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Many graduate students spend a part of their time teaching at the university level. Although there is an abundance of advice from older, more established faculty, the perspective and teaching styles of graduate students is lacking in the literature. After talking with several graduate-student- teachers across different universities, three patterns emerged as being pivotal in our teaching approach: breaking down student-professor barriers, fostering creativity, and incorporating inclusion in the classroom. Here we highlight how these three factors shaped our teaching style and experience. We hope that this essay adds some insight into how a younger generation of graduate-student-teachers are effectively teaching at the university level.
15Vol. 51, No. 4, 2022
Perspectives on Teaching from Early-Career Scientists
Perspectives on Teaching from Early-
Career Scientists
Graduate Students as Teachers
By Suchinta Arif and Melanie Duc Bo Massey
Many graduate students spend
a part of their time teaching at
the university level. While there
is an abundance of advice from
older, more established faculty, the
perspective and teaching styles of
graduate students are lacking in the
literature. After talking with several
graduate student teachers across
different universities, we identified
three factors as pivotal in our
teaching approach: breaking down
student-professor barriers, fostering
creativity, and incorporating
inclusion in the classroom. In this
article, we highlight how these three
factors shaped our teaching style
and experience. With this article,
we aim to provide insight into how
a younger generation of graduate
student teachers are teaching
effectively at the university level.
The concept of teacher in
postsecondary settings typi-
cally does not evoke the
image of young or early-
career scientists, who are likely stu-
dents themselves. However, many
graduate students take on this role
through teaching positions that be-
come available during their graduate
studies. Graduate students have the
potential to excel in teaching at the
university level. For example, one
study found that undergraduates are
more likely to major in a subject if
that subject was taught by a graduate
student in their rst year (Bettinger
et al., 2016). Graduate students are
also inuential in teaching under-
graduate science, technology, engi-
neering, and math (STEM) students,
especially given that they often are
engaged in more contact with stu-
dents during tutorials and laboratory
sessions (Fagen & Suedkemp Wells,
2004). In our experience, and as we
have learned in discussions with our
peers, graduate student teachers can
indeed be eective teachers who
provide positive teaching environ-
ments that are conducive to creative
thinking and learning.
After many discussions on teach-
ing approaches and philosophies with
10 other graduate student teachers
across eight dierent Canadian and
U.S. universities, we found that
younger teachers aim to foster stron-
ger student-teacher relationships,
creativity, and inclusion in the class-
room. In this article, we aim to expand
on these three key areas, from the
perspective and direct experience
of a nascent generation of teachers
and supplemented by literature from
the eld. Whereas we readily access
pedagogical advice from experienced
teachers, our own advice is often
overlooked by others—a serious is-
sue in postsecondary education, given
that graduate student teachers with
high teaching self-ecacy contribute
to better undergraduate outcomes
(DeChenne et al., 2012). By high-
lighting the voices of graduate student
teachers, we hope to empower and
inform our fellow young scientists.
Breaking down student-
professor barriers
Student-professor relationships can
appear drastically dierent when
comparing younger graduate student
instructors to more experienced or
older professors. The often-intim-
idating student-professor barriers
that exist with established professors
can be broken down easily with a
younger teacher (Park, 2002; Muza-
ka, 2009). Despite drawbacks, such
as challenges in maintaining class-
room authority (Melnick & Meister,
2008), in our experience there are
important benets that emerge from
our ability to relate to our students
on many levels (e.g., generational,
cultural, level of experience), all of
which ultimately enhance students’
learning experience.
Increased relatability and a lower
level of intimidation allowed us to
foster strong student-teacher rela-
tionships. This was a general theme
highlighted throughout our course
evaluations, with students consis-
tently commenting on the relatability
of graduate student teachers. Many
Journal of College Science Teaching
of the adjectives used to describe
graduate student teachers, in our ex-
perience, have focused on approach-
ability, kindness, and enthusiasm
(Figure 1). This is important because
stronger student-teacher connected-
ness can result in more participation
during class discussions, enhanced
critical thinking, and better academic
performance (Konishi et al., 2010;
Micari & Pazos, 2012; Karpouza &
Emvalotis, 2019).
