grad skool rulz #16.2 – more about teaching

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Yesterday’s post generated some good discussion:

1. My point is that you should minimize the number of grad school teaching gigs and try to be as efficient as you can with your time. Be smart with time spent teaching so you can complete articles and books. Being efficient is not an excuse for poor teaching or ignoring the obligation to our students.

2. Both Jessica and Jacob raised the question: is it not good to get *some* experience teaching in graduate school? I agree that there is something to be said for exposing students to teaching, especially for people oriented towards liberal arts. I also agree that having at least one course prepped can be a life saver on the tenure track. Perhaps this is best summarized as “teach only if it has a direct and concrete benefit.”

3 . Mike3550 had some good advice that I quote at length:

….Be sure to meet with the professor of record BEFORE classes start to get a sense of the class and to figure out where the bulk of the work is going to come (e.g. midterm assignments, tests, quizzes, etc.). You often have the advantage of not having to prep a course, but it also means that you don’t necessarily have control over when major workloads occur. But, if you meet before the syllabus is handed out, many professors are willing to work with you on the scheduling.

…Refer questions that do not relate to your TA duties to the professor of record — kind of like shifting basic skills to the appropriate department, shift questions about the reason that content was added, departmental requirements, etc. to the professor (”You should try and meet with Prof. X. His office hours are 1-3pm on Fridays and, if you can’t make that, I’m sure he’d be willing to schedule an appointment).

Have all students use a header in their e-mails to ask questions [e.g. SOC 100 – Subject] and create an e-mail filter to filter those e-mails. Then, schedule time to respond to e-mail. Student e-mail, more than any other area for me, was a HUGE time-suck. It was easy to say, oh this will only take 5 minutes and respond. But, those 5 min chunks add up. And, often, I ended up spending those 5 minutes repeatedly answering the same question. If I had waited, I would have realized that I was getting the same question and sent an e-mail to the entire class list.

Also, I had a very clear e-mail policy. On week days, expect a 24-hour turn-around on e-mails and anything sent on Saturday or Sunday would not be answered until Monday evening.

4. What about job hiring? Don’t teaching records matter? It’s about context. At the liberal arts schools and other teaching intensive institutions, teaching matters a lot – but not until you have demonstrated research competence. That makes teaching efficiency even more important – you have to complete a few articles *AND* get solid evaluations. Manage your time!

At research intensive schools, teaching is important, but not until you have shown productivity in decent journals. And to be honest, I have seen a number of people hired with little or no classroom experience, but I have never seen someone hired at a leading school with good teaching and no publications. Research justifies teaching, not the other way around.

5. Finally, am I saying, as Mike Netzley suggested, that we shouldn’t strive to be both excellent in teaching and research? Not at all. However, there are times where you have to make a choice. For leading liberal arts and research schools, you have to focus on the bottom line – getting that crucial first publication. That means being stingy with time and doing exactly what is needed (and nothing more) to become a good instructor. Once you get the job and get tenured, you can do all the things that will win you best campus teacher honors. But until then – treat your time as more important than money. At least you can get more money, but you can’t buy more time.


Written by fabiorojas

December 11, 2007 at 9:27 pm

Posted in academia, fabio

5 Responses

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  1. I was surprised by the strong reaction to your advice as I didn’t see it as controversial at all. Of course we spend more time doing research than teaching (both in grad school and as scholars at research institutions). Frankly, doing good research is harder and more time-intensive than teaching well.



    December 12, 2007 at 2:50 am

  2. […] Fabio hat einen ergänzenden Beitrag verfasst. Diesen Artikel bookmarken These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers […]


  3. Fabio – thanks for posting my advice! I also noticed that the last three grad-skool-rulz weren’t in the “grad-skool-rulz” category (they stop at #14). Thank you for taking the time to post these!

    By the way, I agree with Jeremy — you wouldn’t believe how helpful these have been and it would be great to publish them somewhere with others from different parts of the academy.



    December 12, 2007 at 5:59 pm

  4. Thanks, Mike3550, and the grad skool reference page is updated.



    December 12, 2007 at 7:09 pm

  5. Ongoing gratitude for these grad skul posts.


    Scott Matthews

    March 22, 2011 at 11:08 am

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