Teaching professors to teach

Every little advantage helps as new graduates venture into the uncertain world of employment, especially given the current economy. Administrators at the Graduate School are well aware of the high stakes job search that graduates face and believe that the Interdisciplinary Certificate in University Teaching can offer a competitive edge for graduate students hoping to join the faculty ranks after graduation.

“Competition for jobs in academia is especially keen right now,” said David Knauft, newly appointed associate dean of the Graduate School and administrator of the certificate. “Most faculty positions have a significant teaching component. Our teaching certificate demonstrates strong interest and experience in teaching as well as considerable pedagogical training.”

Undergraduates who plan to go into K-12 teaching complete teacher education coursework and supervised, mentored student teaching, among other requirements. Graduate students, however, often don’t have the same opportunities for formal training and experience before leading their own college-level courses. To better prepare doctoral and master’s candidates for the challenges of instruction at the highest levels on the education continuum, the Graduate School established the certificate program, which also gives prospective employers tangible proof of students’ preparedness.

The program, now in its third year, enables graduate students, regardless of their discipline, to work with academic departments and administrative units that support teaching such as the Center for Teaching and Learning. Students enroll in courses related to teaching strategies, methods of learning and assessment, technology to support teaching and professional development for the academy. They also must complete classroom or laboratory teaching assistantships. The course work and teaching assignments, along with submission of a teaching project and portfolio, aim to improve the effectiveness of graduate students as they enter the professoriat.

“Striving to improve your teaching is best as a collaborative activity,” said Cara Gormally, a doctoral student in plant biology and a program participant. “Being part of a community of other graduate students who are enthusiastic about teaching and sharing their knowledge-even within a single class-is encouraging.”

In addition to gaining the obvious benefit of having tangible proof of their fitness to prospective employers, participants also increase their understanding of what it means to embark upon and succeed in an academic career.

“We see the teaching certificate and portfolio programs as integral for graduate student professional development in terms of pedagogical training and career planning,” said Paul Quick, director of TA Programs at the Center for Teaching and Learning. “New Ph.D.s who have these materials and credentials are significantly more attractive to prospective institutions, especially liberal arts colleges and comprehensive universities.”