Teaching a Graduate Course
When we develop graduate courses, we often assume that advanced students have a clear understanding of the intellectual objectives of the course and their own intellectual objectives. Many graduate students at UNLV are first generation graduate students, and were first generation college students, therefore, the transition to the academic culture of a graduate program can be less transparent than we assume. Including clear statements about the expectations of the academic culture of graduate education can help to improve the dynamics of classroom discussion and the overall quality of student work. Consider the following questions and issues as you develop your syllabus. Ask your colleagues for examples of syllabi to help you make the transition from the academic culture of your own graduate program to the one in your current department.
- How does the course introduce your students to key literature in the field?
- How does the course help your students build important intellectual skills?
- How does the course help your students build important professional skills?
- Articulate the ways in which material taught in this course provides the building blocks for future milestones in the program: conference papers and publications, exams, thesis/dissertation defense, and grant proposals, for example.
- Create an assignment early in the semester that will help you assess student progress and identify students who might be struggling.
- Articulate the ways in which you expect students to excel.
- Define your grading philosophy.
- Model your expectations for class participation.
- Address the dynamics between advanced and beginning graduate students; create specific opportunities for advanced students to act as mentors.
Mentoring Graduate Assistants
The teaching support offered by Graduate Assistants helps create time for faculty to focus on their research. Begin the semester by establishing clear guidelines for this collaborative relationship. Consult with colleagues to familiarize yourself with the common practices within your Department. Take the time to outline your teaching and grading philosophy to your Graduate Assistant(s).
- Review the Graduate Assistant Handbook
- Before the semester begins, meet with the Graduate Assistant(s) assigned to your course; establish clear goals and expectations for the work to be completed.
- Establish weekly meetings to discuss the progress of the course. This will make any adjustments easier, especially in a new course.
- Establish clear learning opportunities for the Graduate Assistant(s), e.g. discussion skills, curriculum development, assessment development, guest lecture opportunities.
The relationship between faculty and graduate students is an important part of the intellectual life of the campus. Both the advisor and the advisee are responsible for the success of the relationship. Graduate school is a self-managed process for students, but the advisor plays a crucial role in helping the advisee make informed decisions. Be accessible to your advisees; hold office hours regularly, respond to email and telephone messages quickly. Keep a log of interactions with your advisees. Familiarize yourself with the policies of your Department by reading the student handbook. Consult with the Graduate Coordinator about course and program advising issues. Encourage students to pursue professional development activities: presenting work at conferences, publishing research, establishing relationships with graduate students and faculty at other institutions. If a positive relationship does not develop, seek help from the Graduate Coordinator to help mediate conflict or assist in helping the student find a new Advisor or committee member. Addressing problems early helps students to continue to progress in the program.
Key Areas of Advice
- Writing: Encourage students to develop the strong writing skills necessary for scholarly publication. Help students establish peer writing groups to support the development of these skills.
- Presentation Skills: Conference presentations are crucial to professional success. Help students practice their presentation skills before a conference. Encourage students to support each other in preparing for conference presentations.
- Research: Help students develop rigorous methods of establishing a research agenda. Mentor students who are new to the process of writing an IRB application, a NIH proposal, or other grant proposals. Read drafts of the proposals and help students craft a clear proposal. Early oversight in these processes will facilitate strong proposals, and foster greater independence in advanced graduate students. Encourage students to enroll in the Graduate College Research Certification.
- Teaching: Create opportunities to talk about teaching. Offer opportunities to guest lecture. Help students develop or revise syllabi for their own courses. Offer to observe students teaching discussion sections or their own courses. Encourage students to apply for the Graduate College Teaching Certification.
- Career Encourage students to follow the job postings each year from the beginning of their program. Help them plan their graduate training to develop strong credentials for the job market. Read and help revise job letters. Provide advice about the interview process. Encourage students to practice the job talk before the campus interview.
Encourage students to read these Mentor Memos.
Having Difficult Conversations
In even the best advisor-advisee relationships, difficulties can arise. Try to imagine the best outcome. Be a positive force for change.
- Take time to think through the problem and potential solutions before you schedule a meeting with the student.
- Make sure you are committed to working toward a solution to the problem, not just identifying the problem.
- Schedule a meeting with the student as soon as you perceive the problem.
- Plan to meet in your office, not a coffee shop. Schedule adequate time for a full conversation.
- Seek advice from the other members of the student’s committee or colleagues.
- Seek advice from the Graduate Coordinator.
- Seek advice from the Office of Student Conduct.
- Provide detailed information to the student about the cause of the problem and the possible solutions.
- Allow the student to present his/her perspective on the problem.
- Discuss the problem with the student in case there are complicating factors.
- Offer reassurance, not an ultimatum.
- Be aware of the student’s emotional state.
- Agree on a written plan to move forward. Give the student a copy. Retain a copy.
- Set goals and agree to weekly meetings.
- Agree to a process of future communication and evaluation to avoid new issues.
- Document your conversations with students. This will become part of the student’s record.
- Write objectively and impartially in the third person.
- Include dates and be specific. Include documents, if possible.
- Describe the student’s actions and behaviors. It is not necessary to offer interpretation or analysis of this behavior.
- Pursue academic probation, if necessary.
- Help the student brainstorm about other career options, if necessary.