Staff Handbook: 3.3.4 Teaching by Research Staff

Approved: School Committee, 10 December 2003
(Significant changes since approval will be in red.)
Relevant Documentation: Research Staff Teaching Scheme Form (PDF)


1. Motivation

The motivation for the scheme is as follows:

  • The School recognises the high level of qualifications and competence possessed by research staff and the equality between teaching and research staff as emphasised in the Concordat. In addition, the School notes the valuable contributions research staff have regularly made to the School's teaching mission over the years.
  • Assistance from research staff helps the School improve the quality of its teaching provision. For example, smaller advisorials can be held and remedial teaching can be offered; in some cases research staff may have special knowledge; or a Research Fellow or Associate (RF/RA) may be able to focus better on a task than a Principal Investigator (PI), given the complexity of teaching-staff life.
  • The School also wishes to contribute to the career development of research staff themselves. When departments elsewhere consider applications for lectureships, they are likely to give significant weight to genuine teaching(-related) experience. In addition, lecturing to and otherwise interacting with students is a skill that can contribute to the ability to communicate and interact in the research arena.
  • The School wishes to ensure that teaching-related work is spread fairly across research staff. Before there was a general system governing the teaching-related activities of research staff, there was a tendency for some individuals to spend too much time on teaching-related work.
  • The School needs to release more time from PIs so that they can do project tasks that they can do better than the research staff, to manage their research staff more effectively, or to do tasks on other projects (e.g. writing grant proposals). This is to the overall good of the School's research life and trajectory. For these reasons, PIs should expect their research staff to be engaged in a limited amount of teaching-related work.

2. Flexibility

  • The scheme is specifically designed to be as flexible as possible, in terms of the types of work involved, the timing of it, and allowable exceptions.
  • It is expected that the scheme will be run on a basis of mutual trust and respect, and not in a legalistic manner.

3. Main Description

Each RF/RA is expected to provide an average of two hours contact time on appropriate teaching-related work (actual teaching, teaching support and/or teaching-related administration) per week of the teaching year. Such work may involve some preparation. However, the total time spent on contact time plus preparation cannot exceed 6 hours and it is expected that it will be considerably less. His/her supervisor has first call on the service.

Timetable The Head of Academic Programmes will remind teaching staff to advertise specific tutoring or demonstrating needs to research students and research staff well ahead of the start of each term. At this point of time, this form is also distributed to research staff. It is hoped that this will leave research staff enough time to consider their preferred option, and to discuss it with the lecturer involved and with their Principal Investigator. In any case, the form should be returned to the Head of Academic Programmes before the start of term, if possible.

Clarifications and Guidelines

  1. The teaching year is 30 weeks.
  2. The scheme is not intended to be used for plugging gaps in the School's teaching provision.
  3. The scheme is not intended to limit the possibilities for an individual RF/RA to engage in teaching. This would be negotiated with the individual and the supervisor, and also subject to clarification 9 later in this section.
  4. The exact meaning of "average" is subject to negotiation, within reason. By default the average will be over each term individually, but in many cases it may be possible for the average to be over, say, a whole year.
  5. The School will issue a form each semester listing examples of appropriate teaching related tasks. The tasks will be compiled in the spirit of enabling more one-to-one help or reducing the size of groups in small-group interactions, and might include the following. However, there are many other possible tasks that research staff may undertake.
    • holding advisorials, allowing their average size to be markedly reduced
    • providing remedial instruction, tutoring, etc.
    • holding exercise classes
    • conducting a minority of the lectures in a module (because, e.g., the main lecturer is away or because the RF/RA has special knowledge)
    • supervising students taking an Individual Study module
    • supervising undergraduate or MSc project students.
  6. What a specific RF/RA does will be defined on a case-by-case basis according to the RF/RA's wishes, strengths, knowledge and experience, the supervisor's wishes, and the School's needs. Noting that the School must sometimes insist that lecturers, etc., undertake particular undesired teaching assignments, it may need to act similarly with research staff. However, the wishes of research staff will be taken into account as far as is practical, and the School will not insist that research staff undertake tasks that would be thought inappropriate for teaching staff.
  7. Research staff may be sent to, or may choose to go to, Staff Development Unit training courses directly concerned with teaching. Time spent on such training, or on study needed to get up to speed on a topic, will count towards the hours of preparation.
  8. After consultation with research staff, an 'Ombudsman' will be appointed to champion the research staff, to investigate in a proactive manner possible abuses of the scheme and to recommend actions to the school.
  9. There is a possibility of an RF/RA under-reporting the amount of time spent, because of embarrassment or fear of criticism. It is suggested that there be meetings of research staff at which such concerns could be aired and at which the staff could get the measure of each other's teaching-related work. This system would be set up by research staff themselves. The School will seek to take action when an RF/RA is found to be doing an excessive amount of teaching-related work.
  10. It is the duty of the School to ensure that the RF/RAs are aware of all regulations and procedures associated with the allocated task. [This bit needs sorting ] There needs to be a School-operated support mechanism to help research staff grapple with procedures and so on that are attached to teaching. A special handbook and within-School training sessions would be desirable.
  11. There will be research-staff representation invited to all committee discussions related to this scheme.

4. Exceptional Circumstances

  1. New research staff will be excused for their first 3 months, although they may volunteer.
  2. An RF/RA may be excused from the scheme in exceptional circumstances.
  3. Other tasks that a member of the teaching staff may be called upon to do, such as outreach, may also be allowed, as an exception negotiated in special cases.