I finished my PhD in volcanology with the Open University earlier this year, and spent my summer working for the Brilliant Club. The Brilliant Club are a small but growing charity whose mission is to widen access to highly selective universities in schools serving low participation communities. They do this by placing postgraduate research students in schools to deliver small group university-style tutorials to pupils aged 10-18.
While most postgraduate research students teach one or two groups a week over the course of five weeks I taught five groups in four different schools in and around London. I took on this larger teaching load as I had already finished my PhD and was otherwise at a bit of a loose end.
I taught at Key Stage 5, 17-year-old students who had just finished their AS-levels (the first half of their A-levels). The postgraduate research tutors make their own courses, in my case on volcanoes, and are encouraged to base these on their own research. At the end of the course students write a 2,500 word essay and are then invited on a graduation trip, often in Oxford or Cambridge.
The idea of the Brilliant Club programmes is to give bright students a taste of university life, while encouraging them to think beyond their normal limits. The Brilliant club supports these students with help on their UCAS personal statements, study skills sessions and encouragement to aim high and go for a place at a highly selective university.
I have taken away so much from the programme. I now have experience of designing my own course, aimed at first-year, university-level students, and supported by two Brilliant Club training sessions. I have gained valuable teaching experience, something OU postgraduate research students can lack due to the university’s focus as a distance learning university. I also had my first experience of assessing work, something I had never done before.
Interacting with the students was one of the best aspects of doing this style of small-group teaching. They asked great questions about related programs they had seen on television, or about my research: ‘What does a postgraduate researcher do?; What is it like to research volcanoes in Iceland?’ It was such a joy to engaged with curious, bright young minds.
These are all valuable experiences to add to my CV, but more than that I feel I have grown as a person from this rewarding experience and enjoyed myself immensely at the same time. It is a programme I would highly recommend to all postgraduate research students. So what are you waiting for? Go have a look and why not apply?!