If you see a whole thing - it seems that it's always beautiful. Planets, lives... But up close a world's all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life's a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. - Ursula K. LeGuin

Thursday, November 10, 2011

On Teaching Doctoral Students

Sometimes I really love teaching doctoral students.  Well most of the time I really love teaching doctoral students.  This semester my doctoral class is going particularly well and it is a very welcome relief because the undergraduate class is not thrilling me.  (I normally love teaching undergraduates but this is seriously altered when my class size is 40+.)

Of course part of the love comes from having students that are really engaged in the subject; students who want to learn and are at a point in their lives when they can devote most of their time to learning.  I consider this an extreme luxury in the world of teaching.  The flip side is that when a doctoral student is not particularly engaged it sucks far worse than a disengaged undergraduate or masters' student.  Perhaps it is the expectation but I suspect it is because the stakes are so much higher.

But what is really nice about teaching doctoral students is the benefit of having them around for several years.  I only teach one undergraduate course, so I don't get repeat undergrad students. I've had a few who have worked on my research and had the opportunity to watch them develop over the span of a year or two, but these students are few and far between.  When I was teaching in the masters' program I had more interactions with those students.  I would get to know the entire cohort and even if I didn't teach them again, they were generally around and involved in the department in a way that I could watch their progress.  But our masters' program is only two years long and in the last semester most of them are away doing an internship.

In the doctoral program I have time to really get to know all of the students.  I am the doctoral coordinator so I get to meet most of them as they are applying.  I run their orientation and help them get on their feet during their first semester.  I teach a core methodology course they all have to take in their first or second year and many attend my writing group.  For some I'll serve on their dissertation committee.  Our doctoral students hang around for 3-5 years, with most of them on the 5-year plan.  This is enough time to see them really come into their own; to develop their skills; to find their voice; to become colleagues instead of students.  It is a beautiful thing to watch.

I have one student who is getting ready to graduate this spring.  She was my graduate assistant for her first two years.  She's been a student in three of my classes.  I was the chair of her program committee and am serving on her dissertation committee.  We've published together and have plans to continue some collaborations once she graduates.  I've been advising her as she has started searching for full-time employment.  I've seen her through some tough personal crisises.  I can't quite believe she is the same young woman who first showed up on my doorstep full of unrealistic dreams and expectations.

I can't quite believe she'll be gone next year.

1 comment:

Ianqui said...

It was kind of traumatic for me when the students who entered the program at the same time I came to XU graduated. That was just a couple of years ago. I'd been with these guys the whole time, and we did a lot of work together, and then they finished and left. It was kind of like a break up :)