The University Record, May 22, 2000

Workshop prepares doctoral candidates for life in academe

By Rebecca A. Doyle

With just a little prompting, they recalled times when they had tripped over a lectern or used the wrong term in the classroom. Soon, the doctoral candidates concentrated so hard on their “most embarrassing moment” that some of them forgot to tell who they were and what their research and interest areas were.

Ralph Williams, professor of English and associate chair of the Department of English Language and Literature, used the exercise as an icebreaker and an example of how to engage students and build student-teacher relationships in classes of any size. He spoke about “The Lecture Dilemma: Content Coverage and Student Involvement” during the May 9 session of the Seminar on College Teaching, part of a four-week program to prepare future university faculty.

The seminar, co-sponsored by the Harlan Hatcher School of Graduate Studies and the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT), chose 45 U-M doctoral candidates from the 87 applicants for the program.

When asked what they hoped to get from the seminar, responses varied. Some expected “an impressive portfolio that will facilitate the job search process,” but others indicated that confidence, experience and a better idea of what to expect in a faculty job were important to them.

“Sometimes it takes me a very long time to plan a lecture or write an assignment,” noted Daniel Berwick, engineering. “I would like to feel confident that I am effectively presenting/evaluating material, without spending so much time on the material.”

The seminar includes visits to other colleges and universities to learn about different higher education settings, talks with other U-M grads who have obtained faculty positions at other universities, and a broad discussion about such higher education issues as funding and governance.

CRLT Director Connie Cook said that universities nationwide are trying to help better prepare graduate students for the teaching experiences they face as junior faculty members. The program at the U-M focuses not just on a single aspect—such as the resume or syllabus—but on preparing the future faculty for the differences in culture and expectation among different types of colleges and universities. Students will visit Eastern Michigan University, Kalamazoo College, Oakland University and Albion College.

It also provides the opportunity to discuss teaching with outstanding faculty, and helps participants with the preparation of a statement of teaching philosophy and development of a compete teaching portfolio and syllabus.

Students who attended the seminar noted the importance of networking among peers and across disciplines.

“The most valuable thing I’ve found,” said Genie Deerman, sociology, “is being able to work with each other, to network. The faculty expertise is here also, but the most valuable part is to see the complementary, interdisciplinary exchanges and understand that we have overlapping goals.”

The seminar students represent six of the U-M’s schools and colleges and 19 departments in LS&A, and provide a “rich interdisciplinary mix,” Cook noted.

Planning the seminar was a two-year project for Matt Kaplan, assistant director of CRLT. “It was a deliberate process during which we collected advice from U-M graduate students and faculty as well as faculty from other types of institutions,” Kaplan said. Once the input was gathered, however, it was put into action quickly—just four months after approval.

Kerry Larson, senior associate dean of the Graduate School, says the seminar is an important addition to graduate education and readying faculty for university teaching. “This course is long overdue. Graduate students need to equip themselves for their future as instructors; they need to think of all the facets, not just research.

“A lot of times, universities can’t provide [undergraduate] courses for these students to teach that are in their own fields of interest. It’s hard to connect the two areas of their work, research and teaching. They seem to be in separate spheres.”

U-M faculty participating in the seminar include Mort Brown, professor of mathematics; Mark Chesler, professor of sociology; Brian Coppola, associate professor of chemistry; George Garcia, associate professor of pharmacy; James Hilton, professor of psychology; Sylvia Hurtado, associate professor of education; Larson; Robert Megginson, associate professor of mathematics; Susan Montgomery, lecturer in chemical engineering; Jana Nidiffer, assistant professor of education; Carla O’Connor, assistant professor of education; Eric Rabkin, professor of English; Williams; Herbert Winful, professor of engineering; and Frank Yates, professor of psychology.