Taken together, these benefits
also helped us create a more adap-
tive learning style tailored to our
students’ needs. For example, in a
third-year ecosystem course, a group
of students felt comfortable enough
to express their desire for more par-
ticipatory classroom discussions. The
class then evolved from one in which
information was disseminated to the
students through a one-way instructor
presentation to one in which the lec-
ture was predominantly participatory,
often including open-ended questions
for the students. Student participation
was high, and students often chal-
lenged the professor’s opinions and
thought processes, showing that they
were not intimidated. One student in
this scenario reported the following
on a student evaluation: “She [the
instructor] doesn’t act like she’s above
all the students—she encourages
you to challenge ideas and ask ques-
tions.” The student added that these
skills were “severely lacking in many
[older] professors.” In a laboratory
setting, relatability to our students led
to a transformation from previously
monotonous laboratory exercises
to ones that were more immersive
and enjoyable for the students. For
example, in a molecular biology lab,
we designed a lab exercise, inspired
by a viral YouTube video, in which
students baked a tiny cake. This exer-
cise generated student excitement and
interest and also provided a challeng-
ing technical learning experience in
which students converted ingredient
measurements, measured dimensions
to calculate area and volume, and
calibrated micropipettes before using
them to deliver precise volumes.
Overall, the breakdown of a
student-professor barrier and the
building of stronger student-teacher
relationships have allowed us to
create low-pressure environments in
which students are engaged with the
planning and outcomes of their own
learning through enriching professor-
student dialogue.
Fostering student learning
through creativity
In our discussions with graduate
student teachers, many expressed a
strong interest in incorporating cre-
ativity into their pedagogical phi-
losophy and assessments. There are
several methods we use in the class-
room to encourage creative learning,
which include emphasizing the early
stages of creative learning (Mum-
ford et al., 2012), using analogous
models to foster creative thinking
(Mayer, 1989), and creating assess-
ments that let students apply prior
knowledge to answer challenging,
novel problems (Mumford et al.,
2012). Although these pedagogical
methods are not new to the eld per
se, we will describe several ways in
which we have applied them and dis-
cuss how students have responded to
First, we emphasize the importance
of the early stages of creative learn-
ing, which include problem denition,
information gathering, and informa-
tion organization (Mumford et al.,
Word cloud generated from adjectives used in student review com-
ments about graduate instructors.
Note. We took all adjectives written in the comments section of 218 undergraduate
reviews of graduate student instructors for eight separate biology-focused courses
at three Canadian institutions. Only adjectives used at least are shown; the most
common adjectives were helpful (20 times), clear (18 times), approachable (16 times),
friendly (14 times), and enthusiastic (13 times). Word size and color correlates to
usage frequency, with larger and darker words being used more frequently.
17Vol. 51, No. 4, 2022
Perspectives on Teaching from Early-Career Scientists
2012). We use these steps as models
to break down complicated student
assessments. In the classroom, this
could take the form of an essay as-
signment in which theses or hypoth-
eses are rst submitted and reviewed
(problem denition), and annotated
bibliographies highlighting pertinent
information are then submitted and
reviewed (information gathering and
organization). In lab settings, we
have set up long-term, student-led
projects in which students rst identi-
ed a problem they wanted to solve
(problem denition), then conducted
appropriate background research on
the topic and their methodological
approach (informational gathering),
and nally formulated and submitted
a proposal for their intended project
(informational organization). We
have found that breaking up large
assessments into these discrete but
achievable steps has resulted in posi-
tive feedback, with many students de-
scribing our teaching styles as “clear”
in student evaluations (Figure 1).
