Teaching the Teachers

Reinventing graduate and postdoctoral education

Pat Marsteller, Senior Lecturer in Biology and Director of
the Emory College Center for Science Education

Vol. 7 No. 3
December 2004/January 2005

For Its Own Sake
When knowledge isn't for sale

How you package and promote your knowledge is equally as important as how to produce world-class knowledge. Jagdish Sheth, Charles H. Kellstadt Professor of Marketing

I don’t think the basic researcher has an obligation to apply what he or she discovers.
Marshall Duke, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Psychology

The Negative Benefits of Historical Study
On not applying the lessons of the past
Patrick Allitt, Professor of History

Teaching the Teachers
Reinventing graduate and postdoctoral education
Pat Marsteller, Senior Lecturer in Biology and Director of
the Emory College Center for Science Education

Further reading

Poetry Happens
The power and popularization of an ancient art at Emory


Return to Contents

Education either functions as an instrument to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and brings about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of the world.

— Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

As we enter the twenty-first century, scholarship in all disciplines requires a new spirit of collaboration. Emerging frontiers require that the once deep divide between fundamental and applied scholarship, between the sciences, social sciences, and humanities, be bridged. Although disciplinary approaches remain strong, new fields and new foci are emerging at the interstices of the disciplines. Environmental challenges, genomics and proteomics, materials science, computational science, informatics, and nanotechnology all demand new collaborations in research and innovative education of future scientists. Clarion calls for the engaged academy challenge disparate disciplines to prepare leaders for civic responsibility and global citizenship, and to engage with their communities to create new partnerships for social transformation. The spring edition of Peer Review, for example, calls for a “New Academy” design for liberal education that focuses on inquiry skills, intellectual judgment, civic responsibility, civic engagement, and integrative learning.

For a new academy to emerge, graduate and postdoctoral education must change to better prepare the professoriate of the future. Current practice prepares graduate students and postdoctoral associates for scholarly research in their disciplines. Are they equally well prepared for the scholarly practice of teaching? For service within and outside of academe? Are they prepared for interdisciplinary conversations, scholarship, and teamwork, or for leadership beyond the academy in a diverse society?

By many accounts, they are not. The report Enhancing the Postdoctoral Experience of Scientists and Engineers (National Academy of Sciences, 2000) suggests that postdocs need better mentoring, more information on employment opportunities, more assistance in planning their careers, and opportunities to learn a number of career skills. In the American Association of Universities’ Report of the Committee on Postdoctoral Education, postdocs identify stipends, benefits, teaching experience, and career advising and job placement assistance as the aspects of postdoctoral education in most need of improvement. A summary report, Recommendations from National Studies on Doctoral Education, Re-envisioning the PhD, funded by Pew Charitable Trusts, states that current graduate education does not adequately match the needs and demands of the changing academy and broader society, and that there is a lack of systematic, developmentally appropriate supervision for many seeking careers that require or benefit from the attainment of a Ph.D. To become the destination university that President Jim Wagner envisions, Emory must lead the national conversation on reinventing graduate and postdoctoral education.

For years I have worked (unofficially) with graduate students and postdoctoral associates in the sciences. Too many report that they are discouraged from participating in teaching opportunities and that little attention is paid to the diversity of requirements for a career in academe. Many have also said they feel ill prepared for careers in industry, government, and policy. While Emory has invested in many innovative programs that address these concerns, to my mind it is just a beginning. The Teaching Assistant Training and Teaching Opportunity program provides workshops, courses, and teaching opportunities for graduate students. The depth and breadth of these opportunities vary substantially by discipline. The Dean’s Teaching Fellowship offers some of the best teaching assistants an opportunity to develop and teach their own courses. The Emory Center for Interactive Teaching offers graduate student/faculty teams the opportunity to learn advanced information technology and to develop online materials.

A number of Emory models provide opportunities for advanced graduate students and postdoctoral associates in the sciences to work with a teaching mentor, participate in teaching and professional development seminars, and gain practical experience in course design. Several of these models focus on preparation for teaching at small colleges and historically minority institutions. The Fellowship in Research and Science Teaching (FIRST) program combines interdisciplinary research education that provides the foundation for investigating cellular and molecular mechanisms, with a teaching mentorship that includes instruction in pedagogy, laddered teaching experience, and course development. FIRST postdocs conduct their teaching with a mentor from one of the historically minority schools of the Atlanta University Center. Arri Eisen, senior lecturer in biology, conducts a pedagogy seminar to prepare postdocs for teaching. David Lynn, Candler Professor of Chemistry and Biology and recipient of a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Professorship to bring research into the undergraduate classroom, melded the expertise of graduate students and postdocs with the enthusasm of freshmen in “On Recent Discoveries by Emory Researchers,” a freshman seminar series. Recently the Emory College Center for Science Education opened its HHMI-sponsored faculty pedagogy workshops and curriculum development grants to postdocs and graduate students. The National Science Foundation also funded a program that involves our graduate students with middle and high school teachers to develop and implement novel curricular materials using inquiry-based pedagogies.

These programs, however, serve only a small percentage of graduate students and postdoctoral associates. Many Emory graduate students and postdoctoral associates, particularly in the sciences, desire further preparation, mentoring, and practice in innovative pedagogy. I am part of a team of faculty that submitted a proposal that emerges from and builds on some of these innovative Emory models. We propose opportunities for advanced graduate students and postdoctoral associates to work with a teaching mentor, participate in teaching and professional development seminars, and gain practical experience in course design. We plan to develop an optional certificate program in teaching undergraduate science, and we hope ultimately to develop a model for other disciplines to emulate.

But there is more we can do. Preparation for the professoriate requires more than research and teaching experience. It requires, for example, the ability to write well and to formulate coherent, engaging lesson plans, yet few departments offer formal training in writing and curriculum development. Fewer still offer students opportunities to experience departmental and university service. Graduate and postdoctoral trainees would also benefit from formal education in preparing job applications and teaching and research statements, negotiating salaries, and many other issues. Exposure to the differing requirements of various types of academic institutions, industry, government, and other careers would help students make more informed choices.

Also underplayed are the ethical considerations of scholarship education. I have observed that many students—undergraduate and graduate—are not aware of university guidelines and policies and often have never overtly discussed ethical issues and policies with their mentors, even in the sciences, where research ethics education is required. Many universities suggest that research mentors formally write to each student to address expectations explicitly and require formal education in university policies regarding responsible conduct, intellectual property, and other areas.

As an institution, Emory should ask what our students actually do once they leave us and how we can improve career preparation for their successors. The university vision statement calls for Emory to become an institution that is “internationally recognized as an inquiry-driven, ethically engaged, and diverse community, whose members work collaboratively for positive transformation in the world through courageous leadership in teaching, research, scholarship, health care, and social action.” To achieve this grand goal, we must find new ways to help our students deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in such a far-reaching transformation.

For graduate and postdoctoral education, that means offering students opportunities to learn across disciplinary boundaries, to bridge divides among disciplines and between academe and society. It means opening conversations about how universities can be partners in social reform, and how the value of our own scholarly work can be communicated to the public. We must work together to develop civil discourse around our differences and pay particular attention to recruiting and retaining a critical mass of scholars that represent the diverse ethnicities, races, religions, and other voices that prepare us all for the future.