Why teaching? We ask graduate students to serve as teaching assistants because teaching reinforces a critical portion of your graduate education. And don't be fooled into thinking only graduates who go on in
Academia need these skills. All of our graduates go on to become public biologists in some way, and must present information to others. In this way, the Teaching Assistantship provides valuable skills to the professional scientist. These skills are reinforced in graduate courses and seminars.
- Convey complex ideas. Teachers must be able to summarize large amounts of complex information and present it to an audience. T.A.'s learn to present information logically, in an organized fashion. This skill comes in handy when writing up your research results for publication.
- Know your audience It's easy to discuss any topic with fellow experts; you all know the language. Unlike presentations to peers (like in the Friday Noon Seminars), T.A.'s must learn to speak the language of their audience. This skill comes in handy when its time to write a research proposal, or summarize your project to the head of your Biotech company.
- Presentation skills. Students must learn to speak clearly and calmly to a group of people. That's true in the class room or in the seminar room.
How much do I teach? Students in all programs are required to teach for one term as a Teaching Assistant. We find this to be suffficient for learning the skills described above. However, a second T.A.-ship allows for different approaches to be explored, like classroom vs. laboratory settings. A second TA-ship is required if students are planning on pursuing a teaching minor.
When do I teach? Students usually teach in the second or third years. Students typically DO NOT teach in the first year; a fellowship provided by the Department allows them to focus on their
research and preliminary course work. Moreover, students typically do not teach during the second semester of their second year when preparing for their comprehensive exams.
What do I teach? We provide students with a broad spectrum of courses to teach, usually in one's area of expertise. Students are assigned to courses by the Assistant Chair, after soliciting TA requests from interim and thesis advisors. However, just about any course can provide the training described above for any student. Students concerned about their teaching assignments should discuss them with th
eir thesis advisor; assignments may be appealed to GAAC in consultation with the Graduate Program Director.
What about field courses? Because field experience is usually an integral component of a career within Ecology and Evolution, it is desirable that Ph.D. students in the EE graduate program elect to assist in teaching a field course at the Pymatuning Laboratory of Ecology. There are almost always enough field course teaching assistantships available to EE graduate students who need this experience.
Some students, particularly those whose native language is not English, may need additional formal preparation for their teaching assignments. Those students must pass an oral examination administered by the English Language Institute before serving as a Teaching Assistant.
Graduate students preparing to teach should consult our detailed guide of TA policies before starting.
The Department of Biological Sciences offers graduate students an optional Minor in Teaching that provides a more complete teaching experience beyond the one semester TA requirement. The Teaching Minor Program includes exposure to various methodologies and teaching philosophies, more independent experience in the classroom, and development of material suitable for a teaching portfolio. Students planning for a career with an education component are especially encouraged to join this Program.