higher education

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?

PSURE

This year, I’m also serving as a graduate student mentor for PSURE – the Princeton Summer Undergraduate Research Experience.

Here’s an overview of the program, from the PSURE website:

“The Graduate School offers an eight-week summer research experience for undergraduates who express a serious interest in pursuing a Ph.D. and following a career in college or university teaching and research. The purpose of the program is to motivate and prepare students to make competitive applications to research doctoral programs, with a view toward completing the Ph.D. and going on to teach and conduct original research.

Princeton is a member of The Leadership Alliance, a consortium of 32 institutions of higher learning dedicated to increasing diversity in doctoral programs and on college and university faculties. The Alliance collaborates on a number of programs, from undergraduate research, to faculty development, to national symposia, to develop underrepresented students into outstanding leaders and role models in academia, business and the public sector. The Summer Research Early Identification Program (SR-EIP) is the keystone of Princeton’s participation in the Alliance.”

Specifically, I’ll be working on the following aspects of the program:

  • Conduct weekly meetings with students to mentor and advise on the research process, writing and presenting research, and general questions and concerns of students.
  • Assist with academic support programs developed in collaboration with the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning, the Writing Center, and other on-campus resources.
  • Attend and periodically facilitate lunchtime speaker series and other weekly events.
  • Collaborate with the Director of the PSURE program, Associate/Assistant Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, the Post-Doctoral Assistant, and Graduate School staff.

ReMatch

This year, I’m participating in the Princeton ReMatch research mentoring program. My mentee and I will work together on a research project this summer. (Stay tuned for more posts on that!)

Here’s the mission statement, from the ReMatch website:

Mission: To foster meaningful research collaborations between first and second year undergraduate students and graduate students from across all departments; support a diverse and inclusive research community at Princeton and beyond; provide undergraduates with early hands-on opportunities for mentored research to ignite and sustain their interest in research and prepare them for junior and senior independent work; train and support graduate students in becoming effective mentors and educators; strengthen Princeton’s research community.

ReMatch is a collaborative initiative between the Office of the Dean of the College (ODOC) and the Office of the Dean of the Graduate School (ODGS).”

classroom conflicts

Here’s another wonderful excerpt from Reaching all Students:

  • Respond to classroom conflict in a manner that helps students become aware of the learning moment this conflict provides. Heated discussions need to be facilitated in a manner that does not result in hostility among class members and a sustained bad feeling in the room. You can avoid these outcomes by encouraging students to tie their feelings and conflicts to the course material and by looking for underlying meanings and principles that might get buried in the process of class conflict. Students appreciate tensions between groups in the class being recognized and effectively addressed.
  • Recognize student fears and concerns about conflict. Students enter a class with different levels of experience and comfort with conflict. It is important to normalize the experience of conflict in the classroom, particularly in classes that focus on controversial topics. This can be accomplished through explicit discussion of student experiences with conflict, and through the use of structured discussion exercises.
  • Maintain the role of facilitator. One of the challenges of teaching is maintaining the role of instructor under a variety of conditions. For example, you can get caught up in expressing your own perspective in heated discussions, or can become overly silent in discussions that go beyond your own knowledge base or experience. While these responses are understandable, such role abdication can create chaos in the classroom or force students to fill the abdicated facilitator role. In order to avoid this outcome, you should examine your typical responses to conflict. It can also be useful to find ways that you may admit your limits with respect to content areas while maintaining responsibility for the group process.

reaching all students

The Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning defines teaching as a dynamic process. We teach and learn about teaching simultaneously. The ultimate goal is to develop and disseminate effective teaching practices, but we only know what’s effective via research. In this way, research, teaching, and learning are intimately intertwined.

The part that really caught my eye about this collaborative group was the focus on diversity. Students come from diverse backgrounds, and CIRTL recognizes that. For example, CIRTL wrote a resource book for instructors, “Reaching all Students,” which I think is incredibly insightful. Here is the complete book and below are some main points to keep in mind.

