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It’s all highs and all lows in demonstrating

“It’s all highs and all lows in demonstrating.”

Hmm, maybe that’s not entirely true. But it feels too true to pass up the chance to write it.

Demonstrating – it’s what we PhD students do for bonus pocket money at the University of Southampton. You either lead or assist in undergraduate and postgraduate classes, and you get money for:

  1. Car care and petrol;
  2. Travelling;
  3. Saving up for when you inevitably overrun your stipend-covered PhD period.

Today I’m feeling the rule of three. You ready? Here they come:

The Three Heights of Demonstrating

1. Actually being able to help another human being

Not everyone enjoys teaching. But I hazard a guess that most of us feel satisfied when we realise we’ve made someone’s day a bit better.

I demonstrate for GIS (Geographic Information Systems) classes. Technology is always a pain in these classes, but when I advise a student to restart the program and… it suddenly works: we all feel happy.

2. Learning and teaching

Teaching is such an incredible way to learn. Thought you knew your stuff? Think again. The best way to know you know something (minor tongue twister there) is to teach it.

Even though I’m really comfortable with the GIS I teach, I still prep for each class. Because as great as it is to learn while teaching, it’s also super awkward when someone asks a question and you’ve forgotten the answer!

3. OK I admit… the money

As a PhD student you generally have a stipend. This is a form of income (although it’s often untaxed) which your sponsors/funders are providing you with so you don’t wither away during your PhD because you can’t buy food or afford rent.

Stipends are great. But they don’t necessarily pay for holidays. Or the car. Or the girlfriend/boyfriend.

Demonstrating, as well as other jobs offered by the University of Southampton, pays well. Looking for a job during your studies? Look at the University first.

Most of us PhD students get our stipend once every 3 months…
But Demonstrating money comes in monthly. Score!

The Three Depths of Demonstrating

1. Stress, even more of it

Not everyone is constantly stressed during their PhD. Not everyone.

But there’s a lot of different activities you’re balancing during a PhD. Attending compulsory courses or lectures, developing your own skills, developing your research, networking within and outside of the University, preparing presentations and conference papers – the list goes on.

Sometimes, demonstrating feels like just another item on that list.

(Although I actually find it’s often a welcome distraction from all the other stuff.)

2. Feeling stupid/failing to help a student

Before I elaborate: this doesn’t happen often to demonstrators. Especially not if you’ve prepared for the session.

But when it does, and it probably will happen to all of us, it sucks. It’s one thing not to know the answer when the teacher asks you a question and you’re a student, but when a student asks something and you’re meant to be the teacher… Eek! Ugh!

My approach is to simply admit that I don’t know, and suggest how we might find the answer. And I stick around so I can learn or be reminded too.

3. Time is money

Yeah, yeah. I said that money is great. But so is time. And the PhD is already like a pressure cooker.

Especially when you add: a social life, a decent amount of exercise, a sufficient amount of time spent in the sunlight (try to avoid turning into a vampire during your studies), food shopping and cooking, remaining in contact with your family at least on an annual basis, etc.

Adding demonstrating can be the final tip of the iceberg. Or not. But it can be. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Try not to let demonstrating come at the cost of friends or time spent getting some hours of natural light. Demonstrating should benefit you, not stress you out.

Just one closing remark

I spent my first year of my PhD waiting for an opportunity to demonstrate. When that opportunity came in my second year, in the form of GIS demonstrating, I grabbed it with both hands.

I haven’t regretted it.

If you could demonstrate, what subjects might you be interested in demonstrating? Let me know in the comments.


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