PhD student: secondary teaching is a fallback option #teachers

The Wellcome Trust published an interesting report today about how PhD students choose their careers.

WT report

Both men and women in the study said that it was hard for early career academics to plan their careers and that universities did not prioritise supporting or mentoring staff. Only women, however, said that this was significant enough to make them consider leaving their research careers.

The report goes on to provide a profile of one female PhD holder: “Miranda hugely enjoyed her PhD and found it very rewarding. When it came to the end of the PhD, she wanted to stay at her current university, working with her supervisor on the same issues and exploring similar subject avenues. However, after the PhD finished very few positions came up; she was unemployed and running out of money. Miranda started a PGCE to be a teacher. She has plans to re-enter academia at her old university with the help of her supervisor, and sees secondary teaching as her fallback option.”

While I was encouraged that Miranda found another route to employment, I was concerned that she saw school teaching as simply a temporary slot in her career path. Of course she might not have the broader attributes that make a successful school teacher, particularly if she ends up in a school in challenging circumstances, with children who are disengaged from learning due to a range of family and social circumstances.

You would imagine that at least Miranda would have enough in-depth knowledge of her subject area, assuming she specialised in it as a teacher. On the other hand, it might be a disadvantage if she decided simply to ignore the fact that the knowledge and understanding taught in school-age classrooms happens in a different context to that for university undergraduates. This she might learn from an experienced teacher mentor colleague, assuming they had the time and energy to provide her with proper guidance (sounds a bit like the research environment she left?).

All of this links to work I am currently involved with on initial teacher training and STEM-related careers paths.