A first job after successfully completing a PhD at Reading

Dr Catrin Mair Edwards

Post-doctoral Lecturing Fellow

SchoolofLiterature, Drama & Creative Writing

UniversityofEast Anglia

Catrin.edwards@uea.ac.uk

 

Starting my first job after completing my PhD was, as with the starting any new job, both exciting and scary. Throughout my PhD I had dreamed of the day when I would get my first lecturing post and of getting a fresh start at a different University. And yet, when the dream became reality I found myself feeling ambivalent about moving on from the Department atReading. I had been atReadingsince I was an undergraduate and I was keen to extend my wings and experience a new working environment. More than this, I was excited about taking the next step as an early career researcher and eager to make my way on the career ladder. But, in the background, I had that nagging doubt about leavingReadingbecause I had been so well supported and nurtured there and, within the Department I felt part of a group of researchers, both students and staff, who shared my research interests and my approach. In moving on to UEA I was moving into what was then the unknown.

Whilst I’ve always been confident about following my own research interests, I was worried about how my research would fit in with the work of my new colleagues. I found instantly that there were colleagues who shared my interests and I’ve always been encouraged to remain research active. I was given the opportunity to share my research with the School through giving a research seminar on the article I was writing at the time. Colleagues from across research areas in the School attended the seminar and offered questions and comments in response to my paper. This was not only indicative of an engaged and thoughtful School who are able to think across and between individual areas of expertise but it also taught me about the value of exchanging ideas with colleagues in widely different areas than my own. For example, colleagues working in translation have directed me towards productive avenues of thought in relation to the texts I work on, which is an area of literary studies I hadn’t explored previously. More importantly, though, it assured me of the collegial nature of the School I’m now part of and of academia more widely.  

Teaching this year has been an absolute joy! I’ve been given the opportunity to teach my research interests in Critical Theory and 19th and 20th Century literature and the students have been engaged and enthusiastic. Whilst I’d done a significant amount of teaching as a PhD student, I had only ever taught atReading. As such, I was a little apprehensive about teaching in a new institution and I found myself questioning whether teaching would somehow be different here: would the students have different expectations and engage with seminars in ways I hadn’t come across before? And what would a typical seminar at UEA look like in comparison withReading? As part of my contract here I’ve been taking the initial modules on the MA in Higher Education Practice, which gave me some insight into these questions. I’ve always, as I think all academics do, reflected on my teaching and tried to think of new ways to engage students and to improve my practice. The MA-HEP, which has included peer observation and feedback, and my participation in a Teaching Forum where colleagues share best practice, have introduced me to new methods and approaches to organising seminars. Looking back on my teaching this year and having tried out many of these new methods I can see both how important it is to remain abreast of new developments that can enrich the learning experience but I’m also convinced that adopting these new techniques has to fit with my style as a teacher. Moreover, I think that my students get the best learning experience when I work with my strengths. For example, I’ve always been focused on close reading in seminars but in my training I was encouraged to use new media and technology; whilst offering a PowerPoint presentation to class made me feel incredibly uncomfortable and unnatural and didn’t seem to encourage dialogue in class, I did find it helpful and productive to organise close reading exercises around the use of the electronic whiteboard, where students could annotate a text on screen together and we were really able to produce readings of texts together.

In addition to developing my teaching in seminars I’ve also had the opportunity to lecture for the first time this year. The first lecture I gave was in one of the largest lecture theatres on campus so I wasn’t eased in gently! However, I’d prepared and rehearsed so much that on the day, I was just eager to get on with it and, thankfully, everything went well. Of course, I know this overworking and over-preparing was a product of my anxiety and I’m now learning to structure my preparation time more effectively. As I gain confidence in lecturing, I’m now able to concentrate on developing my style as a lecturer to bring my approach in line with my style in seminars.

Moving to a new institution as a junior colleague was daunting at first but I’ve been nurtured and supported by colleagues at both UEA andReadingat every stage. I’ve learnt that, whilst all academics will carry the flag for their respective universities, academia is primarily concerned with exchanging knowledge and sharing thinking. As such, I now see moving to a new School as not necessarily leaving behind the old, but as extending the number of colleagues I have and as a chance to engage with new people and different thinking. I’m now looking forward to the next chapter in my career!

About Cindy

Associate Professor in the Department of English Literature at the University of Reading. Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.
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