Working as a PhD Tutor with The Brilliant Club

Are you interested in teaching while doing your PhD? Through our partnership with The Brilliant Club, several University of Brighton PhD students undertook paid placements in state schools during 2018-19. Their participation in The Brilliant Club’s Scholars Programme offered them a unique opportunity to gain valuable teaching experience while helping increase the number of pupils from under-represented backgrounds who progress to university. If you’re interested in becoming a PhD tutor in 2019-20, come along to our Brilliant Club information session on 8th October 2019, Edward St.

Below, Esther Omotola Ayoola, PhD student and South Coast DTP studentship recipient in the School of Applied Social Science, talks about her experiences of becoming a PhD tutor during her first year at Brighton, and what that means to her as a Black academic who grew up without any scholarly role models.

Becoming a PhD Tutor
Esther Omotola Ayoola

Growing up I didn’t know a single person pursuing or in possession of a PhD.

I always thought that a doctor was someone who gave me injections and scribbled incomprehensible notes to their friends at the pharmacy, before making my mum and I deliver them in exchange for sweets that tasted hideous. Imagine my confusion when I learnt that there were different kinds of doctor; ones that cut people open, ones that sent rockets into space, ones that had heaps of knowledge about different people and places and others still who were just really interested in how people’s brains worked. Back then, I never cared about the fame and fortune that everyone with the title ‘Dr’ seemed to have, I just knew that I wanted to be a doctor of everything. So with one hand on my GCSE biology textbook, I vowed that one day, I would become a doctor in some capacity. There was only ever one issue, as a Black girl from a North London council estate, I didn’t actually know anyone who had achieved what I was planning and so without any guidance or role models in sight, I pushed the idea to the back of my mind.

The memory of that moment lay dormant for over a decade until October 2018 when during my PhD induction an initiative entitled The Brilliant Club caught both my eye and my ear. ‘You can gain teaching experience, make a difference to young people, have an opportunity to share your research, network with other PhDs and get paid.’ AND GET PAID?! I only realised just how convinced I was as those three words echoed around my head in a Mr-Krabs-like fashion. They had an assessment day coming up at the University of Sussex that was open to Brighton students and I thought why not? I picked an area of my research that I thought would be interesting to teenagers (yes – this was as hard as it sounds) and used that as a basis for the task I would demonstrate at my assessment. During my interview, I asked more questions than my assessors did, primarily to relieve my apprehension regarding how I would balance teaching and research, as well as being subconsciously triggered and intrigued by the term ‘under-represented groups’ and wanting to know exactly what this meant. Fortunately, I was met with smiles and discussion that actually felt genuine and I remember leaving the room feeling confident and having enjoyed the assessment experience.

Image of the front cover of Esther's course handbook, Teading Merky WatersOn hearing that I was successful at the interview stage and was being offered a role, it immediately began to sink in that I would actually need to manage this role alongside being a full-time PhD (YIKES!). I threw myself into creating my course handbook whenever I wasn’t working on my research plan (which, by the way, felt like hardly ever), and was kept sane by the amount of support and encouragement that my Programme Officers at The Brilliant Club gave me via email. I was also extremely relieved when I attended the regional training day and 100 other tutors ranging from first year PhDs to actual doctors, two-years post completion, were undertaking the same role as me.

On the day of my first tutorial, I remember feeling a tinge of nervousness. Not only was this my first time teaching a self-designed course, I had travelled to the University of Cambridge for the first time in my life and was launching my programme and meeting my students for the first time ever too. It turns out that my students were much more nervous than I was and that made me feel much better! During the tutorial, we discussed why the Tale of Brexit is the most boring bedtime story ever told and how the various major diasporas in London came to be. We also talked about what it means to be ‘mentally healthy’, how the mental wellbeing of people who have migrated to the UK might be affected by the social and economic policies that the British government has created, and how many first-generation, BAME young people use Grime music as a means of documenting their life histories and socio-political struggles.

