30 September 2014

Pleasant surprises: teaching edition.

The first few weeks of my new professor life were absorbed by a long list of small tasks that, although unrelated to my main teaching and research duties, were still important and necessary for my work. You might remember my documentation of one such task, organizing my office. While plenty of these little tasks that are obnoxious to manage (learning how to order equipment, navigating Blackboard's abysmal interface, etc), I was pleasantly surprised to engage in a few satisfying duties. I'm going to take the opportunity right now to talk about two such additional tasks that are useful for students but also personally important to me.

My first obligation is to perform mid-semester teaching evaluations on a few graduate student teaching assistants. I've been thinking a lot about peer evaluations, in part because of its importance in the Software Carpentry Instructor Training in which I'm participating this semester, but also because the university is starting a peer-assessment teaching program. I wish I'd had the opportunity to have more structured assessments of my teaching during my graduate education.

My second obligation is to mentor and evaluate students as a part of our department's science communication class. Two semesters of the course are required for biology majors, during which students select a topic, work with a faculty mentor to shape empirical research into a 10-12 minute presentation, and formally present their ideas to a class of their peers. The faculty involvement is admittedly a bit time consuming. However, this seems like one of the best efforts I've encountered to embed in-depth scientific thinking and inquiry into a class project, so I consider it time well spent.

The two low-key responsibilities I mention here definitely serve students. On the other hand, though, they're also essential for me to develop a familiarity with a broad sampling of students and their educational backgrounds, especially as I continue developing new courses. I'm very fortunate that my department and college protects new professors from being overloaded with too many teaching and service obligations, allowing us to settle in and get our research programs started. I'm also lucky that the small tasks I have been assigned so far are helping me accomplish my other goals.

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