As researchers, we often get so caught up in our lab work that it is easy to forget that Johns Hopkins is a university. Just outside of our labs are classrooms filled with a younger generation, eager to learn from those of us aiming for an academic career.
Like it or not, teaching comes with the territory. For some, it’s an unwelcome burden, but for others, it’s the real reason we’re here.
I came to graduate school with a desire to teach chemistry at the college level. Often, that mindset has made me feel like part of a minority. I discovered early on that while becoming a teaching assistant is viewed as enough training to some people, it wasn’t enough for me. Rarely-attended office hours and mindless grading aren’t really teaching.
When I heard that Johns Hopkins was starting a Preparing Future Faculty Teaching Academy, I jumped at the chance to join. I have since graduated from the program and have to say that it was a highlight of my graduate career. I found it exhilarating to be surrounded by graduate students and postdocs from across disciplines who all share a passion for teaching. There, I wasn’t the minority; I was part of a vibrant group of dedicated academics.
The training provided by the academy culminates in one final test: teaching a class. You would think that reading and discussing teaching techniques for months would make it easy to step into a classroom, but nothing fully prepares you for that experience.
That’s how I felt the first day I stepped into Chemistry with Problem Solving, a supplemental general chemistry course for Johns Hopkins undergraduates. Saying I was nervous would be an understatement, and the flood of self-doubt was almost overwhelming. But one nervous week turned into 13 and, before I knew it, I was teaching my last class with a calm confidence I definitely didn’t have on day one.
I was able to swallow my nerves by trusting that the training I received had developed an instinct within me to gauge the progress of my class. And while those insights helped, I didn’t just rely on my own perspective. I reached out to my students numerous times for feedback. Their words encouraged me and motivated me to constantly evolve my classroom to suit their needs. I learned something about myself as an instructor each day, and I know the next time I step in front of a classroom, it will be with confidence.
Our Ph.D. and postdoc years are all about research, but we should remember that eventually, we’ll be part of a university. A university’s job is to pass on knowledge to the next generation, so we need to be prepared to achieve that goal. The Johns Hopkins community is fortunate to have training opportunities for those dedicated to teaching. I urge you to take advantage of them, even if you’re not looking forward to the teaching requirement that accompanies your career. As future professors, we bear the responsibility of educating future scientists, and that can only happen if we are trained to perform that task. Who knows? You might find that your perspective changes once you step in front of a room full of students.