# Is the typical physics graduate well-versed enough to tutor students at lower levels?

1. Aug 30, 2011

### jeebs

A few months ago I graduated a 4-year physics degree/masters (MPhys) in the UK. I'll be starting my PhD soon and I was thinking of ways to supplement my income. I had the idea of possibly being a tutor to A-level and GCSE physics students to make a bit of extra cash. (By tutoring, I'm thinking of 1-on-1 sessions where some student pays me to just go through problems or explain concepts or whatever).

The thing is, I have no teaching experience in the slightest, and I don't know whether I would make a good tutor. I certainly wouldn't want to waste any kid's time and money by being an incompetent tutor. I do hold a first class degree but is that enough? I have looked on a website where tutors advertise themselves, and they all seem to mention not only their first class degrees, but also a string of other professional achievements or experiences. Also, I only just barely scraped my first by the skin of my teeth, I certainly was not top of the class. I sort of feel like my degree was more deserving of 2.1 classification if I'm honest with myself.

Do you think someone such as myself (23 years old, fresh out of undergraduate/masters year university, no experience of life outside the british education system) is well enough equipped to do this?
Also, do I need to have any sort of license or anything to do this? Any teaching qualification? Or could I literally just post my phone number online or whatever, and hypothetically be tutoring someone by tomorrow?

Also, please tell me if there's anything else you think I might have overlooked here.
Thanks.

Last edited: Aug 30, 2011
2. Aug 30, 2011

### micromass

Staff Emeritus
Re: Is the typical physics graduate well-versed enough to tutor students at lower lev

Yes, of course you can be a good tutor. I don't think you'll be struggling with the kid's material, you will basically know all of it. But knowing the material is very different then being able to teach it. When I first tutored somebody, I found myself frustrated because I had a hard time getting through to the student. You will encounter this as well: you understand something very thoroughly, but you can't convey it. But it gets better over time.

And yes, many professional tutors list a lot of experience. But you got to start some time. Everybody started will low qualifications. And everybody made mistakes. Just see that you learn from them.

I don't know anything about the legal procedures though...

3. Aug 30, 2011

### jeebs

Re: Is the typical physics graduate well-versed enough to tutor students at lower lev

Now that you mention it, I do struggle with this sometimes. When someone asks me to explain something, if I'm not talking to, say, a lecturer or student of similar level, it's hard to pick the right words/phrases to avoid saying something they won't understand or be unfamiliar with - but without having to "dumb it down" to patronising levels.

I'm now thinking I might need to have a look through whatever is being taught on A-level and GCSE syllabuses (syllabi?!) these days...

Last edited: Aug 30, 2011
4. Aug 30, 2011

### Pengwuino

Re: Is the typical physics graduate well-versed enough to tutor students at lower lev

People without even their bachelors can properly tutor people at even the university level. The problem really is, as micro said, how well you can convey it and explain it. The worst tutors are the ones who can't bring the material down to someone who may be seeing math and physics for the first time in years if not ever. The students may not know why they're doing this, how to do basic manipulations, how to see the material as something that exists in the real world, etc etc. All the silly what-ifs like "What if they ask me how to derive this, what if they ask how to do this geometrically instead of algebraically" NEVER come up. It's more like "why do we let t = 0? Why does the initial velocity stay constant?", questions that are trivial to you yet they have no idea or may not be thinking about correctly.

5. Aug 30, 2011

### jeebs

Re: Is the typical physics graduate well-versed enough to tutor students at lower lev

I'm feeling quite intrigued to try my hand at this now actually.

I don't suppose any of you will know whether I can expect much difficulty in finding anyone to tutor (here in the UK)? Is there really much demand?

6. Aug 30, 2011

### Pengwuino

Re: Is the typical physics graduate well-versed enough to tutor students at lower lev

I can't imagine the UK being any different than the US. Just wait until after the first round of midterms and people will come flocking to you possibly. It depends on hwo many other free resources are available to students.

7. Aug 30, 2011

### jeebs

Re: Is the typical physics graduate well-versed enough to tutor students at lower lev

I can't wait.

