Graduate students instruct and learn

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October 20, 2009

2:04 AM

The College of William and Mary prides itself as a liberal arts university where teachers teach. However, this is not always the case. In addition to teaching assistants, graduate students who complete a qualifying exam called the ABD, or All But Dissertation, are capable of becoming teaching fellows at the College, allowing them to teach courses.

Graduate students have long been able to serve as teaching assistants under individual professors. Physics graduate students are often in charge of a lab, and American Studies graduate students are paired with professors, assisting with classes in their field.

Some feel graduate students are able to offer rich learning environs for their students because of their enthusiasm for their subject.

“We’re very positive about the experience,” Cong Feng, a graduate student at the College in the department of mathematics, said. “We are students as well. In a way, we know what students want because we have our own classes to take.”

Feng is a teaching assistant for two mathematics labs.

“Most grads only teach or assist one class per semester,” Julia Kaziewicz, Vice President of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences said. “Thus, the 15 or 20 students a grad has get all that grad’s attention. Some professors teach up to three classes per semester, plus work on various committees and are concerned with their own research. The individual attention and nurturing that an undergraduate can receive from his or her graduate instructor is invaluable to the William and Mary experience.”

Kaziewicz will teach a class in the spring on film and early American Cold War Culture.

“Most teaching fellows in American Studies teach 470 courses — junior/senior seminars,” Kaziewics said. “Those classes are formed around the specific interest of strength of the grad students. Often, ABD 470s are based on a grad’s dissertation topic.”

Feng acknowledged the deficiencies of graduate student ‘professors’.

“The majority of us can teach students basic skill and ideas,” Feng said.

However, professors have a better grasp of what ideas are interesting and relevant to the greater academic community, Feng added.

Furthermore, the experience accumulated by professors is difficult to emulate, even with the best of intentions and efforts by graduate students.

According to the National Center for Education statistics, part-time faculty and graduate students do more than half of all teaching in American universities.

This increases competition with professors for jobs.

“As for graduate students, the opportunity to teach at the College is invaluable for young professors,” Kaziewicz said. “People often forget that William and Mary is a research university and that the graduate students are getting a degree, too. William and Mary students are smart and motivated, so teaching here at the beginning of our professional careers is amazing.”

_Assoc. News Editor Bertel King, Jr. also contributed to this article._

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