education. A blessing in that I knew how to manage a small group of students and I knew that I could teach. I will never forget the fear I faced the very first time I stood in front of a group of year 9s to teach ten minutes on the Holocaust with no idea whether what would come out of my mouth would be any good or not!
But it hasn’t necessarily been an easy transition. boylisteningtheatreTeaching small groups of students for just a few weeks at a time is hard. Learning names is difficult in a short space of time and the kind of control I had in a secondary school classroom would be inappropriate in the university setting. Post-graduate teaching itself is not without its problem. Students are paying a considerable sum of money for their degree experience – can we justify allowing post-grads to teach when students are paying for ‘professionals’? Post-graduate students are often not unionised and without representation in larger discussions of teaching in the University. These bigger questions remain part of the reconstruction of the University in the 21st century.

I have to conclude, though, that teaching alongside studying for a PhD is an invaluable experience and one I would recommend for all PhD students.

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Surprises from the archive: Marian devotion and the atomic bomb

by Karen O’Donnell

I wrote this article for The Tablet about the value of digital archives in research. Earlier this year, The Tablet made its archives – stretching back 100 years – freely available online. My article reflected on how research has changed in the last decade and the value of digital archiving.

 Mary Brittany 2This is the first in a series of blogs celebrating The Tablet’s new online archive, where for a limited time you can view for free every page of every issue since 1840. PhD student Karen O’Donnell discovers how two leading figures of the twentieth-century Church related to Mary

When I began my undergraduate degree 13 years ago, the concept of using the internet to facilitate research was in its infancy. There was uncertainty about how to reference material found online, most of my lecturers were late adopters of the new technology so the internet was very much unknown to them, and most of all, there was little information online.

If you wanted an article, you went to the relevant section of the library and, if you were lucky, found the journal you wanted or, alternatively, cajoled someone else in your class into parting with the volume you needed and hurriedly made your notes. Times have changed!

The blog was first posted in February 2014 and you can read the full content here.

Karen O’Donnell is a PhD student at the University of Exeter, working on a theology of women and Eucharist which uses the insights of trauma theory.