Becoming the professor

The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences is launching a pilot program that will allow a handful of advanced doctoral students to work with faculty members in designing, planning and teaching new undergraduate courses.

The program, “Associates in Teaching,” hopes to help doctoral students gain teaching experience beyond the discussion sections that Teaching Fellows typically lead.

Graduate School Dean Jon Butler announced the program Monday afternoon in an e-mail to the Graduate School community.

Graduate school administrators steering the pilot program will approve applications for up to six undergraduate courses that will be offered during the 2009-’10 academic year. Associates in Teaching must prepare and deliver around 20 percent of course lectures — or lead around 20 percent of seminars — for their course, depending on its format, Butler wrote. They will also attend meetings with their fellow Associates and turn in a statement about their experience at the end of their teaching term.

There will be two courses in each of the core disciplines — humanities, sciences and social sciences — for the 2009-’10 academic year. In the program’s second year, three courses in each division will be accepted. Then, in spring 2010, interviews with faculty, graduate students and undergraduates will be used to evaluate the program.

“We hope this new program will provide a dynamic cooperative teaching experience for a graduate student and faculty member together,” Butler wrote, “with the faculty member offering direct feedback on curriculum, discussion leading, lecturing, demonstrating or whatever teaching practices are appropriate for that course.”

History professor Frank Snowden, who chairs the History of Science & Medicine department, said in an e-mail that it was too early to give an assessment of the proposal, but added that “graduate students should benefit enormously from such an experience in terms of their career development.”

“Additional opportunities of this type to gain valuable teaching experience should also be an asset in a job market that looks as though it will be tight, at least in the near future,” Snowden wrote. “Most of all, however, this program should provide a productive and exciting educational experience both for the graduate students and for the professors involved.”

History doctoral student Julie Bowring GRD ’09 said in an e-mail that the program has the potential to patch holes in the way Yale prepares its doctoral students for academia. Few graduate students, Bowring said, gain experience in designing lectures, outlining syllabi and choosing reading during graduate school — skills vital to newly-minted professors hoping to win tenure. In that respect, the program “sounds like a wonderful idea,” Bowring said, but the program’s impact would likely be limited by its scope.

“It sounds like it will be a very nice gold-plated program for a few graduate students,” she wrote. “But unless it became a standard part of the graduate experience at Yale, I can’t see that it will really improve teaching training.”

The Associates in Teaching will receive $9,612 for a semester, equivalent to the stipend paid to part-time acting instructors.

Ilana Seager contributed reporting.

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