Confessions of a demonstrator (2)

Demonstrating is filled with new challenges and experiences for postgraduates, Pippa talks about more of the unexpected scenarios she found herself in and what followed. 

The demonstrating season has now ended for me. It brought even more confessions than I was expecting, so I am able to share a whole extra blog full of awkward encounters and situations with you. If you haven’t read my first Confessions of a demonstrator you can find it here.

Confession 5: Oh soooooo many questions

After a few labs students began to start giving me challenges. I guess to ensure I was worthy for my title of “demonstrator”. I was not a big fan of this game.  One student covered the label on a tissue slide and asked me to name the tissue on it. The only tissue I have ever looked at is a brain, and with such a small chance of the tissue being that, I threw back a question instead. Hopefully concealing the fact that I probably wouldn’t have been able to guess.

As I then wondered between the benches another student timidly looks over at me and in his hand he holds a chunk of a microscope. How have they managed to do that? They look at me as the “expert”, expecting me to know what to do with this undefined chunk of metal. The good news is I have now learnt how to put a microscope back together.

By the end, I had begun to spot the signs of when a student was about to ask a question. The turning to see who is about. The lost and worried expression on their face. Occasionally the slightly frustrating discussion with their neighbour of “how come you can get it to work and I can’t?”. During this shifting, I have about 5 seconds to gauge where in their work they are and what the question is likely to be. If it was one I had encountered before and knew the answer I would happily swan over, sometimes even before the hand shoots up. However, more often, I didn’t recognise what the question would likely be and by this point, I have 2 seconds to get a greater distance from the student than another demonstrator. But we are often evenly spread with “our” students to look after. So, I wait for the hand. When the hand goes up they are no longer looking over to see me as they have already scouted me out and know I’m at their beck and call.

Confession 6:  All’s fair in love and … feedback

Lots of other demonstrators had been getting great and personal feedback. “So and so was really helpful”, “So and so was very friendly and approachable.” My name had been missing so far. Very disheartening. And by this point, I had moved away from the labs where I had a handy name badge to dry labs where my name was briefly mentioned at the beginning and that was it. Challenge accepted. I needed to up my game. It began getting late in the day and it was then that my opportunity arose. Two students had saved their work in the wrong place and had no memory stick between them. And what was this on my lanyard? Oooh, a memory stick. So while I helped them transfer their work, I pointed out very subtly that they had feedback forms and if they wanted to mention me, my name was Pippa.

We then got to the end of the day and looked through the feedback and I had two mentions. “Pippa was amazing, super helpful.” I was so proud. The second had questionable handwriting and I’m sure said: “Pippa was very helpful, an outstanding attitude and an ASSET.” But there have been conflicting arguments over the last word. Others have suggested the first “S” to be an “R”, and the “T” was an exclamation mark. Very rude, but I guess I deserve that for selling my help for feedback.

Confession 7: How not to get out of marking

The labs had stopped and there were rumours that students handed their scripts in after the Easter holidays. As a post-graduate, I didn’t know when these were and unknowingly booked my holiday for the week after they handed in. This gave two options, either we would be given 1 week to do it and I had managed to escape the dreaded marking, or we would be given 2 weeks and I would just have a lot to do in a little time. The email came through. We just had the one week to mark. Woooo Holiday!


I returned to find out that there had been an extension on marking and there were still 50 or so scripts with my name on them. I had almost escaped but it seemed that most demonstrators had the same idea to book off the week after Easter.

So marking began. If any undergraduates are reading this, please put nice headings mainly so that I can find the marks nice and easily.  Otherwise its really awkward when I have to cross out my sassy comment of “where is this” and underneath write “found it on the next page.”

Confession 8:  Postgraduates are awesome

When you get the opportunity go for it! Not only for the money but also for the great ego boost. Walking into a practical with just a few notes and no expertise on what it’s about and after 10 minutes being able to explain it and answer various questions on it. We as demonstrators are pretty impressive. We aren’t meant to know all of the answers, but what I found I am able to do now, which I know I would not have been able to do 5 years ago as an undergraduate, is to quickly pick things up and adapt to situations. Something that we have trained ourselves to do during our research and general experience.

If you have any confessions or funny stories from demonstrating or teaching that you would like to share please do in the comments below. I would love to hear and talk about other people’s experiences.


Do you have any confessions or funny stories from demonstrating or teaching that you would like to share? Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at, or leave a comment below.


Pippa Richardson is in the third year of her PhD in neuroscience here at the University of Warwick looking in detail at proteins involved in learning and memory. She is also a counselling ambassador for the University. You can find her on twitter @pipparichardso2.


Cover image: announcement-advertising-woman-4156536 / mohamed_hassan / CC0 1.0

Image 1: road-sign-attention-right-of-way-63983 / geralt / CC0 1.0

Image 2: feedback-survey-review-best-3584509 / mohamed_hassan / CC0 1.0

Image 3: mistake-error-question-mark-fail-1966448 / tumisu / CC0 1.0

Image 4: frog-frog-prince-prince-figure-2240764 / couleur / CC0 1.0

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