Don’t forget to stop by Standish A/B this Tuesday, 2/11 at 12pm for our next Provisions session on “Teaching Graduate Students.”  Our three presenters will be David DeBonis, Associate Professor of Communication Sciences & Disorders, Sev Carlson, Dean of the School of Business, Jennifer Childress, Associate Professor of Art Education.  In preparation for Tuesday’s session, here is a brief look into the conversation that surrounds teaching graduate students.  Leonard Cassuto, a professor of English at Fordham University, writes regularly about graduate education for the Chronicle of Higher Education, and below you will find a survey of some of the articles he has written.

In “Student Centered Graduate Teaching,” Cassuto wonders how most academics dream of teaching doctoral seminars, yet so little time is spent thinking about how to do it well.  Cassuto details his own experience, his excitement and anticipation for the day that he would get to teach graduate students, his belief that graduate teaching “looked like the pinnacle of professional existence,” and how when the opportunity did arise, he felt “lucky rather than entitled.”  What Cassuto sees as ironic is that he was chasing something he knew little about: he had “no particular ideas about how to do it,” nothing special he wanted to try, and no distinct pedagogical vision for those courses.

Cassuto believes that there is little scholarship on how to teach graduate students due to the fact that it’s possible to teach a graduate seminar without doing much work, where “most graduate students are heavy lifters, and they usually carry the load if you don’t step forward to do it.”  He argues, however, that such professors are “abdicating their responsibility to plan and shape a course around the educational needs of their students.”

Cassuto states that graduate students learn the same way that other students do: through what educators label “retention” and “transfer,” and argues that student-centered learning has not, for the most part, reached graduate school yet.  Cassuto points out that most graduate seminars squeeze too much information into a brief time, and that many professors in graduate school want to cover “content” and consider anything else to be a distraction.  Cassuto understands that graduate students have to read a lot to learn their fields, and that nothing is going to change that, but he believes more work needs to be done on the professor’s part to allow them to be able to work with what they’ve read, leaving enough time not just to “cover” material but also for students to practice doing things with it.

In “OK, Let’s Teach Graduate Students Differently. But How?,” Cassuto writes that graduate programs should prepare students for an “array of positions outside the academy,” where right now many graduate programs are only designed “to produce more professors.”  Cassuto states that to move students away from thinking about their possible futures in purely professorial terms, graduate-seminar leaders must “teach from unconventional stuff.”

Cassuto quotes Edward Balleisen, an associate professor of history at Duke University, whose ideas aim to reconceive the boundaries defining discipline and authorship: “imagine interdisciplinary seminars around a given theme,” in which graduate students would work “with grad students from other disciplines, as well as professional students.”  Cassuto explains that such courses would allow graduate students to imagine their work outside of the contexts of their own specialties: “in fact, the central virtue of the whole approach lies in its endorsement of a move away from the sort of niche specialization that creates scholars whose work is far deeper than it is wide.”

Cassuto writes that we need to connect the way we teach to what our students will actually be doing with their degrees.  In “Making a Public Ph.D.,” Cassuto considers the possibility of training history graduate students to enter into the field public policy.  For the graduate educators who would design such programs as the one he considers, he believes those various needs point to two main structural guidelines:

  • “Professors need to identify specific employment goals for graduate students and work backward to structure a curriculum. That may seem obvious, but it’s not what we usually do. In a world of esoteric graduate seminars, the student’s foot is much more often forced to fit the professor’s already-designed shoe.”
  • “Faculty members would have to actively intervene in graduate students’ training in order to equip them to pursue those career goals themselves. The intervention ‘needs to be specific, targeted, and early.’

Check out the Chronicle of Higher Education online to check out Cassuto’s reports of other graduate programs.  See you Tuesday!

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