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Have you ever been interested in doing some sessional academic work – that is, working as a member of the teaching staff in an occupational therapy university program? If you have an interest in education and need a little flexibility in your workload, then this type of work could be the perfect option for you. Keep reading to find out the answers to 5 frequently asked questions about working as a sessional academic.
I’ve been working as a sessional academic in a casual role, in addition to my clinical work, since 2017. I started with some casual tutoring and marking in that first semester and have gone on to work in two different universities in two different states. Every university will have their own approach and rules for sessional academic work, but the answers to these FAQs are based on my own personal experiences.
There are a range of different teaching activities you could try. It is common to start with marking work (i.e. marking assessments completed by OT students), but other options include running tutorial sessions, completing guest lectures, and supervising students in either simulated learning placements or real-life clinical placements in student-led services. I’ve also even done work as an external supervisor for two students who were completing a project placement in a not-for-profit organisation that didn’t have any OTs onsite at the time.
Here's a run-down of some of the logistics for something like marking assessments:
- A university lecturer will reach out to see if you are interested in marking a particular assessment/s for a specific unit they teach. They will usually pass on information about the unit and/or the assessments, so you can judge whether you feel you have the skills and knowledge to mark on that topic. They will also tell you the assessment submission date and when your marking is due (usually around 2-3 weeks after the submission date) so you can see how it might fit into your schedule.
- The lecturer may tell you how many hours of work they have available, or they may ask you to state the maximum number you could commit to (e.g. “I could mark 15 hours of assessment 2”).
- Sometime close to the submission date, there is usually a ‘moderation’ meeting, which is a meeting where the lecturer/s and any other staff marking the assessments meet to review one or two nominated assessments and discuss what marks they would allocate based on the marking rubric. This is a chance for discussion to try to work out a consistent approach, so that all markers are allocating marks and comments with a similar amount of leniency or harshness. There is also an opportunity to ask any questions as you go.
There are pros and cons for this type of work, but if you enjoy education and need something casual and flexible, it can be a great option. It’s also one of those things you can try out a little and see if you like it or not, without having to give up your day job (as long as your employer is supportive of this type of secondary employment).
Most of the marking work is completed online, meaning you can do it anytime of the day or night in the comfort of your home, even if you’re not in the same city or state as the university campus you’re marking for. Since Covid restrictions have eased, most teaching has gone back face-to-face, but there may still be a few activities other than marking that you could do online if you are not close to a university campus, such as presenting or recording an online lecture.
Sessional work is a great way to stay in touch with what students are being taught, which can be very helpful if your clinical role involves supporting recently graduated therapists. You’ll also be kept up-to-date with the most recent evidence-based-practice, as the university programs are constantly updated as new research emerges – there is a high possibility you will learn something new rather than only doing the teaching.
The pay varies depending on the activity, but often it is on par with or may exceed what you could make per hour in your clinical role. There are also other benefits such as being given access to the university library and online databases to look up the latest OT research – perfect if you’re an #OTnerd like me!
In terms of qualifications, every university might do things a little differently, so the safest option is to discuss this directly with the university you are interested in working for, to see if you are adequately qualified, or what you might need to do to become qualified. Sometimes having an honours degree or a post-graduate certificate may be required, while other times having a significant amount of experience and proven expertise in a clinical area is sufficient. The requirements may also vary depending on the type of work you are doing, such as marking assessments or running simulated learning sessions.
By the time you get to this part of the blog you’re probably either getting excited thinking this is the perfect role for me! Or, you’ve already stopped reading because the idea of revisiting university assessments has no appeal at all for you. It does take a certain type of person, with a particular type of workload to be able to do this type of work.
Firstly, this work is perfect for you if you enjoy teaching students and providing feedback. Being patient, organised, and having attention to detail is helpful for this type of work. It can also be a great way to build skills and knowledge on clinical education in general, which may be perfect if you are looking to move into an education or academic role in your future OT career.
To be able to commit to the workload though, it needs to match your availability. The work happens in line with the university semester, so there is usually a long break between November and February where sessional staff are often not required. This could be perfect to line up with school holidays, or you may need something a little more consistent. There may also be ‘waves’ of work, where you commit to a busy month marking three different assessments, and then not have anything to do for a month because of the way the assessment submission dates have worked out. This can be tricky if you need a little more consistency to maintain your work-life balance. The benefit is that you can usually say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to as many hours of work as you want to make it fit into your schedule.
I’ve found the easiest way to get into this type of work is through word-of-mouth and networking events. Most universities are always on the look-out for OTs that are interested in sessional work that they can add to their database of contacts. Get in touch with your local university via email, or even reach out to lecturers via social media networks like LinkedIn or OT Facebook groups. Remember, OTs are a nice bunch – you’ll never get told to go away! Your name may go on a list, and you might not be needed straight away, but then out of the blue you’ll get an offer to do some teaching or marking. Also, if you know any OT colleagues that are already doing this type of work, let them know that you are interested, because often they will be offered work that they just can’t fit in to their schedules, and it’s great if we can give the lecturer another option to try when we have to send the ‘sorry, I can’t help’ email.
The university semester is only about a month away from starting, and lecturers will be working out how to allocate their teaching and marking hours, so now is the time to take action if you are interested!
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