Having students or instructors provide
casual feedback during these stages
also facilitates creative learning, as
students gain deeper insight during
the process of reviewing their own
or others’ work (Paulus & Nijstad,
2003). Students in our classes have
reported engagement with creative
back-and-forth in student evaluations;
as an example, one student wrote
that they beneted from being able
to “debate and question” with us as
instructors. And when instructors are
students themselves, they can create
a more open atmosphere for creative
discussion and cross-talk (Ambers,
Second, in a lecture setting, ana-
logical models are an easily applied
method to encourage creative learn-
ing. Analogical models are a method
of representing a system or phenom-
enon using a more well-known and
easily understandable system. For
example, before introducing students
to a new concept such as the unique
anatomy of bird skeletons, we might
review human anatomy, with which
most students would be familiar. As
another example, when teaching an
introductory cell biology lecture, we
can equate cell structure to how a city
functions: The cell membrane acts
as a city wall, lysosomes are a city’s
recycling plant, and the nucleus acts
as a library. By connecting their exist-
ing knowledge to the new material, an
analogical model builds foundations
for new information to be processed
and retained. This model also allows
for creative comparisons to be made
between dierent phenomena, as well
as encourages students to think more
broadly about a specic topic at hand.
Finally, it is important to give
students the opportunity to think
creatively and critically during as-
sessments. One method of doing so
is employing conceptual combina-
tion. Conceptual combination occurs
when students draw on their retained
knowledge of various topics and gen-
erate new ideas to answer complex
questions (Mumford et al., 2012). We
often create assessment material that
challenges students with questions
they have not yet heard and that com-
bines concepts from dierent units.
As an example of a lab assessment,
students in one of our molecular
biology labs were asked to use previ-
ously learned techniques to identify a
biological specimen found at a simu-
lated crime scene. They performed
several tests on their specimens, then
reected on their ndings to identify
the perpetrator. Tests such as these
allow students to apply knowledge
gained from their microbiology labs
to a new and engaging problem and
serve as a means for students to
show their mastery of microbiology
concepts as they would be applied
to any eld. In addition to providing
a break from rote memorization, ap-
plying conceptual combination skills
is highly positively correlated with
scores for originality and quality
and is more likely to predict suc-
cess than traditional metrics such
as intelligence or divergent thinking
(Mumford et al., 1997).
When creativity is implemented
in the classroom, students have an
increased sense of autonomy over
their learning (Jerey, 2006). Other
benefits are reported by students
themselves. Our own students have
reported in teaching reviews that they
have high engagement: For example,
in two of our introductory biology
classes that incorporated several of
the creative strategies mentioned
earlier, students evaluated the in-
structor’s ability to maintain student
interest as excellent (average = 4.85
± 0.35 out of 5; n = 29 students). Fur-
thermore, our students’ engagement
and interest levels while tackling
creative challenges in the classroom
were qualitatively visible to us as
instructors. In an evaluation, one
student remarked on their enjoyment
of such strategies that “encouraged us
[students] to critically think.”
Overall, we believe that creative
learning imbues students with the
skills needed to break down and
tackle novel and complex problems,
skills that are important in both their
academic careers and their everyday
lives. By facilitating creative learning
in the science classroom, students can
benet from enhanced productivity,
motivation, quality, and originality
in their work.
Inclusion in the classroom
A key theme we identied when talk-
ing to graduate student instructors is
the importance of fostering inclusion
in the classroom. Whereas diver-
sity includes demographics such as
gender, race, and sexual orientation,
inclusion focuses on creating an en-
vironment that enables this diversity
to thrive. In a classroom setting, in-
clusion means creating a culture in
which all students receive equal op-
portunity for educational growth and
empowerment. To fully harness the
benets of diverse student bodies,
Journal of College Science Teaching
instructors must pursue deliberate
strategies to promote inclusion with-
in their classroom (Tienda, 2013),
and research has found that younger
teachers have more positive attitudes
toward inclusivity in classrooms
(Cornoldi et al., 1999; Hwang & Ev-
ans, 2011).
One of the strategies we employ
to foster inclusion in our classrooms
is to highlight diverse scientic con-
tent, materials, and ideas. Case stud-
ies, historical gures, research, and
scientic theories that we touch on
draw from a variety of sociocultural
contexts that reect human diversity.
We make a cognizant eort to men-
tion contributions to science coming
from non-Western, women-led, and
other marginalized identity groups.