8. Aug 30, 2011

### wukunlin

Re: Is the typical physics graduate well-versed enough to tutor students at lower lev

in my experience, its a 50/50 chance

some can teach better than your typical lecturer others are useless

mostly depend on whether the person is just trying to make a quick  or they actually want to see their students absorb the knowledge

9. Aug 30, 2011

### Clever-Name

Re: Is the typical physics graduate well-versed enough to tutor students at lower lev

I have to say it can be EXTREMELY frustrating at times to tutor younger students in Physics, especially at the highschool level (A level there? I dont know the british system).

I was tutoring a friend of mine in Grade 12 University-prep physics while I was in my 2nd year of undergrad physics and man was it frustrating. We were working on electrostatics, simple problems like 'if you have a positive charge here, a negative charge here, and you put a negative test charge here, where would it move'. To someone with physics knowledge like yourself this is a trivial problem, it's very simple to either reason out or calculate based on the position of the test charge. But the problem I had was conveying that positive and negative charges do different things to a test charge whether it's positive or negative. All my friend wanted to do was plug in numbers into the Coulomb force equation and work from there, but I couldn't seem to get it past them that one would be attractive and one would be repulsive. She understood completely when I used analogies to magnetism and north/south poles, but still couldn't apply it properly to the force equation when using same charge or opposite charges.

It was mind-numbing having to go through this with her when to me it was so simple and so obvious.

If I can give a few tips based on my experiences in tutoring it would be the following:

1) Understand that the person you're teaching might be seeing this for the first time or that the lightbulb in the head hasn't quite turned on yet.

2) Patience patience patience, you are tutoring someone who NEEDS tutoring, they aren't as smart as you were and probably don't feel the greatest about needing tutoring in the first place.

3) Repetition, even if you feel like the 'dumbed down patronizing method' of going over something isn't quite catching with the student you still need to keep with it. Use either more elaborate or simpler examples (based on the situation of course) to try and reinforce your point, eventually the student will get it.

4) Do NOT get frustrated (or at least don't show it), it will only piss you off more and as a result insult the students intelligence, which might make it even more difficult to get through to them. You are there to help them, not to cringe at their relative stupidity.

It will definitely take some time to get used to tutoring at a level far below your own intellect, but you will eventually find a rhythm that works and that allows you to get through to the student. Keep with it; it's VERY rewarding when you hear that the student's mark has increased due to your assistance.

10. Aug 30, 2011

### Pengwuino

Re: Is the typical physics graduate well-versed enough to tutor students at lower lev

And to add to the great list Clever-Name gave, remember to engage your student. The worst kind of tutoring is when the student presents a bunch of questions and you simply do the problem for them. You need to get them to interact. Have them attempt every problem first, have them tell you what's going through their head and how they're trying to solve the problem, have them decide how to start a problem. Remember, it's less about the answer and more about getting them to learn on their own how to get to it.

Of course, getting the right answer is always important too :)

11. Aug 31, 2011

Re: Is the typical physics graduate well-versed enough to tutor students at lower lev

You might want to check and see if your institution has a tutoring center. I wanted to earn some extra money while on-campus and thought of tutoring.

The requirements for such a position are probably different for each institution. To be a tutor at my university, one is required to pass two exams (covers precalc & calc), write an essay, and provide two letters of recommendation from previous mathematics instructors. It doesn't pay very much, but it is helping me become familiar with explaining things to people. It might be a good way for you to build the experience you seek.

My experience is only in mathematics, so keep that in mind, but I find it to be very rewarding and it helps keep the basics fresh in my mind. I'm also able to get homework and studying done while I wait for students to come in for help.

12. Aug 31, 2011

### jeebs

Re: Is the typical physics graduate well-versed enough to tutor students at lower lev

Well this has certainly been informative, I'm almost definitely going to have a crack at this now. My biggest concern had been "what if I'm asked about something that I haven't met before and can't explain", but now I get the impression this is unlikely.

thanks guys.

PS. I found that "cringing at their relative stupidity" comment highly amusing for some reason.

13. Aug 31, 2011

### micromass

Staff Emeritus
Re: Is the typical physics graduate well-versed enough to tutor students at lower lev

Won't happen.

And even if it does happen, say that you don't know and that you'll look it up.