The first time a graduate student… teaches

If you are doing a PhD you are generally older than most of the undergraduate students, and thus you tend to feel somehow old (pardon, mature), especially when you happen to walk into a corridor crowded with excited Freshmen. However, as you progress with your degree, the more you realize that your position is far from being one of adulthood, and much closer to being the one of a newborn. Indeed, you are often called an early stage researcher, an expression that clearly remarks your current professional immaturity.

Now I that am at the beginning of the second year of my PhD, I feel like a baby researcher more than ever. Indeed, just like a baby’s life is filled with many firsts – the first word, the first step, the first tooth – my second year at McGill is revealing itself as a sequence of firsts as well. For this reason, I am starting a series of blog posts entitled The first time a graduate student…

This is the first post of the blog series, and I decided to dedicate it to teaching.

This term I have to take 2 seminars, and both require me to teach a lesson or two. I am happy about it, because I’ll be gaining some teaching experience, and I have been looking forward to it very much.

My main discovery is that teaching requires a lot of preparation, much more than I imagined when I was an undergraduate student. Indeed, the lessons my fellows and I are conducting are just the tip of the iceberg; an iceberg made of months of discussions on the syllabus, attempts to arrange guest talks, searching for appropriate readings, organization of every detail… all topped with the final dry-runs, and the consequent readjustments. Not to mention the anxiety, the last-minute doubts, and the awareness that this time I was the one who had to stand up in front of everybody, lecture and deal with the raising hands. An exciting journey, no doubt!

My first lesson occurred a couple of weeks ago, and it proceeded quite smoothly, requiring all my attention and leaving no room for distractions or anxiety. I wish I could write down some advice for those who are about to teach their first class, but the truth – my truth, at least – is that apart from the tips we receive at the teaching seminars and workshops*, what probably matters the most is the experience we get over time, the attention we pay to the feedback, and the effort we put in considering the students’ perspective, is a constant learning and self-correcting process. This is why I hope this first teaching experience will be followed by many more!

* If interested, check with your department and have a look at the SKILLSETS page.

picture class 2
Photo by GradLife McGill Instagrammer @falisha.k // @gradlifemcgill

Banner photo by @tolu_fagorusi // @gradlifemcgill


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