The case for teaching how to teach

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Graduate students who are taught how to teach are more likely to be prepared for the realities of working in higher education without affecting their research capacity, according to a new study.

Most graduate programs focus on preparing students exclusively for a life in research even though 45 percent of all doctoral students enter academia, where they are also responsible for teaching.

“Graduate students are stepping into pretty complex jobs. They’re expected to teach. They’re expected to do research. They’re expected to manage money and people,” said FIU biologist Sarah L. Eddy, the study’s co-author. “This study says there is space to add other elements of training that relate to their future career – it doesn’t hurt their research productivity.”

It’s not hard to understand why most doctoral programs emphasize research – it has the potential to bring in large grants, leads to publications and builds prestige for both the researcher and the university. These are also the things that are valued higher in tenure and promotion deliberations.

There’s also a concern that less time spent learning to research would make students ineffective in an area that is critical for their careers, according to the researchers.

However, the study found that students who were taught how to teach published just as much and felt very prepared to conduct research. Those who learned evidence-based teaching methods also showed an improved sense of confidence in communicating research.

Eddy knows the benefits first-hand.

“I am so glad I had that training as a grad student, so I don’t have to go through it now,” she said. “Because I already had practice using these methods, I’m more comfortable in the classes I teach and I’m faster at developing my classes because I have a sense of what I need to accomplish.”

The study, conducted with Portland State University, was published in the journal PLOS One.


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