If I have understood correctly, most people doing their PhDs do their best to avoid any teaching duties while in their programs. However, I think I might want to do some teaching too. Of course, I have a hidden agenda. I would hope that:

  1. Usually, (good) skill to teach is required later on your career, when applying for tenured positions. I would receive good experience.

  2. Giving lectures related to my research topic might get someone interested about it. I could delegate some minor (boring :-) part of my research topic for someone to do as his/her master thesis.

Am I hoping too much here? Any experiences?

  • 2
    My department has a teaching requirement for PhD students; so did the department where I got my PhD. Sadly, this does not contradict your observation that "most people doing their PhDs do their best to avoid any teaching duties".
    – JeffE
    Commented Jul 12, 2013 at 21:27
  • I myself am not yet in graduate school so I can't speak from personal experience. But I know a friend doing a mathematics PhD who has a full fellowship, but simply likes teaching, so he has said he'll voluntarily teach a class starting next semester. So other people have been in your shoes, and opted to teach. Commented Jul 12, 2013 at 22:44
  • 4
    There is another benefit of teaching and that is you end up discovering small (hopefully) holes in your knowledge as you start presenting it to others...allowing you to fill those in.
    – earthling
    Commented Jul 13, 2013 at 1:21

4 Answers 4


Most doctorate programs have some amount of teaching/ta/facilitator/etc as a requirement of the program. Some people try to do more, some try to do less, but unless you're working in a research lab (with its own endowment :-) expect to do some teaching.

  1. Re 'good skill': if your goal is to find a tenure track position then yes this would be good experience. Assuming that you enjoy teaching, and who here doesn't grin, this would be a good opportunity to enhance and refine your teaching skills.

  2. Re 'lectures on research': be careful here. Odds are that any teaching roles you would be offered at this point in your academic career would be pretty low level undergraduate type stuff. Depending on your area of research you might also run into some problems 'presenting' un-vetted data. There are always exceptions to the rule but I wouldn't expect for you to be teaching anything so specific that your research would come into play. YMMV but that has been my experience (since you asked).

  3. Suggestion: Be careful with overloading your schedule. Teaching is one of those jobs that finds a way to embed itself in many aspects of your life that you didn't expect. For example: I expected to spend my middle years sitting on the porch reading books with my wife, not reading term papers. Oh well. While it is good to gain experience you don't want to spread yourself too thin and suffer an impact to your research (remember, the reason you're here in the first place :) or your personal life.


Concerning your first point, teaching is a major component of most academic jobs, and in fact is the main part unless you're a superstar, so you should at least try it to see if you like it. I thought I'd hate it until I tried it my senior year, and it was incredible and changed my life. I love to research and have published several papers, but teaching is the reason I want to be a professor. So try it out!

On another note, your PhD institution will probably be much more gentle and helpful if you have any difficulties, while a postdoc or other 'real job' will expect you to already know what you're doing. So you should try teaching now while you have a safety net.


Teaching (being a teaching assistant) happens to be a requirement of my PhD program, and there's an option to teach more than two semesters, with your PI's permission.

If you're interested in teaching while doing your PhD, I'd recommend applying to programs where teaching is required (I did, for this reason). If this isn't common in your field, you could try applying at universities known for undergraduate teaching: they are more likely to allow you to teach as part of your PhD.


most people doing their PhDs do their best to avoid any teaching duties while in their programs.

Some people. I'm not even sure it's "most". At any rate, many many people do not try to avoid teaching duties, and a sizable fraction even make it a point to do quite a lot of teaching.

Am I hoping too much here?

No, you aren't. In fact, your hopes are in line with what I would consider basic ethics and norms we should be reinforcing in Academia. I suggest that you not also hold on to these expectations, but try to imbue the rest of the system with them: Your colleagues, the teachers in charge of courses, the students, and the administrators which you're in interaction with. Thus even if that's not the reality right now, you would be helping making it the reality.

Any experiences?

Well, not exactly referring to your points, but I'll say I found teaching to be a very psychologically-rewarding activity, and it's what I remember perhaps the most fondly from my Ph.D. days. Now I'm post-doc'ing and don't get to teach - and man, do I miss it!

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