what teachers make

While prepping teaching materials for Developmental Psychology this semester, I suddenly remembered Taylor Mali. It’s been years since I listened to his poetry, but it’s still as poignant now as it was back then. (If you’re not familiar with his work, I strongly encourage you to check out his website.)

In particular, I’ve been reflecting on his poem ‘What Teachers Make‘ and how I feel about teaching. Being a teacher – making a difference! – is genuinely important to me. As is hopefully evident from my posts on teaching and mentorship, I enjoy working with students both in the lab and in the classroom. In sum, my intrinsic motivation to teach is one of the reasons that I decided to pursue a career in academia.

Yet it’s rare that teaching is openly celebrated. To the contrary, graduate students are often warned not to invest ‘too much time’ in developing our pedagogical skills, lest this distract from our research. How much time is ‘too much’ undoubtedly depends on whomever is giving the advice on the matter, but there are also more systematic cues to put teaching on the back burner. For example, in my department, if a graduate student receives outside funding, their teaching responsibilities are vastly reduced. In behaviorist terms, funding is therefore both a positive reinforcement (i.e., increasing funding for your research is good) and a negative reinforcement (i.e., decreasing your time spent on teaching is good). In sum, the overall message to graduate students is clear: Focus on your research.

This is not to say that advisors who counsel their graduate students to focus on research are necessarily doing the wrong thing. It makes perfect sense to focus on research if you intend to pursue a professorship at a research-focused institution! And this is not to say that I personally enjoy or value teaching more than research. What I mean to say is that the strict dichotomy of research and teaching may be a false one. Research and teaching can be combined in ways that benefit both the undergraduate students and the graduate instructors, and I’m grateful that my advisors have encouraged me to develop skills in both research and teaching.

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Princeton supports grad students

Statement from President Christopher L. Eisgruber (12/4/17):

We share the concerns expressed by our graduate students regarding the provision in H.R.1 that would subject tuition waivers to taxation.  This provision is not in the bill that passed the Senate, but if it were enacted into law, it would impose a tax that graduate students cannot afford to pay and would severely harm graduate education throughout the United States.

Preserving the tuition remission exemption is a top priority for Princeton.  We have been and will continue to work vigorously and in concert with other universities and educational associations to achieve that goal.

If the tax were to be enacted, we would take steps to ensure the well-being of Princeton’s graduate students and to minimize the damage to graduate education at Princeton.  Our graduate students are important to us, and we will support them so that they can pursue their studies, careers, and aspirations successfully.  There can be no doubt, however, that this ill-conceived and counter-productive tax would not only impose significant costs on graduate programs here and elsewhere, but also do serious damage to the scope and quality of graduate education in our nation.

 

mentor of the millennium

Recently I told my advisor that I was feeling anxious about generals.

Here’s what he had to say about that:

You can count on me, Lauren, and Adele to be supportive and consistent and productive, both at your generals and in general. You’re doing a fantastic job in grad school, evidenced by efficiency in getting data collected, working on many drafts of a challenging empirical paper, getting the GRFP, and etc etc. These are the kinds of factors that add up to a committee being in your corner. Feeling anxious is natural and motivating and horrible, so let it flow in a healthy way, and you know you can work through it. Might we request more work or different work or further reading? Of course. But it’s nothing you can’t handle. Might we steer you toward or away from certain ideas? Of course. Who cares. It’s my job (and Lauren’s job, and Adele’s job) to be helpful and support your career, and you’ll see that at every turn during your generals. And who knows, we might just say “Uhh. Great job. Keep it up.”

It’s times like this that I’m extra thankful to be here.

Princeton supports international students

A letter from Christopher Eisgruber – President of Princeton University, with emphasis added:

To the Princeton community,

Many of you have written to express concerns about the recent federal executive order barring entry to the United States for refugees and for citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries. I share those concerns. Since its early days, when the College of New Jersey recruited a transformative president from Scotland, this University has depended on America’s ability to attract and engage with talented people from around the world. Princeton today benefits tremendously from the presence of extraordinary individuals of diverse nationalities and faiths, and we will support them vigorously.

