she roars

This past week, I was honored to give a research talk at She Roars – a conference celebrating women at Princeton.

This conference was a unique opportunity to reflect on all the amazing women who have mentored me: Jenny Saffran, Maryellen MacDonald, Melanie Jones, Alexa Romberg, Jessica Willits, Jill Lany, Jess Hay, Jesse Snedeker, Manizeh Kahn, Melissa Kline, Lauren Emberson, Chris Potter, Elise Piazza… The list goes on and on! I’m so fortunate to be surrounded by all of these female scholars.

I left feeling a sense of camaraderie and inspiration, and can’t wait to return to Princeton for the next She Roars conference!

 

online course: intro to stats with R

This Summer, Felicia Zhang and I are developing an online course with the Princeton McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning. Below is an overview of the course, which will be accessible in Fall, 2018:

Two of the biggest challenges for undergraduates in psychology are understanding key concepts in statistics and applying those concepts to analyze data and interpret findings. These challenges not only make it difficult for students to understand material in lectures and labs, but also difficult for instructors to help the students because students feel defeated and become unwilling to engage with the course. Therefore, we are designing an online course to introduce statistics and R programming. Integrating statistics and R programming in one course is ideal for learning: The former is essential for students to understand research more broadly and the latter is an important tool for students to engage with research directly. For example, a psychology student must interpret statistical results from prior experiments as well as analyze their own data for their senior thesis. In sum, our course is designed to help students who have minimal prior experience to understand key concepts in statistics and to apply those concepts to realistic problems in psychology research.

The course will include 6 modules (i.e., getting started with statistics; getting started with R; descriptive statistics; correlation; one-sample t-test and binomial test; two-sample t-test) and each module will have the same basic structure: The first portion helps students to understand key concepts. Students will watch narrated text, live drawings, or videos. To assess students’ understanding, students will complete multiple choice questions. The next portion of the module helps students to apply key concepts via R programming. First, we will pose realistic psychology research questions (e.g., Do toddlers who hear more language from caregivers tend to have larger vocabularies?). Students will observe how we answer each question with the appropriate statistical test (e.g., correlation) and R syntax (e.g., cor.test(data$language, data$vocabulary)). Next, we will pose new, similar questions (e.g., Do toddlers who have more books at home tend to hear more language from caregivers?) and students will attempt to answer these questions. To assess students’ understanding, students will input their answers and receive feedback. The last portion of the module helps students to review key concepts. Students will watch narrated text, live drawings, or videos. Finally, to assess students’ overall understanding, students will complete a module quiz.

After participating in our course, students will have fundamental knowledge of statistics and R programming. Although both are extremely important for students in psychology, students need more resources to understand key concepts in statistics and to apply those concepts to real research (e.g., their senior thesis). Our course will provide these resources, with two notable strengths: First, unlike other online R programming courses, we will use realistic, psychology-specific examples. This design enables direct connections between what students learn in lecture, in lab, and in our online course. Second, although our course is tailored to the needs of psychology students, having basic knowledge of statistics and R programming is applicable to a growing number of fields (e.g., sociology, politics, etc.). In sum, our online course will support learning among undergraduates in psychology and could have wide-reaching impact among undergraduates in science, more broadly.

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.

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.

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.