Teaching excellence is invariably driven by an instructor’s passion for the education of their students. My experience as an educator has led me to recognize the importance of building confidence and motivation while challenging my students with rigorous and exciting material. Conversely, educators who dryly dish out doctrine to note-taking students discourage student learning and do themselves and the students a disservice. My role as an instructor is to inspire students to set their expectations high and then help them reach their education goals by providing direct, practical, and enthusiastic support. I take pride in my students’ success and strive to help each one of my students attain his or her potential. A key to fostering this type of student development is to engage in an ongoing dialogue with the students, and I have found that nothing increases student motivation as much as a truly motivated instructor.
Inspiring students to challenge themselves and pursue their educational goals is one crucial element of effective teaching, but it is also important to teach lifelong learning skills for both inside and outside the classroom, such as the ability to think critically when approaching an unfamiliar problem. These principle skills will be incorporated not only into my classroom but also into my interactions with students interested in pursuing research. As an advisor, part of my role is to provide my researchers with the skills necessary to conquer difficult problems, such as digesting a highly technical research paper and communicating a complicated research topic.
Successful Student Research
In my experience, here are some keys to successful student research and mentoring. These are also my expectations for students that work with me. It is hard to write these with the correct tone. Read these with a smile, and always remember, as your professor I’m always right, except when I’m wrong.
- It is very important to develop your skills at professional communication. This takes many forms, but I expect all of my students to communicate with me on a daily basis during the summer and on a weekly basis during the semester (idly more than once). Whenever possible, this should consist of a brief face-to-face meeting, but if you can’t then an e-mail conversation is fine. I also recommend that you keep a daily blog or journal to jot down notes. During our discussions, you should discuss the following: (i) What did you accomplish/learn yesterday? (ii) What are your goals for today?
- But what if I get stuck? When do I know it is time to get help? These are not easily answered, or more specifically, the answer is it depends. First, let me talk about getting stuck. You will get stuck. I get stuck. Everyone gets stuck. What separates successful scientists is how the react in these situations. You can bang your head against the wall, or you can try to find out information and facts about your problem or situation. Then if you still stuck after you have a list of demonstrable facts and have learned about your problem, it is time to come and see me. That isn’t to say that sometimes you can’t just come on by and let off some steam about a particularly tricky problem. It is just important to work towards a solution in concrete steps that further your education and knowledge about the problem.
- Independence of thought. It is very important to me that you develop as an independent investigator. This is one of the primary reasons that has hopefully brought you to work with me. I don’t want students who look to me to tell them exactly what to do. I want to train students to anticipate problems and find better solutions to those problems than I could have come up. You’re ready to graduate when you can convince me that my proposed solution to a problem is destined to fail. This is one of the most difficult things to teach though, so when I let you struggle through a problem on your own, it is part of a broader diabolical plan to make you into super scientists.