To be completely honest, on coming to university I had no clue as to what the teaching staff to student ‘relationship’ would look like – and in fact I found it a bit daunting.
Coming from Year 13 where most of my classes were around ten people in size, I was incredibly used to asking questions and querying my teachers. This is something I thought I’d miss out on at university, and was hence worried that perhaps I’d miss out on that absolutely crucial process in learning. Going to my first lecture (which had about 500 people in it, as it turned out to be a course that pre-med students take – though I’m not a ‘pre-medder’ myself) I instantly thought my fears would turn out to be true, but I quickly found out that my fears were nothing to worry about.
Let me start out by attempting to explain the teaching staff that you’re sure to come across in your university journey. From my perspective, I can kind of ‘sort’ all of the teaching staff into three different categories:
- Lecturers and Professors
Whether they be ‘Lecturers’, ‘Senior Lecturers’, ‘Associate Professors’ or ‘Professors’ – in essence their role is the same: to do research and to teach. (Their title simply shows how ‘far’ they are in their career.) This means that the people you are getting taught by are actually generating new knowledge in the field, which (to me at least) sounds pretty cool.
I have to admit that sending that email, or asking that question can be made a bit harder by the fact that Lecturers and Professors are world leaders in their fields, and have this big title, but the main thing to remember is that they are all super passionate about what they teach and hence love when students show interest or ask a question.
- Professional Teaching Fellows
Professional Teaching Fellows are just like teachers, as their job consists of just that: teaching. Some Professional Teaching Fellows have been researchers, but decided they loved the teaching aspect too much and decided to devote their entire time to teaching and others were high school teachers that decided to move onto tertiary education. Whatever their background, all Professional Teaching Fellows have a passion for teaching and love of their subject – and hence really appreciate it when students get involved.
- Teaching Assistants
Teaching Assistants are most often students at the university, either studying an undergraduate degree (Teaching Assistants, TAs) or postgraduate degrees (GTAs). You’ll often encounter TAs and GTAs in things such as tutorials or laboratories, and because they are most often studying themselves, they can remember exactly what it was like to be in your position as it was only a few years (or even a year) ago for them. Therefore, they are always more than willing to help you out.
Now I’m sure you realise that shouting out your question or raising your hand in a lecture theatre of up to 500 people isn’t really feasible (we’d be there for hours if everyone had a question) – but there are still many ways to get that academic help or ask that question.
Tutorials are small group classes usually with a TA or GTA where lecture content is revised, practice questions solved, and discussions had. These are a great place to ask questions, and because of the small group size, a lot less daunting. Even better, your tutorial mates will often have the same question and so you can work through it together!
Tutorials (usually) happen only once a week, and so aren’t usually the best place for burning questions that you just need to ask as soon as possible. That’s where ‘Piazza’ comes in. ‘Piazza’ is like an online forum with a page dedicated specifically to each of your courses. It’s a great place to ask questions, and have them answered by your peers and teaching staff alike. And you can even ask questions anonymously (just in case you think it might be a bit of a stupid question – even though I’m sure it’s not)!
There is always the option of sending your lecturer an email, arrange a time to go to their office or pop in during their office hours (a period of time where the lecturer guarantees they’ll be in their office, ready to answer any questions you have). Just remember, all the teaching staff love their subject – and will always be more than willing to help you out!