The University has taken steps already to assist Princeton students and scholars who are affected by the executive order, including a small number who are currently traveling abroad and face difficulties returning to the United States. Dean of the Faculty Deborah Prentice and Dean of the Graduate School Sanjeev Kulkarni have issued messages providing preliminary information about the order and its consequences. Staff members in the Davis International Center and elsewhere on campus are working around the clock to assess the full impact of the order and to aid and counsel members of our community, including those who are currently outside the United States.

The legal implications of the executive order have been evolving rapidly. My colleagues in the University administration will continue to monitor developments and identify appropriate ways to assist affected individuals. We will update the community as needed to ensure that our students, faculty, and staff know how to obtain information or help.

Princeton will also continue to safeguard personal information about non-citizens as it does for all of its students, faculty, and staff. As I noted in a previous letter to the community, Princeton has policies in place to protect the privacy of every member of the University community. We do not disclose private information about our students, faculty, or staff to law enforcement officers unless we are presented with a valid subpoena or comparably binding requirement.

As we seek to aid and protect individuals in our community, we are also supporting legislative efforts to assist non-citizens, including the BRIDGE Act that would extend protection for students covered by DACA (the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy). Princeton’s current activity builds on a consistent history of advocacy for policies permitting foreign scholars and students to come to the United States. Much of that advocacy has occurred in cooperation with the Association of American Universities, of which Princeton is a member. The AAU has issued a statement of concern about the recent executive order, and we endorse that statement fully.

Princeton’s position on immigration policy issues reflects our conviction that every single person on this campus has benefited from the ability of people to cross borders in search of learning or a better life. That is emphatically true for me. My mother and her family arrived in this country as refugees escaping from a war-torn continent. They would have perished had they been denied visas. My father first came to America as an exchange student from a country that had recently been at war with the United States, and he then studied at Purdue University as a foreign graduate student.

Immigration has been a source of creativity and strength for this country throughout its history. It is indispensable to the mission and the excellence of America’s universities, which enhance this country’s economy, security, and well-being through the students they educate and the ideas they generate. Princeton will continue supporting students, faculty, and staff of all nationalities and faiths, and we will continue making the case for policies that simultaneously respect this nation’s legitimate security interests and allow for the free and vital movement of students and scholars across borders.

Christopher L. Eisgruber
President, Princeton University

January 29, 2017

Princeton teaching evaluations

Here’s what my Introductory Psychology students (mostly freshmen) had to say:

“Tracy Reuter was absolutely fantastic. She made the topics really interesting and relevant, and she was ALWAYS within reach (email, phone, in-person) if we ever had any questions. She is a fantastic teacher and anyone would be lucky to have her. I can’t stress enough how much she MADE this lab fantastic.”

“tracy rocks!!!”

“it was pretty fun”

“It was very fun and helpful and informative, keep it that way!”

“TRACY IS THE BEST PERSON EVER AND MADE LAB SO FUN I’M SO HAPPY I HAD HER AND SHE MADE LAB SO FUN”

“tracy is fantastic. she’s an absolutely fantastic teacher.”

And here’s what our head AI had to say to my advisor (who then immediately shared it with me, because he was so pleased):

“I thought you might be happy to hear that Tracy is a rockstar instructor. Her lab had the highest ratings — and the ratings were so high that I still felt pretty good about myself coming in second place. Also, Joel and I sat in on all of the 101 labs this week as audience members for the student presentations, and we were both impressed by how much enthusiasm Tracy elicited from her students. I expect that some of her virtuosity is due to dedication and personality, and some is due to your mentorship and example of outstanding teaching.”

It’s not every day that you get such positive affirmation, especially as a teacher! I’m glad to hear that my students learned a lot from the course and had fun in the process too. More importantly, I learned which teaching methods worked well and which methods I can improve for next time. For example, our ice-breaker activities on the first day really helped my students get to know each other. As a result, it was always easy to start a discussion on any topic and my students all collaborated beautifully for group projects. I learned that introducing new material via PowerPoint slides could help to lay the groundwork for the lab (e.g., What is cognitive control?) but this needed to include lots of engaging material and active participation (e.g., students responding aloud for a classic Stroop task). And I remembered how much I love working with first-year students. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it! Overall, I had a wonderful semester and am looking forward to teaching Developmental Psychology next year.

