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Teaching and Mentoring Students. Lori A. Clarke University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Teaching and Mentoring. An important part of a professor’s life Teach undergraduate courses Mentor undergraduates Teach graduate courses Mentor graduates The best of times, the worst of times.

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Teaching and mentoring students

Teaching and Mentoring Students

Lori A. Clarke

University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Teaching and mentoring
Teaching and Mentoring

  • An important part of a professor’s life

    • Teach undergraduate courses

    • Mentor undergraduates

    • Teach graduate courses

    • Mentor graduates

  • The best of times, the worst of times

Best of times
Best of Times

  • Play a part in improving someone’s life

    • See them gain confidence

    • See them grow intellectually and personally

    • See them develop skills

      • To do research

      • Write papers

      • Give presentations

      • To have a successful career

  • Worthwhile and rewarding endeavor

  • Lifelong learning experience for you

Worst of times
Worst of Times

  • Preparing class material is time consuming

  • Assigning grades (hws, exams, course) takes a lot of time

    • Very important to the student

    • Try to be fair and objective

  • Unpleasant

    • Dealing with students who are unhappy with their grade

    • Dealing with students who just want to pass

    • Dealing with cheating

    • Dealing with excuses

Teaching conundrum
Teaching Conundrum

  • Must do an adequate job in your teaching to achieve tenure

    • Can never spend enough time on teaching to get it “right”

      • Lectures, projects, exams,… could always be better

  • If you spend too much time on teaching, you will not get tenure


  • Put syllabus, assignments, course notes online

  • Be clear about expectations

    • Late assignments, missing assignments, make-up policy

    • Individual or team efforts

    • Consequences of cheating

  • Only change requirements if necessary and do so only to the students’ benefit

  • Encourage interaction in the classroom

    • There are no “bad” questions

    • Make lemonaid out of lemons

    • Make participation a required part of the class

      • Informal or formal

  • Classroom teaching
    Classroom Teaching

    • Be prepared--takes time, but worth it

    • Be on time

    • Be available during stated office hours and respond to email

      • Help students individually

    • Be responsive when special needs arise

      • But, not obligated to re-teach course to a student who has not done their part

        • Not attended the lectures

        • Not read the material

    Classroom teaching1
    Classroom Teaching

    • Make the class challenging, but not impossible

    • Assess how well the class is going

      • Mid point evaluation

        • questionnaire, classroom feedback, email

      • End of semester evaluation

        • Plan when to distribute the questionnaire

    • Teaching concerns

      • Ask someone you respect and trust to observe your class and provide feedback

      • Team teach with a “good teacher”

      • Use campus teaching support services

    Teaching portfolio
    Teaching Portfolio

    • Develop a portfolio of courses you can teach

      • Low level, high level, graduate level courses

      • Teach classes close to your research area

      • Limit number of courses in your portfolio

    • First time course development is time consuming

      • Reuse past material (yours or others)

      • Refresh or introduce some new material each time you reteach a course

      • Remember, it can always be better, but…

    • Best researchers are usually good (and often great) teachers

    Teaching graduate courses
    Teaching Graduate Courses

    • Teach in area of expertise (or in areas where you want to gain expertise)

      • Attracts graduate students

      • Helps you assess graduate students

    • Courses deeper and faster paced

      • MUST be prepared

      • Reputation depends to some extent on how well you teach graduate classes

      • You will learn a lot

    Teaching graduate courses1
    Teaching Graduate Courses

    • Important goals

      • Teach new concepts, new ways to solve problems

      • Encourage critical thinking

      • Teach the scientific method

        • Hypothesis and evaluation

      • Teach good communication skills

        • Writing and speaking

    Mentoring undergraduates
    Mentoring Undergraduates

    • Advising

      • Classes to take

      • Career planning

    • Insist on a face-to-face meeting

    • Don’t just cover the basics

      • Find out how they are “really” doing

      • Discuss career options

        • Graduate school

        • Industrial options

      • Volunteer to review job or graduate school application material

    • Encourage students: a kind word can mean a great deal, especially to students from underrepresented groups

    Undergraduate research
    Undergraduate Research

    • Need a well-defined, limited research project with easy to track milestones

      • Should not be on the critical path

      • Can pair ungrad(s) with a grad student

      • Include ugrads in lab activities

    • Meet regularly and lay out well defined goals

    • Many ways to “fund” undergrads

      • Grant funding, REUs

      • Independent study, honors project

    • Need to match project with student’s skills

      • Often need to adjust on the fly

    Mentoring graduate students
    Mentoring Graduate Students

    • Meet regularly

      • Review accomplishments since the last meeting

        • Encourage students to bring work products, to keep an (electronic) notebook

        • Provide feedback

          • strengths and weaknesses

      • Agree on what the student is expected to accomplish next

        • Let the student propose next steps

          • Revise accordingly

            • e.g., too ambitious, too limited, should pursue some intermediate steps or totally new direction

        • Discuss short term goals (e.g. next meeting)

        • Review longer term, broader goals

        • Reveal your thought processes

    How to get students started doing research
    How to get students started doing research

    • Push them off a cliff and see if they land on their feet

    • Teach them how to rappel first

      • Start out with a “relatively” well defined task

      • Discuss the problems that arise and encourage them to think of solutions

      • Help direct their search for solutions

      • Revisit the task and view it from a larger perspective, widen the problem and repeat

      • Reveal your thought processes

        • Discuss alternatives

        • Explain choices

    • Lead, collaborate, follow

    When is a student finished
    When is a student finished?

    • One size does not fit all

    • Accomplishments will impact

      • Advisor’s letter of recommendation

      • Job choices

    Many topics to cover
    Many topics to cover

    • How to do research

      • Different paradigms

    • How to review and evaluate the literature

    • How to communicate with colleagues

      • 3 minute elevator talk, 10 minute version

    • How to give a presentation

      • Outline first

      • Review slides

      • Practice talk(s)

    • How to write-up results for a paper

      • Outline, outline, outline

    And more topics
    And more topics

    • What to publish and where

    • How to obtain grants

    • How to behave professionally

    • How to look for a job

    • Balancing life and career after graduation

    Not all graduate students are diamonds hidden in the rough
    Not all graduate students are diamonds hidden in the rough

    • Discuss the problem

    • Consider different approaches

    • Consider different research areas

    • Put the student on a measured mile, with clear objectives

      • May help make it clear to you and to the student that it is not working

        • Or may energize the student to do better

      • Perhaps the student is not a good match with

        • your personality

        • your research style or area

        • or maybe the student should not be a graduate student

    Lifelong committment
    Lifelong committment

    • “Advisor” for life

    • Always available to help with problems

    • Promote (former) student’s career

      • Recommend for program committees, awards, workshops, etc.

    Last words
    Last words

    • Will not get tenure based on good teaching, but may not get tenure because of bad teaching

    • You have tremendous influence

      • Use it wisely

      • Praise good work

      • Encourage students

    • Best part of being a faculty member is working with students

      • Enjoy the experience!