Advice for Ph.D. students interested in transitioning to teaching-based positions

I get the following question fairly regularly, “I am a Ph.D. student interested in pursuing a career that is teaching intensive, either as a lecturer like yourself or as a faculty member at a teaching-intensive institution. How do I do it? What advice do you have?” I am flattered to be asked this question. Below I give my thoughts which are based in my experience. As they say in the TV-ads, “your results may vary.” In fact, the older this post gets, the less valuable/accurate this will probably be!

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Getting rid of the importance of “explaining”

Just like last year, I am currently teaching Physics 691G – Graduate Student Professional Development Seminar. This course has multiple goals that it pursues through the lens of TA training:

  • Making sure our new graduate students are ready for those first few days of TAing
  • Provide an opportunity for new graduate students to reflect on their new identity as they move from students to research colleagues
  • Provide an opportunity to explore the ideas of modern research-based pedagogy
  • Provide an opportunity to explore some professional development skills such as presentation giving which are deeply connected to their experience as TAs

This is quite an ambitious list for a course that meets for one-hour per week and also, by design, tries to keep the outside-of-class workload down (new graduate students are busy after all!). One thing I am noticing in particular this round as I have continued to refine the course is the persistence of the idea that explaining content is a teacher’s number-one job. An idea that is clearly challenged by the modern literature’s focus on the importance of student construction of knowledge.

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