Showcasing careers beyond academia
Andrea Harris

Andrea Harris

PhD in History, University of Winchester (2009)
The Abbey School, Reading : PGCE at the University of Oxford

Year entered into industry: 2015

Job highlight: Working with 6th Formers on independent research for A level coursework.

My research training has set me up to… meet lots of different challenges.

What’s your background?

I have a first class degree in History, and a distinction at Masters. I won a scholarship with the Eric Hobsbawn’s Balzan Project at Birkbeck College in 2005 but due to domestic issues which stopped me traveling abroad to conduct my research, I transferred to the University of Winchester where there was academic expertise in my field. I was also awarded a 3 year full studentship. After I achieved my PhD I worked as a lecturer until 2014 when I began my PGCE at Oxford University. I have a chapter published in a book and have written several book reviews.

What skills do you feel a PhD has given you?

Working on a PhD is a long-term commitment to a project and during this process you become meticulous, patient and develop a certain amount of resilience because not all avenues of enquiry are fruitful. It also throws up new areas of thinking and unexpected paths that demand a certain amount of wrestling with ideas: this process has helped me become a better problem solver and has helped me approach new challenges with an open mindset. As a research student you become accustomed to having your work critiqued either by your supervisors or by publication panels and this has helped me to take on board constructive criticism and develop a mind that is willing to continue to grow and learn. Teaching in an undergraduate setting has also made me very aware of what school students do not know, especially in terms of technique and perspective rather than just subject knowledge and this has meant I work very hard to tackle these issues: I constantly try to find imaginative ways to help pupils develop their skills. Teaching undergraduates on a range of topics at every level at university, beyond the realms of my own research area, means that my knowledge of the historiography and the debates in history is probably broader than most teachers. This has been really helpful for supervising independent research especially in a school that offers students free choice for their A level coursework topic.  Finally, I think for GCSE and A level students they have confidence in someone that has a PhD and at this level, confidence in their teacher is half the battle.

Can you describe a typical day in your job?

I arrive at work around 7.30 and use the time to prepare for the day. I am a Sixth Form Tutor so I go to registration at 8.30 and accompany my class to assembly. My teaching day starts at 9.10. Several lunchtimes are used to meet with A level and IB students to discuss coursework or Extended Essays (IB) and I run an Amnesty International Club and have a duty.

What’s the workplace culture like?

The culture is friendly, positive, supportive and pacey. Everyone works really hard to support the academic and emotional needs of our students.

Which transferable skills are most important to your job?

Organisation, resilience, communication.

What are your favourite parts of your job?

Relationships with students and colleagues.

Is there anything you miss about academia?

I miss the time for reflection that a busy school doesn’t really allow for.

Was there anything that surprised you about your current job?

I am surprised by how appreciated we are by senior leadership and by each other.

Why did you choose to do your PGCE at Oxford?

I felt it would be rigorous and of a high standard.

What are the biggest misconceptions about teaching?

That you get the holidays so it must be a cushy job.

In what way has your PhD shaped your current job?

I have been given the responsibility for A level coursework and for supporting older students in their applications for university.

In what way has your PGCE shaped your current job?

It has given me a sound foundation for pedagogical practice.

Do you have any advice for someone thinking about applying to Oxford’s PGCE?

I found the course to be interesting, informative and hard work. The staff in the Education department are extremely supportive and I always felt that they fought my corner when I needed it, which was amazing.

Would you be able to highlight any relevant resources, industry bodies or key websites that might help someone entering the sector familiarise themselves with it?

For historians, History Today is an excellent teaching resource. I have always found the IHR website to be really useful for research. And the Historical Association offers some excellent CPD courses – I did one at Oxford University on ‘Doing History at Uni’ which really helped me support university (not just Oxbridge) applications for my subject.