DACA

A message from the Princeton University President:

To the Princeton community,

Over the past two weeks, many people on campus and beyond have expressed concerns about the future of Princetonians covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which permits undocumented students to continue their studies here without fear of deportation.  I appreciate these concerns and share them.  While we cannot know at this point what will happen in the coming months, the president-elect said during his campaign that he might end DACA and deport students who had been protected by it.

That would be a tragic mistake.  DACA is a wise, humane, and beneficial policy.  It enables law-abiding young people who have grown up in the United States to develop their talents and contribute productively to this country, which is their home.  Princeton University has consistently supported DACA, and I both hope and believe that the policy can be sustained.  Though I usually do not sign petitions or mass letters, I joined a group of more than 100 college and university presidents who last week issued a statement supporting DACA.  That statement now has 300 signatories.

I have received a number of letters and petitions urging Princeton to do all it can to support its undocumented students if DACA is suspended or repealed.  We will do so to the maximum extent that the law allows.  Our efforts will be aided by policies already in place to protect the privacy and safety of every member of the University community.  For example, we do not disclose private information about our students, faculty, or staff to law enforcement officers unless we are presented with a subpoena or comparably binding requirement.  We are actively reviewing this policy and other policies and practices to ensure that they fully protect all of our students, faculty, and staff, including our DACA students.  We will also ensure that affected members of our community know where they can turn for guidance and support on matters related to immigration, including to the very knowledgeable staff of the Davis International Center.

Some of the correspondence reaching me has asked Princeton to declare itself a “sanctuary campus.”  Immigration lawyers with whom we have consulted have told us that this concept has no basis in law, and that colleges and universities have no authority to exempt any part of their campuses from the nation’s immigration laws.

As a constitutional scholar myself, I agree with that judgment and believe that it connects to one of the country’s most basic principles:  its commitment to the rule of law.  That principle deserves special attention in this uncertain and contentious time.  In a country that respects the rule of law, every person and every official, no matter what office he or she may hold, is subject to the law and must respect the rights of others.  Princeton University will invoke that principle in courts and elsewhere to protect the rights of its community and the individuals within it.  But we jeopardize our ability to make those arguments effectively, and may even put our DACA students at greater risk, if we suggest that our campus is beyond the law’s reach.

I hope you will permit me to close on a more personal note.  Both of my parents immigrated to this country, and I have devoted much of my adult life to writing and teaching about the rights of religious minorities.  I am deeply troubled by the hostility that was expressed toward immigrants and toward Muslims and other religious minorities during the recent election campaign.  But I am heartened by our community’s vigorous affirmation of the commitment to inclusivity that is fundamental not only to our University but also to America’s constitutional values.  I am glad to stand with other members of our community on behalf of DACA and the rights and well-being of all our students, faculty, and staff.

Chris Eisgruber

mentoring contract

Recently I attended a mentorship workshop for graduate students who are mentoring undergraduates in research. One suggestion was creating a mentoring “contract” where mentors and mentees can discuss their expectations openly and figure out what works best for their relationship. I think getting everyone on the same page from the get-go is a great idea, so I modified an example from the workshop and came up with this:

The purpose of this “contract” isn’t to create a list of obligations for each of us. This is a way to negotiate healthy boundaries and make our expectations clear. Our relationship will be unique, as is any relationship, so this is just a starting point for discussion. Please raise your own questions and concerns throughout the internship. You can talk to me about anything – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and I will strive to be the best mentor possible.

Goals

  • What are your research goals and personal goals in this internship (and beyond)?
  • What are my research goals and personal goals in this internship (and beyond)?
  • What is a reasonable timeline for these goals?
  • How will we help each other strive towards these goals?

Roles

  • What are your expectations for your role and my role?
  • What are my expectations for my role and your role?

Communication

  • What are our preferred means of communication?
  • What is a reasonable timeline for communication?
  • How available should we be in the lab and outside the lab?
  • How do we record research progress, questions, and any problems that arise?

Scheduling

  • When are we both going to be present at lab?
  • When are we both going to be available at lab?
  • Are lab hours strict or flexible?
  • Are there times when we’re definitely unavailable?

Professionalism

  • What does “professionalism” mean, in the context of our mentor-mentee relationship?
  • What does “professionalism” mean, in the context of our lab?

Concerns and Resources

  • What concerns do you have about being a mentee?
  • What concerns do I have about being a mentor?
  • What resources are available to you when I’m not available?
  • What resources are available to me?