  • Know the diverse backgrounds of students and the resulting implications for learning. Dimensions of diversity include, but are not limited to, preferred learning style, race, ethnicity and culture, gender, sexual orientation, disability, religion, age and socioeconomic background.
  • Recognize existing inequities, and promote an equitable, inclusive and respectful climate for learning.
  • Identify curricular, teaching and assessment practices that promote learning for all.
  • Draw upon the diversity of students to enhance and enrich the learning of all.

discussion activities

Most teaching at the graduate level happens within small groups. How can you spark a discussion? How can you keep students engaged? In a previous post, I talked about fill-in-the-blank style activities to review key concepts (e.g., classical conditioning). In this post, I’ll focus on other discussion activities.

It’s very important to note that most of these ideas aren’t my own! They come from others in the UW-Madison undergraduate teaching fellows program. One of the projects within this program involved “small learning communities” (i.e., discussion sections based in dorms) for first-year students. The examples below are from brainstorm sessions with faculty and teaching fellows, and I’ve included some notes about my own experiences in using these activities.

Four Corners: This is excellent for ideas that could be approached in different ways based on personal experiences, philosophies, likes, etc. Post possibilities on sheets of paper on sides/corners of the room. Ask students to go to the side/corner that best represents them, and discuss with others why they traveled to that corner. Following small group discussions, have a member of each group summarize the group’s perspective in a large group discussion. This activity allows students to learn more about diverse perspectives on a given topic. (In my experience, this activity works well for controversial topics that students may be reluctant to discuss. If you pose a question and hear nothing but crickets, I recommend trying this.)

Think – Pair – Share: This strategy is used to introduce a new concept or to draw out ideas from a previous assignment or experience. Students spend 2-3 minutes individually answering a question. Then, students discuss their responses with a partner. Finally, students share their collective responses with the whole group. (In my experience, I’ve found this activity is great for students who need some time to think before sharing with the rest of the class.)

Metaphors: Divide students in pairs or small groups and ask them to develop a metaphor for a given concept. Metaphors may be written verbally, or expressed with a drawing, or both. Have groups share their metaphors with the larger group, using the collective metaphors to generate a broader discussion of the topic.

Gallery: After completing a poster-style activity (e.g., Metaphors, above), have each group put their response on the wall. Divide students into mixed groups in which one member from each of the previous groups is represented. Groups view each piece in the “gallery” for a few minutes, and students to write down their responses to each piece. Students can ask the original author to clarify the metaphor, if needed. At the conclusion, invite the class to discuss commonalities and differences within the gallery pieces.

Other creative activities: Try getting groups to respond to questions through role plays, creative drama, story telling, etc. Question prompts for these activities should try to draw out critical learning objectives. (In my experience, students do enjoy most creative activities, but it’s sometimes hard to keep them focused on why their doing it. I tend to use these towards the end of the class, reserving ~5 minutes for discussion.)

Jigsaw Reading: Break down a short reading into 3-5 parts. Have each group read and discuss one part. Groups then share a summary of their reading with the whole class. You can also ask each group to pose additional questions to the large group to deepen discussion. (In my experience, this activity is excellent for helping students with reading. When my psych students were reading an Oliver Sacks novel, I assigned a few students to be “experts” on each chapter and give summaries to start the discussion. Students all still read each chapter independently, but these “expert” summaries helped them remember lots of material.)

Whip Around: Pose a question. Ask each student to respond as quickly as they can to the question until all students have answered. Students should be given the right to “pass” if they aren’t ready, but the goal is to have everyone participate. Alternately, create a whip around in which each person must build upon the previous person’s idea as they answer. Afterwards, discuss similarities and differences in students’ responses. (In my experience, this activity works well if you want to start with a very broad topic and break into sub-topics for discussion. For example, “Tell me something you know about neurons” can get the ball rolling. It can also be a useful activity for controversial issues. For example, “Tell me the first words that come to mind when you hear: race/ethnicity/gender/etc” can be a way to start discussing social justice issues.)

Q&A: Ask students to submit 3-5 questions they have about the past week’s material. Review each question with the whole class, and ask students to answer the questions posed by their peers. (In my experience, there are a few important things to note here. (1) Some students will slack on this with questions like, “What is [insert vocabulary term]?” but they’ll be outnumbered by genuine questions. (2) This gives some privacy to asking questions, as students don’t know who posed which questions, and it can encourage shy students to participate more. (3) I’ve also tried assigning questions to specific students for answers, but that takes some extra planning. (4) This can be a great final exam review strategy: compile questions and answers into a PowerPoint, and send the slides to students. It’s their work, you just typed it.)