Reflecting on my first year as a PhD researcher and a PhD tutor, I am surprised and humbled not only by how much I have grown in my respective roles, but by the fact that I was able to engage in invaluable debates regarding the political and psychosocial impact of migration in the UK with 13- and 14-year olds. I am also slightly embarrassed at how shocked I was seeing them dive deep into academic content that barely made any sense to me, or how their logic and reasoning skills showed such little bias, allowing them to think across key disciplines simultaneously but seamlessly. Through this role, I have learned never to underestimate anyone, because when provided with the opportunity and the knowledge, PhD research is within the reach of more people than you would think. This experience has also completely transformed the way I see my research, causing me to think like my students and ask questions that had never previously occurred to me due to the academic bias I have gained from being in formal education for what feels like eons.

I find myself consistently talking about my role with The Brilliant Club and I have come to feel that it is somewhat definitive of my PhD identity in a very particular way. Although it is challenging at times when I have deadlines, the feeling of pride I get when my students submit their 2000-word essays and attend their graduation ceremony with their parents watching is second to none. Though there are multiple benefits to being a PhD tutor with The Brilliant Club, for me personally, I am compelled and inspired by just one – none of my students will ever have to say the words: ‘Growing up I didn’t know a single person pursuing or in possession of a PhD.’


To find out more about Esther, follow her on Twitter or check out her LinkedIn profile.

Purple Brilliant Club logoTo find out more about the Brilliant Club’s Scholars Programme and how to apply, sign up for our information session on Tuesday 8th October, 11am, Edward St 304 (log in required). If you can’t make it, check out our page on the Doctoral College’s staffcentral area.

An Assessment Centre for successful applicants will be held at Edward St on Thursday 24 October so you’ll need to get your application in by mid-October if you’re hoping to teach in the Spring term.

Our partnership with The Brilliant Club is made possible with support from Santander.

Santander bank logo

Festival of Postgraduate Research 2019 Round up

‘The best yet’ was the overall response to this year’s Festival of Postgraduate Research. Held on May 22 in Huxley, this annual event brought together around 120 staff and students from across the institution to celebrate the pioneering doctoral research being undertaken at Brighton.

Festival attendees Students presented their research and shared their experiences in a wide variety of formats. On display in the foyer were research posters, research photos and submissions to Bake your Thesis while in the main arena, students from a range of disciplines took to the stage to present to the festival audience.

Gavin Leong (SET) and Rageshree Sinha (BBS) spoke about their interdisciplinary project investigating the application of machine learning to predict ecological footprint trends, and detailed how much they’d gained from working with a researcher from another discipline.

A session featuring talks on two of the university’s COREs, SECP and STRAND, saw PaBS PhD student, Myrthe Mampay, revealing how she’d benefited from working in a multi-disciplinary cohort of students. Tochukwu Ozulumba, also from PaBS, shared her experience of public engagement work, including her journey from Soapbox Science volunteer in Brighton to Soapbox Science organiser in Nigeria. Esther Omotola Ayoola, PhD student in SASS, spoke about her work as a tutor on the Brilliant Club’s Scholars Programme, an initiative seeking to widen access to universities by placing doctoral researchers in state schools.

The Three Minute Thesis competition, back for its third year and one of the festival’s most popular events, featured seven students explaining their research in just three minutes, using only one slide. The judging panel, Prof Andrew Church, Prof Tara Dean, Dr Niki Khan and Dr Cathy Palmer, were highly impressed with the standard of work, particularly considering that a number of presenters were still in their first year of research study.

Research poster architecture and comics
People’s choice research poster winner: Alex Fitch, School of Architecture and Design (click to enlarge)

Another festival favourite, the doctoral inaugural lectures, saw three recent graduates, Dr Will Abbott (SaSM), Dr Louisa Buck (School of Art) and Dr Jonathan Dale (SET), return to speak about their PhD research and life beyond the doctorate, offering inspiration for current students working towards that end goal.

In addition to the various talks, competitions and stalls was a live demo of Pure, the university’s research website, newly launched for doctoral students. Originally scheduled to go live this summer, Pure’s early launch at the festival was the result of a great deal of behind-the-scenes technical work, precision planning and heavy-duty nail-biting from staff across four departments. To our relief, students were able to access and publish their Pure profiles on the day and take advantage of the associated profile photo drop-in held in the festival’s bustling foyer area.

The festival closed with a drinks reception and presentation of prizes – a somewhat restricted event this year due to the presence of an ‘art installation‘ (aka building repair works) in the foyer. Nonetheless, there was still enough space (just!) for attendees to mingle and raise a glass to the many and varied achievements of our wonderful, hard-working doctoral students.

