To be or not to be a UQ tutor

Tracy Schultz is a UQ tutor in her final year of a PhD in environmental psychology. In the classroom, Tracy aims to create an environment in which her students feel comfortable to ask the questions that help equip them to create change. She shares what it’s like being a tutor at UQ.

It wasn’t long after starting my PhD that I was first asked, “Are you tutoring this semester?” It’s a question all PhD candidates are repeatedly asked throughout their candidature.

My answer for the first 12 months was simply, “No”. I was plagued with many doubts. My immediate thoughts were: I’m a nervous public speaker, I’m not a subject matter expert in any of the courses, and I don’t have enough time to tutor and my PhD will suffer.

However, my peers in the School of Psychology spoke so positively about their experience as tutors that I finally decided to apply. At the same time, I enrolled in the Tutors@UQ program which gives all new tutors five hours of training across three sessions.

During these sessions, I learnt how to design, prepare and evaluate a tutorial. Importantly for me, I was also taught strategies for dealing with nerves, how to engage reluctant contributors, and what to do in difficult situations. The program was invaluable in terms of allaying my concerns and giving me the necessary skills to be a good tutor. Much of the information presented at the sessions is available online.

No one can prepare you for just how rewarding the experience of tutoring is. One of the great benefits is to witness another person's 'a-ha!' moment.  Tutors are fortunate in that, every week, we get to see students discuss, comprehend and apply what they are learning – something course lecturers rarely get the opportunity to do.

On top of that, I no longer find public speaking as daunting, thanks to the hours I’ve spent in front of classrooms of friendly students. I’ve also come to realise that, while I may not be the world’s leading expert in the course content, as a PhD student I am an expert in finding answers to questions – and that’s a valuable skill for tutors. In fact, it’s more valuable to guide your students to find the information they need, as opposed to just telling them the information.

I’ve also discovered that one of the keys to being a successful tutor is being approachable. I continually reassure my students that no question is too silly or too hard. I believe my approach has been reflected in the positive student feedback I’ve received using SETutor provided by the Institute for Teaching and Learning Innovation (ITaLI).

When asked “What aspects of this tutor's approach to teaching best helped your learning?” the majority of student comments focused on my approachability and friendliness. I’ve also worked hard to establish collegiality among my students with a view to creating an environment that facilitates open discussion. For this, I strongly recommend the use of ice-breakers and fun games that have learning outcomes. The value of making a tutorial fun should never be underestimated!

The remaining challenge I faced when I started tutoring was time management. There can be no denying that you have less time to work on your PhD/Masters when you are tutoring. But time management is an important skill to learn and there are plenty of resources available to help you. I recommend The seven secrets of highly successful research students and Mastering the art of paying attention. Both programs are run by the UQ Graduate School.

Importantly, the benefits gained from being a tutor far outweigh any time taken away from working on your thesis. So now, when people ask me, “Are you tutoring this semester?” I answer with an emphatic “Yes, and I love it”.

So if you are asking yourself the question ‘To be, or not be…a tutor’, take my advice and enroll in the Tutors@UQ program – you’ll never look back!

Tracy’s story is featured on the Student Strategy spotlight ‘Leadership in Teaching’. Learn more about UQ’s professional development programs here.”

Last updated:
7 April 2017