Dr. Mom, My Adventures as a Mommy-Scientist

Discussion of my journey from grad school to postdoc to tenure with two kids, a husband, (and a bit of breast cancer) in tow.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Thoughts on teaching, starting a lab

Thanks for all your comments on my last post. I was a little depressed coming back from vacation. Things are much better now, probably because I have been enveloped by the vast abyss of teaching.

This is my first semester teaching. In many ways the standard philosophy on teaching is similar to classes in graduate school. You don't need to be the best teacher out there, you only need to be okay, just as it doesn't matter if you get A's in grad school as long as you pass because research is so much more important. However, I could never buy into that theory. It may not have mattered to my advisors, but it mattered to me. Similarly, my teaching skill may not make a big difference in my tenure case, but if all I wanted to do was research, then why am I here in the first place? I cannot give anything less than 100% to my students, even if it means spending less time on my research.

So at least for the short term, I am cutting back on writing proposals. I am focusing on teaching my class, and I am focusing on teaching my grad students how to execute experiments. This has been especially fruitful. As soon as I got back into the lab, I immediately felt better. I know what I am doing. I can teach these skills to others. Even if I have to start at the beginning it is not so bad. Similarly, teaching undergraduates is a pleasure. I really enjoy trying to explain. I always felt like everything was so complicated. I am trying to cut through the obfuscation and get to the heart of the material. And the students really seem to get it!

My advice to all the starting faculty out there is to take the 1st semester off from teaching to focus on setting up your lab and writing proposals. Teaching is a crushing time commitment. Like children is very rewarding, but a lot of work. And also like having children, you can never understand how much of a commitment it is until you are actually in the middle of it.

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