This approach has three benets: It
exposes students to a larger variety
of scientic thought and approaches,
accurately represents the history of
science and those who have contrib-
uted to it, and allows students from
marginalized groups to see them-
selves in our teachings. Examples of
some approaches we have taken are
listed in Table 1.
Our second approach to creat-
ing a more inclusive classroom is
through actively learning about in-
clusion, equity, and equality outside
the classroom. We believe that it is
our responsibility as educators to be
aware of issues affecting different
identity groups in our broader society.
By learning from relevant literature
and news and through social interac-
tions with a diverse group of peers,
we aim to stay aware of social and
systematic issues that may aect our
students. This learning is a continual
work in progress, and we hope these
eorts limit unconscious bias (Fiar-
man, 2016), microaggressions (Sue
et al., 2009), and damaging responses
(Sue et al., 2009) that may otherwise
negatively impact students in our
classroom. This learning also allows
us to better recognize and prevent
interpersonal issues around inclusion
that may exist between students (e.g.,
classroom microaggressions; Suárez-
Orozco et al., 2015). Students whose
courses we have taught in an inclusive
atmosphere have reported that their
learning environment is “non-hostile”
and “safe” in teaching reviews.
Our third approach to inclusion is
to maintain a learning environment
in which students feel comfortable
challenging our unconscious biases
(Fiarman, 2016) when they arise. We
state explicitly (e.g., at the beginning
of the semester) that we are commit-
ted to creating and maintaining an
inclusive learning environment and
that we welcome critiques and com-
mentary on how we can make things
better. Students often have diculty
challenging their professors due to the
inherent power imbalance that exists
as well as the negative ramications
they may experience as a result of
challenging their superiors (Sue et al.,
2009). We believe that when it comes
to social justice and inclusion, these
barriers should be broken down. By
letting our students know we are open
to recommendations, critique, and
change, we can open lines of commu-
nication and learn about the needs of
students from marginalized commu-
nities from the students themselves.
For example, through conversations
with individual students, we have
learned that our students appreciate
representation (e.g., through diverse
faculty members, guest lecturers, and
examples of scientists and leadership
shown in lectures), varied assignment
options (e.g., individuals with social
anxiety prefer written or visual as-
signments over oral ones), inclusive
language (e.g., gender-neutral pro-
nouns), and indicators of acceptance
from their teachers (e.g., comments
that highlight our inclusive views
toward the LGBTQ community).
Finally, we believe that our own
diverse backgrounds (i.e., as rst-
generation women of color) play an
integral role in fostering inclusivity.
Graduate students at universities are
often more diverse than older faculty
members (Espinosa et al., 2019). Hav-
ing diversity among faculty members
exposes students to a range of intel-
lectual thought, teaching styles, and
Descriptions and examples of inclusive teaching approaches that can be used in multiple fields.
Course or topic Example of inclusive teaching approach
Genetics Explain the role Rosalind Franklin played in discovering the structure of DNA. Many books and lectures
will often give full credit to Watson and Crick, leaving out the key role of Franklin’s work and contributions
(Klung, 1968).
Ecosystems Provide examples of successful ecosystem-based management strategies that are led by and/or
incorporate Indigenous perspectives and aspirations (Tiakiwai et al., 2017).
Teach environmental studies topics through the lens of an Indigenous community; show media created by
Indigenous organizations.
General Oer guest lectures from individuals who can provide a breadth of perspectives and experience (e.g.,
female researchers, Indigenous naturalists).
19Vol. 51, No. 4, 2022
Perspectives on Teaching from Early-Career Scientists
personal experiences that together
oer a breadth of ideas that constitute
a dynamic intellectual community.
For example, studies have shown
that women and people of color more
frequently employed active learning
in the classroom, encouraged student
input, and included perspectives of
women and minorities in their course-
work (Milem et al., 2005). Diverse
faculty members can also inspire
students by showing individuals from
marginalized identity groups in lead-
ership positions (Collins & Kritsonis,
2006). Although tenured faculty
positions continue to be dominated
by individuals from majority identity
groups, our position as diverse gradu-
ate student faculty members can hope-
fully break down this barrier.
