Recently, while sitting at the airport with two friends who’ve already obtained their PhD, we were discussing current research plans and opportunities for the future. While announcing that I officialy had gotten a co-lecture position for a course on cognition, one of them looked at me and said “You volunteered to teach?! But that’s the last thing a self-respecting academic should do!” Half-joking, half-serious, that remark, I could tell, but still serious enough to make me want to stand still and reflect.
Yes, I volunteered to teach (not just TA), because teaching makes up quite a big chunk of life in academia. If trying teaching now gives me chance to find out whether I like it or not, why shouldn’t I do so? So far, supervising MS students is the other experience, and that has also proved to be invaluable. Mostly, with regard to the selection and management process (I really detest micromanagement!), but also with regards to insight into the kind of questions really interested students ask.
So, spring semester of 2008 I helped out in a course on cognition, gave 3 lectures myself, came up with exam questions for said lectures, graded the exams, helped with coordinating discussions and graded posters. The only thing it did was make me hungry for more, give me ideas on how to reorganize, which other books to use, find more articles for examples to make the students as curious about the world of cognition and psychology as I am.
As a result, the lecturer in charge asked me to cooperate again with him this semester, and gave me responsibility for a group-based actions of the students. He won’t claim responsibility for it either, and I get my share of the evaluations. I think, if I survive this semester, it will have given me a good grounding in how to prepare a syllabus (how to write one up to) and hopefully I’ll still love teaching. Also, this might very well steer my decisions about post-docs. Ideally, my first post-doc would give me a couple of years experience abroad and let me test my hands more fully in the waters of academia: i.e. not only research and publications, but how to share the research with students, be the undergrad or graduate ones.