Professional development in college science teaching

Aimee Kathryn Thomas

Abstract

Graduate students earning a doctorate in the sciences historically focus their work on research and not professional development in college science teaching. However, for those who go on to a career in academia, a majority of their time will be dedicated to teaching. During the past few years, graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) have been prepared to teach by attending a daylong workshop that included logistical information, but left pedagogy largely unexplored. Since that time, a seminar has been added to provide an introduction to pedagogical theory and practices and to provide practice teaching in the biological sciences laboratory course. Yet, more pedagogical preparation is needed. This study was conducted to determine if there was a need for a teaching certificate program for doctoral students in the College of Science and Technology (CoST) at The University of Southern Mississippi. The GTA respondents studied set teaching goals that were consistent with faculty members across the country; however, this research went further by finding out how competent the GTAs perceived they were and how much support they perceived they needed with respect to teaching and professional development. The GTAs did not differ in their perceived level of competence based on experience level; however, the less experienced GTAs did perceive they needed more support than the experienced GTAs. To help GTAs develop a skill set that many CoST graduates currently lack, it is recommended that the University provide ample training and supervision. Establishing a certificate program can potentially impact the community in the following ways: (1) the training of GTAs contributes to the academic preparation of future academic professionals who will be teaching in various institutions; (2) GTA training provides professional development and awareness that teaching requires life long professional development; (3) ensuring competent academicians, not only in content but also in pedagogy; (4) GTAs can encourage or incite undergraduates' interest to choose a career in the sciences; and (5) make our graduates more marketable. Since 68% of current GTAs were interested in a teaching position, the University should allocate time to educate the GTAs who are currently teaching or plan to teach as a profession.