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How long does it take to prepare and teach a UK graduate course?

Being a consultant, I’m in the habit of tracking my time—a habit I retained throughout my MA, PhD, and teaching. This means that I have a weirdly exact time for how long it takes me to research and write a 5000 word paper (50±2 hours), as well as how long it took me to complete the PhD from start to finish, and data about a graduate-level course I taught while doing the PhD. As that kind of information isn’t necessarily visible, and as it could be quite helpful to those who are preparing a course for the first time, I wanted to share it and payment information here.

First, a few caveats:

  • This was a graduate course in the UK system. That means it was ~200 hours, though the bulk of that was students reading in their own time. Face-to-face time with me was 12 hours of lectures, 12 hours of seminars, around an hour’s office hours per student, and my presence at the assessment.
  • My role included prep (see though following), lectures, seminars by three groups (i.e. 36 hours), and marking. And a weird amount of admin. How do people send so many emails?!
  • A different lecturer came in to do four of the lectures. I arranged his retention, helped him with materials, and attended the lectures. This definitely reduced course prep time.
  • This is a course that I had previously taken when doing my MA; I was then TA for two years before becoming module convenor. That means that I didn’t have to do extensive extra reading as I was quite familiar with the materials and how the course worked. I didn’t need to prepare a new syllabus, as I was to follow the same course—there were just a couple of units I tweaked and updated with newer readings (and in an attempt to diversify the male/pale/staleness of the reading list). I had delivered two of the lectures previously while TA, and perhaps most importantly, I had access to previous years’ slides. While I either didn’t use or edited these quite heavily, it still reduced the amount of time I needed to prepare the course.
  • The course was assessed via a reflection (2000 words) and a briefing paper (4000 words). I marked these and then liaised with the second marker where necessary.
  • This was a humanities subject.
  • The school I was teaching at has small classes, so office hours and marking time may be lower than you’d anticipate in other systems!

I should also add that when I’m timing, I include only ‘productive’ time; if I change tasks, even for a few seconds, or I get up to stretch, grab a coffee, scream into the void etc, the timer is off. So the data I give here doesn’t include downtime or procrastination. I find that I am consistently able to do 4h20 of mental work a day, though I can get it up to 6 if I want to burn out inside of a week. I’d feel bad about how little this seems, but apparently the average office worker produces around 3 hours of output a day—so even if I’m not doing the insane hours that people seem to claim they’re doing, at least I’m above average? Affirmations please! (See also this fantastic book.)

Time commitment

The following image shows my hourly commitment to the course, by month. June, July, and August 2019 were largely preparing; I delivered the course from late September through December. January was spent marking, and May’s hours were marking resubmits.

Hourly commitment to teach the module, by month

Breaking that down further, per the below image, admin work was the biggest time sink. This included things like getting back to student emails, figuring out logistics with the school, setting up the Moodle page, uploading past papers and materials etc. Expected teaching hours were 48 (12 lectures + 36 seminars), so I went over just a smidgeon there. I had 26 students, so office hours were just over the expected time of 26 hours. I’m quite surprised how much time marking took—nearly an hour per student, for 6000 words total each.

Time taken to deliver the course, by task

Total time taken to teach the course was 175:42:07.

Payment

For this course, I was paid as a junior lecturer under a freelance contract (i.e. no benefits). It cost me around €1400 to register as a freelancer for the exclusive purpose of teaching the course. I was paid for 24 hours of teaching; the other 24 hours were considered part of my obligation as a PhD student with a scholarship. I was also paid for 12 hours of course preparation, which was a nice surprise, and for 26 office hours (62 paid hours total). Admin and marking are unpaid.

In total I was paid €5066.94. If this was divided by the ‘official’ hours, 62, then it would be around €82 an hour. Divided by the actual hours, ~176, it was a little less than €29 an hour. That’s significantly less than I charge as a consultant, and is a touch more than I used to make per hour as a waitress in Australia 10–15 years ago (on Sundays and public holidays, anyway!). 2014 data from the UK suggests it’s about on par with pay for being an advertising accounts manager, dentist, quantity surveyor, insurance underwriter, train driver, manager in the NHS, or IT project manager. None of these require a PhD, though dentists also undertake extensive education—and they have to look at TEETH all day omg.

Update 3-Feb: Note that, had I been paid for the 24 hours of seminars that were instead considered part of my PhD hours, the average hourly rate would have been approx €37.

Hopefully this is of help to those considering teaching in the UK system, alongside their PhD or otherwise.

What do *you* think?

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