Philip Gorski spent the entirety of his Wednesday afternoon meticulously working on his “Applied Data Mining and Machine Learning” problem set.
Still, he could not figure out how to overcome an error in his coding. So, following the lead of the other computer science and statistics students, Gorski made the trek up Science Hill on Thursday to ask for help in fixing the snag.
But in spite of what sounds like a relatively mundane routine, Gorski is no ordinary student. Rather, he is a tenured sociology professor at Yale with more than 20 years of experience in his field.
Gorski is one of six faculty members participating in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ new Teaching Relief for Learning program, which allows full professors and full-time, senior instructional faculty members to take a semester off from teaching to enroll in courses at the undergraduate or graduate level, without loss of salary or benefits.
The Teaching Relief for Learning program comprises a part of a broader initiative called “Scholars as Leaders; Scholars as Learners.” Announced last February after an anonymous donor provided Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Tamar Gendler with resources to fund the program, the five-year Initiative — known as SAL2 — aims to offer opportunities for faculty members to grow as scholars, teachers and members of the University community. The gift provides the Faculty of Arts and Sciences with hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend each year on the program.
Gorski applied to the teaching relief program the same day he came across the announcement. He had wanted to develop his data analysis skills beyond what he learned in his required graduate school statistics courses, but he could never find the time to practice. The teaching relief program freed up the 12 to 15 hours he would otherwise spend teaching two courses in a normal week.
“I wouldn’t have even thought of [improving my data analysis skills] by taking courses, even though there are really great courses offered,” Gorski said.
Gorski is currently enrolled in two classes — the machine-learning course and a course in applied data analysis. He told the News he hopes to learn how to quantitatively analyze contextual evidence, such as differences in documents and word associations, which he said will allow him to do research he has not been able to do before.
But not all of the participants’ academic pursuits are entirely research-driven.
Having gone to college in Canada, Katie Trumpener, a professor of comparative literature and English, said she never really had the opportunity to experience a liberal arts education.
When Trumpener participates in the teaching relief program this spring, she will finally have the opportunity to take classes in music and art history.
“I think the program is quite visionary. Nothing feeds scholars’ work like learning more and more broadly,” Trumpener said. “This program is there to remind us of how many wonderful resources there are here always — already — on campus, and what a wide and fascinating range of things is being taught here.”
For most of the participants in the program, it’s been years since they sat on the other side of the lectern, playing the role of student rather than expert.
John Durham Peters, an English and film and media studies professor, said that as a result of the past two weeks he’s spent as a Yale student “[his] heart is slowly softening” to shopping period, a phenomenon he could never quite wrap his head around as a professor. After shopping seven classes, he said, he can understand more clearly why students both like and dislike it.
“You can learn so much so fast about a class that our oft-consulted digital friend Course Table does not provide by simply being there,” Peters said. “But the period should be shortened, and it should have a less consumerist name!”
Gorski described the experience of being a student once again as simultaneously humbling and exciting. After years away from mathematics-heavy work, he said his current courses are forcing him to think in a way he has not thought in a long time.
Gorski said he is confident that spending the fall semester as a student will not only make him a better scholar, but also a better teacher.
“It’s really impressive to be the other side of the transaction and see this expertise that is assembled at this place, and I don’t think this will be the last time I sit in on a course,” Gorski said. “ It really changes the way I think about Yale.”
He added that his colleagues at other institutions are “so envious” of the teaching relief program, which he called a “brilliant idea.”
Gendler told the News she shares the participants’ excitement for the relief initiative and the other SAL2 programs that her office can now offer to Faculty of the Arts and Sciences faculty. During an interview with the News, Gendler’s entire demeanor changed when she was asked about the program — her face brightened and her speech quickened.
“No other school has anything like this,” Gendler said. “This is a chance to take a step back from our responsibilities, and to remember that we are at one of the greatest institutions on earth.”
For some, like director of the Modern Hebrew Program Shiri Goren, participating in the program is a dream turned into reality.
“My colleagues and I always talk about how one day when we retire, in 25 years, we’d finally have time to take some of those amazing courses Yale offers,” Goren said. “The [SAL2] program allows me to be a student again and take courses for a full semester. I’m truly grateful for this opportunity.”
Adelaide Feibel | firstname.lastname@example.org