For postdoctoral researchers, teaching can be as big a challenge—and as rewarding an endeavor—as unraveling the knottiest of problems in their fields. But too often, postdocs find themselves at the head of the class with only minimal training, an experience that can be frustrating for student and instructor. The University of Minnesota wants to change that teaching trajectory. With the help of an HHMI grant that will support a range of initiatives, the university will be able to offer more thorough and meaningful training for science postdocs.
Historically, postdocs have learned to teach primarily through an isolated and haphazard process of trial and error, says Robin Wright, the university’s HHMI program director. “We need to make our classrooms as open and available for analysis and critique as we make our research,” she says. “It’s not the culture now, and we need a culture change.”
The grant will ultimately support eight postdoctoral HHMI teaching fellows, who will select mentors from a faculty group with expertise in educational research and curriculum development. In a weeklong conference on science education, the fellows and supporting faculty will discuss effective teaching methods, as well as design and revise educational materials.
With the support of faculty mentors, the fellows also will be charged with developing courses for new curriculum initiatives in math and science at the university. By linking faculty development with course development, both the university and participants will reap rewards. The university will benefit from the postdocs’ teaching innovations, while the postdocs will be able to do work that can influence courses and programs for years to come. “The creativity and energy of these postdocs will help us move forward,” says Wright.
Teaching science may seem much different from doing science, but Wright believes that with the right mindset and training, the similarities become obvious. “We want postdocs to understand that there is a science that underlies effective teaching, and they can apply that science in a way that will make them more effective teachers,” she says.