Should I apply to be an Academic Trainee?

Articles is 3 years but you can do the first of these years as an academic trainee. That means working for a university as a lecturer, tutor, marker, invigilator etc for a year before joining your firm. Please note that doing academic traineeship is not a guaranteed thing because the university can choose not to accept you.  I am biased because this is the option I did and I also have a vested interest (the more quality people apply to UCT to be an AT, the better my fellow staff members are!).

Having noted those conflicts of interest I now will describe the type of person who should think about applying:

1) You enjoy teaching. You are a tutor, like to help out your buddies who are struggling, generally like to explain things. You experience the thrill of seeing a class full of faces “getting it” for the first time. You’ve realised that often the best way to understand something is to teach it – your students don’t know it but they are helping you get to grips with the work whilst you stand in front of them.
2) You enjoy asking questions and exploring possible answers. This is called research but it doesn’t have to be the slog people make it out to be. You are prepared to study further during your year as an AT and although it is tough at times, you actually enjoy that feeling of achievement when it is all done.
3) You are interested in a career as an academic. This is a great chance to find out if you prefer an academic or a corporate career. Sure it will mean that you don’t have as much auditing experience as your peers but that can be caught up if you work hard on arrival.

There is a website with more info with respect to UCT.  Other universities also offer the AT experience so be sure to check their websites out as well.

In order to provide a balanced view, here are some disadvantages mentioned by those who choose not to do it:

1. Having to spend another year at university isn’t always what you feel like doing after a hard PDGA year.
2. Missing out on the vibe of the firm for that first year. Tied to this is the risk that you will not be as good an auditor when joining the firm in your 2nd year.
3. The thought of presenting in front of other people makes me so nervous I want to puke.
4. I just want to get into the “real world” and start learning about business as soon as possible.

I personally don’t think these are insurmountable problems (especially if you are the type of person I described earlier) but if one of these is a particular concern of yours, please give me a call.  AT is not for everyone but it is worth considering.


Imagine that you have been accepted as an AT, how should you approach the year?

Set clear goals

Don’t let the year drift by – set aside some time now at the start of the year and set goals.  These can include passing ITC, improving your teaching skills, learning to quote IFRS, travelling overseas… make a list and prioritise these.  Do the really important ones and don’t waste the opportunities that this year presents.

Ask loads of questions and ask for feedback

Speak to those that are good at things that you aren’t good at.  Ask them how they do it; ask them for feedback on how you are going.  Grab time to learn lots this year.

Get stuck in

Generally the people that really enjoy their year are those that are giving it a good effort.  They are the ones saying yes to more teaching/marking – get stuck in and you’ll be smiling.

Plan fantastic holidays

Work hard when you need to.  Impact those students’ lives and get your research done – and then plan fantastic holidays.

Cover each others backs

You guys are a team.  If one of you is away on an amazing holiday, sick, double booked etc.; make a plan and cover for each other.  Obviously you make it up for the person later by picking up some of their tuts but be willing to help each other.

Do more than what is expected from you

You have been given a schedule and all that needs to be done.  Go looking for more though!

Get stuck into your research early

You know this.  Just do it.

Prepare well for ITC

Do tuts – UCT has a particular way of asking questions and you need to get used to how the other universities structure their questions – old ITC papers help with this.  Attend UCT Board Course, write all the practice exams properly and put effort in!

Become the social hub of the College

Put together some end-of-term parties, 5-a-side soccer etc. – basically anything with food!

Read, Read, Read

What a great year to catch up on all the reading that was left untouched during PGDA.

Speak highly of the job you do!

When chatting to your mates at the firms, don’t be too quick to tell them that you are “on holiday”.  The job that you are doing might have more flexible hours and you may really enjoy it (hence it feels like a holiday) but that doesn’t mean that it is wise to talk it down.  You are learning valuable skills this year (teaching, communicating, admin etc.) and these are in my biased view more important than ticking the bank steps at 8 different clients for a year.  Be proud about your choice, others must know that you’re an important cog in the UCT machine!  Make a point of learning more – you will be a better teacher because of it.

Know that you are a role model for the students you teach

You can hopefully remember the difference that a good AT made to you when you were still a student.  You are more than a teacher this year, you are a role model and you should bear that in mind.  The little things that you do in tuts and lectures might not be seen by the rest of the department but your students are watching you like hawks and will appreciate your efforts.  If you are feeling uninspired, remember that you can make a big difference in the lives of others!



Paul Maughan

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