2015 GTA workshop

Over the next two days, 697 students will participate in Phase I of the GTA workshop at Virginia Tech. This workshop is a mandatory  (pass/fail) course that is required of all new GTAs. Its purposes have always been to (1) provide the new GTAs with recommendations and advice from dedicated faculty, staff, and experienced graduate students about their new role and (2) assist them in developing their base knowledge and skills as effective teachers or career professionals.

Whether assigned as an instructor of record, a lab assistant, a grader or in any other role, a GTA plays an important role in the advancement of the knowledge of their students. GTAs are expected to engage students in the learning process, provide them with advice on how to improve their academic performance, and assess the state or level of their knowledge. A part of the GTA workshop is concerned with the development of interactive and inclusive pedagogic practices that can be helpful for the GTAs in meeting their objectives.

The above opportunities/responsibilities come with a potential for creating conflict. A GTA could influence a student’s assessment, interest in the course material, and possibly their behavior. A GTA is expected to behave ethically.

Federal law (FERPA) protects the privacy of the education records of students. GTAs are expected to learn of this law and how to make sure that such records are protected.

GTAs have the obligation to create a safe learning environment for all students and should be sensitive to the varied backgrounds and needs of their students.

Continuous improvement of soft skills is very important for the success of GTAs.

This year two new sessions are introduced. In the first session, a group of students will work on the identification of implicit bias and privilege and ways to address them and minimize their impact on the GTA’s teaching mission and the learning experience of their students. In another session, experienced graduate students will give tips to new GTAs on practicing excellence and leadership in their GTA assignment.

The above two new sessions along with over fifty five other sessions on a multitude of topics will hopefully meet the objectives of the GTA workshop in assisting the new GTAs in their quest to successfully meet the expectations from their new role and develop as effective professors or career professionals.

A PhD is more than a dissertation

It is true that the world is getting smaller and flatter. Yet, equally important is the fact that the challenges and expectations we face are changing and growing larger. In today’s world, successful leadership is tightly related to innovation, creativity, ability to communicate, networking, recognition of the varying environment, and keeping up with technological advances. Our relevancy may not be defined anymore by one great achievement. Rather, it is set by our ability to renew every few years. Many PhD students will write excellent dissertations and many journal articles with new discovery but fade away after graduation because of their inability or lack of recognition of the need to renew. The same goes for faculty members. Today’s challenging problems are more complex than ever. A new knowledge, discovery, solution, or product will not be relevant unless its interrelated social, financial, health, political, global and environmental impacts and benefits are assessed. Our world and communities have become smaller and more diverse. Respect and appreciation of our differences have become vital elements of positive and supportive work environments. Not only that, these differences are now essential contributors to success.
Our success as universities could be defined by the success of our graduates. Although many PhDs, through their experience as graduate students and by interacting with their peers, rise to challenges as they face them, it is imperative for universities to prepare their students for success after graduation and provide them with the opportunity to learn of what to expect after graduation. For that, academic progress, which covers coursework, exams, publications and dissertation defense, should be closely tied and complemented with professional development. PhD students should be encouraged to explore future careers. Their research and teaching experiences should go beyond writing a dissertation to cover skills that would be beneficial in their future careers.  We will cover more on that in future blogs.

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