The connecting themes between
each of our key foci show that we,
as early-career, graduate student
teachers, have a keen desire to meet
the needs of our students—whether
we are engaging them in the design
of their own learning, encouraging
them to apply their knowledge to
questions “outside the box,” or fa-
cilitating their feelings of inclusion
in the academic setting. Ultimately,
it is our experience that these ap-
proaches—the benecial outcomes
of which are supported by the lit-
erature—result in high student par-
ticipation and interest. We hope this
article provides insight into how
some graduate student teachers are
implementing their pedagogy in
classrooms and what benets these
approaches confer.
We would like to thank our graduate
student teacher peers for their support
and for contributing data: Danielle de
Carle, Amanda Griffin, Sara Wuitchik,
and Alana Westwood (former graduate
student teacher). We would also like to
thank Njal Rollinson, Aaron MacNeil,
and Jeffrey Hutchings for their mentor-
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Suchinta Arif ( and Melanie Duc Bo Massey are bothcofounders of the Diversity of Nature outreach pro-
gram anddoctoral candidates in the Department of Biology at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
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While many factors play into college student success, interaction with faculty has been identified as a key component. In highly challenging and anxiety-provoking courses, the student–faculty relationship may be all the more important. This study uses organic chemistry as a case example to investigate the role of the student–faculty relationship in such a setting. The study surveys 113 undergraduates in six organic chemistry courses to examine the relationship of student–faculty relationship to grade, course confidence, and sense of science identity. In regression analyses, student–faculty relationship positively predicted grade as well as confidence, but not science identity. Suggestions for faculty practices are offered.
Despite its significance, the teacher-student relationship in higher education remains an under-researched field. The current study used constructivist grounded theory, in order to enrich the relevant discussion. More specifically, it aimed at exploring how the teacher-student relationship in graduate education develops (and gradually evolves) based on the perceptions and experiences of the parties involved. Data was collected through intensive interviewing with twenty teacher educators and by five focus groups with twenty-five graduate students in Educational Sciences. Based on the combined constant comparative analysis of the teachers’ and students’ perceptions and experiences, the teacher-student relationship in higher education surfaced as a complex dynamic process. Despite the teachers’ hierarchical superiority, it is characterised by reciprocating in all its manifestations: mutually wanting to relate, developing characteristics of a meaningful relationship, overcoming obstacles, maintaining boundaries and experiencing the positive outcomes.
This article presents a case study of the ecosystem-based management model embedded within British Columbia’s Marine Plan Partnership for the Pacific North Coast and the Great Bear Initiative. These are two distinct, yet linked, examples of resource management and economic development that use ecosystem-based management in a way that incorporates indigenous perspectives and aspirations. The model potentially provides a framework that other countries, including Aotearoa (New Zealand), could examine and adapt to their own contexts using new governance structures and working with indigenous perspectives that include traditional ecological knowledge and aspirations. The case study is presented from a Māori perspective that represents both an insider (indigenous) and outsider (non-First Nations) view.
We examine graduate student teaching as an input to two production processes: the education of undergraduates and the development of graduate students themselves. Using fluctuations in full-time faculty availability as an instrument, we find undergraduates are more likely to major in a subject if their first course in the subject was taught by a graduate student, a result opposite of estimates that ignore selection. Additionally, graduate students who teach more frequently graduate earlier and are more likely to subsequently be employed by a college or university.
Creative achievements are the basis for progress in our world. Although creative achievement is influenced by many variables, the basis for creativity is held to lie in the generation of high-quality, original, and elegant solutions to complex, novel, ill-defined problems. In the present effort, we examine the cognitive capacities that make creative problem-solving possible. We argue that creative problem-solving depends on the effective execution of a set of complex cognitive processes. Effective execution of these processes is, in turn, held to depend on the strategies employed in process execution and the knowledge being used in problem-solving. The implications of these observations for improving creative thinking are discussed.