By Amy m. hAmLin
THE FIRST FEW WEEKS OF GRADUATE SCHOOL CAN OFTEN BE OVER- whelming; between adjusting to living in a new area, taking several graduate courses, and researching possible Ph.D. advisors, you will probably feel like you are being pulled in too many directions at once. Along with these responsibilities, many first- year graduate students are expected to serve as teaching assistants (TAs) for a laboratory course or discussion section. This responsibility is often one of the top worries for an
incoming graduate student. But even though teaching can be stressful, it can also be one of
the most rewarding experiences of your first year.
Surviving the first day
You may feel nervous about your first day of teaching. With intimidating eyes staring
back at you and students expecting you to share your knowledge with them, you may
be asking yourself such questions as, “Am I qualified to teach other students?,” “Will the
students take me seriously and listen to what I say?,” “Will I be able to answer the stu-
dents’ questions sufficiently?,” or “Can I take command of a classroom or laboratory when
Yes, it may feel strange to be the one standing in front of the room teaching a course
that you took only a year or two ago. But remember, you are teaching a subject that
you love and excelled at as an undergraduate. Share some of that enthusiasm with your
students! If you take your teaching responsibility seriously, your students will take you seri-
ously. Having a sense of responsibility and being prepared for each class will help you to
gain your students’ trust and respect and will give you authority in the classroom.
The students have confidence that you know what you are teaching, so have confidence
in yourself. You do not have to know everything. If you do not know the answer to a
question, be honest with the students and admit that you do not know. Have the students
help you as you work through the problem, or look up the answer after class and return
to the question at the beginning of the next class. The students will probably learn more
this way than if you just immediately spit out the
answer to them.
Brainstorm possible sticking points in your presentation or techniques that students might find difficult
during experiments, and be prepared to respond to
Learn your students’ names; it will help you to gain
their respect and also help you feel more comfortable
in front of them. Be sure to prepare the material for
each class beforehand; the more prepared you are,
the more comfortable you will feel in the classroom.