What I learned from marking assignments

Or how I stopped worrying and started to embrace grading

I was lucky enough to begin teaching during my Masters. So I started my PhD with one year of teaching experience. I loved being in the classroom and helping my students understand group polarisation, implicit relationship rules, and theories of personality.

However, I was worried about marking essays. Firstly, marking seemed like it would take up an enormous amount of my time. As a PhD student, I felt compelled to spend every second on my PhD or things that would add value to my resume, so this would be a huge distraction from that. Secondly, I was worried that I wouldn’t be good at marking. How on earth can I fairly assign a grade to each essay? My imposter syndrome was rearing its ugly head.

Marking helped my imposter syndrome

As a PhD student, you are constantly surrounded by other brilliant people and academics. This can make you forget your own skills. Throughout your undergraduate career you only ever read your own work (which had to be of an above average quality, otherwise you wouldn’t be here) which gives you a biased view of what is good writing. But, when you mark assignments, you see work from students of all different abilities. Due to the nature of normal distributions, most people are average and get average marks. Just seeing the range of assignments made me feel a little better, like I belonged in my PhD program. Occasionally, I come across an undergrad student who writes better than I do. Although it kills me a little (and my imposter syndrome flares up again), it also makes me proud that I taught them.

Marking made me a better writer

Spending many many hours reading undergraduate work let me see the same mistakes being made again and again. You can lead a student to essay tips handouts but you can’t make them use them. However, I got a better idea of structures, sentences, and quirks of writing that really annoy me as a reader. Becoming an expert marker of undergraduate writing made me a better writer and “marker” of my own writing.

Marking helped me be less emotional about my own writing

When I first started marking I was very precious over every comment I made on these essays. I kept imagining that each assignment was my own and each comment was judgement on my ability as a scholar. The more I marked, the better I became at giving good feedback but I also viewed a piece of writing as just a piece of writing. It is not a symbol of your ability to succeed. Now, whenever I receive feedback from my supervisor it is easier to know that he is just trying to help me improve that particular piece of writing. It is not a judgement on whether or not I belonged in academia.

So overall, marking assignments was not a waste of time but instead helped me to grow as a researcher and writer.

What have you learned from marking assignments?

– Alessa Teunisse

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