We’re already thinking about next year’s festival so if you have any thoughts on this year’s mix of events and what you’d like to see next year, please complete our short survey.

Videos of 3MT and the doctoral inaugurals will be uploaded shortly. In the meantime you can view photos of the festival, including all Bake your Thesis submissions, in our online Flickr gallery.



Judges’ 1st prize: Alexander Kolliari-Turner (School of Sport and Service Management)

Judges’ runner up: Gheed Al-Hity (School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences)

People’s choice prize: Alexander Kolliari-Turner (School of Sport and Service Management)


Gavin Leong (School of Environment and Technology) and Rageshree Sinha (Brighton Business School)


Judges’ 1st prize: Adora Udechukwu (School of Environment and Technology)

Judges’ runner up: Jason Preston (School of Applied Social Science)

People’s choice: Alex Fitch (School of Architecture and Design)


People’s choice prizes:

1st prize: Sam Penny (School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences)

Runner up: Flavia Bonalumi (School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences)


1st prize: Emma Ward (School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences)


1st prize: Adora Udechukwu (School of Environment and Technology)

Tweetyourthesis winner screengrab

Festival of Postgraduate Research Programme 2019

Festival banner


Competition details and deadlines

Huxley foyer: registration, refreshments, stalls, poster and photo competitions, Bake your Thesis
Huxley 300 (lecture theatre): talks, demos and presentations

Festival Programme

10.30-12.00: Pre-festival workshop for doctoral students
Creating and Raising your Research Profile
Advanced Engineering, G2, Moulsecoomb
Sign up on PhD Manager (log in required)

11.30-13.00: Profile-photo drop in
Get a professional profile photo taken for your Pure profile
Huxley foyer

12.30-13.00: Festival registration

Check out the research poster and photo competition submissions, and visit our stands to find out about The Brilliant Club, Digital Storytelling and more.

13.00-13.20: Welcome address from Prof Andrew Church and Opposites Attract presentation
The Opposites Attract Collaborative Challenge pairs up doctoral students from different disciplines and challenges them to work on a project of their own design for eight weeks. This year’s participants present their outputs and reflections on the project.

13.20-13.50: Lightning talks

  • COREs: find out about the work of some of the university’s Centres of Research and Enterprise Excellence (COREs) and how they support doctoral students
  • Pure: find out about Pure, the university’s new research information management system and profile platform, and how it can help doctoral students raise their research profile

13.50-14.30: The Three Minute Thesis
Introduced by Prof Tara Dean
In this nail-biting festival highlight, doctoral students take on the challenge of presenting their research to a non-specialist audience in just three minutes, using only slide. Audience members are invited to vote for their favourite presenter during the mid-afternoon break with winners announced at the festival’s closing reception.

14.30-15.00: Break

Refreshments, 3MT audience voting and the reveal of this year’s Bake your Thesis submissions!

15.00-15.45: Lightning Talks on the theme of Public Engagement

  • The Brilliant Club:: Dr Cathy Mansfield from The Brilliant Club, a charity that places PhD tutors in state schools through their Scholars Programme, explains how you can participate and introduces Esther Omotola Ayoola, one of Brighton’s PhD tutors.
  • CUPP: Dave Wolff, director of the university’s Community University Partnership Programme (CUPP), discusses the benefits of the programme for community organisations and researchers, and explains how to get involved
  • Digital Storytelling: Isobel Creed, Research Communications Officer, discusses how digital storytelling can be used as a tool to help doctoral students hone and communicate their research project
  • A PhD student’s perspective: Tochukwu Ozulumba, PhD student in PaBS and our 3MT People’s Choice winner in 2018, reveals why and how she seeks to engage the wider public in her research

15.45-16.45 Doctoral inaugural mini-lectures
Three recent doctoral graduates return to present their research:
Dr Jonathan Dale: The evolution of the sediment regime in coastal saltmarsh restoration schemes
Dr Louisa BuckGreek Mythology and the British political cartoon: a classical reception approach to the case study of Sisyphus
Dr Will Abbott: Monitoring and prescription of GPS training load in elite academy soccer athletes

16.45-18.00: Drinks reception and prize giving