Whether as teaching assistants, course instructors, lab technicians or mentors, graduate students engage in a multitude of teaching-related work while completing their degrees. Many are never taught how to reflect on and articulate the skills they gain from these experiences. Some of them are currently graduating and being met with a faculty hiring freeze. Indeed, higher education was already experiencing falling enrollments, prospects of financial cuts, and a shift to adjunctification — trends that have only been intensified by the pandemic. So how can graduate students effectively leverage and enhance teaching experiences and skills for academic and non-academic careers?
Make use of free professional development opportunities
Be strategic about what kinds of offerings you choose to devote your time to; for example, consider boosting your skills in priority areas (such as online learning and accessibility in teaching). Many large member organizations (such as the MLA) host workshop series and provide resources on career-readiness. Taking a suite of webinars or courses in a similar topic area can help you create a cohesive narrative in your materials. Finally, professional development activities can also go beyond the scope of teaching; they provide an excellent opportunity for networking and meeting other professionals in your field.
To get you started, consider some of the following professional development opportunities:
- Look for courses or certificate programs at your institution that focus on teaching (for example, the University of Toronto’s Teaching in Higher Education (THE500) course or the Teaching Assistants’ Training Program certificates).
- Take a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) related to teaching, for example, Coursera’s Learning to Teach Online (UNSW Sydney).
- Engage with a teaching-related organization, such as the Teaching Assistant and Graduate Student Advancement (TAGSA).
- Participate in teaching communities of practice by connecting with your institution’s teaching and learning conference/symposium.
Create a teaching dossier
Nowadays, academic job applications often require a teaching dossier or at the very least, a statement of teaching philosophy (STP), evaluations of teachings, and a range of artifacts related to your teaching (e.g. course syllabus). Collectively, this document tells a cohesive story connecting your teaching values with specific practices, to show their effectiveness and impact on student learning. Although it is rooted in specific artifacts (e.g., syllabi, assessment instructions, lab manuals; etc.) and offers synthesized volumes of information (e.g., on formal course evaluations), it should be an authentic, reflective and personal narrative.
Preparing a teaching dossier requires time. Here are some tips to get you started:
- Identify and reflect on the range of your teaching experiences in and out of higher education.
- Collect and organize evidence (e.g., assessment instructions, slide decks, etc.) related to your teaching from different sources and include small descriptions to contextualize each artifact.
- Start with your STP, which should clearly connect values, strategies and their impact on student learning. Once you have a draft of your STP, get trusted colleagues and mentors to review it.
- Create a draft table of contents for your dossier and identify additional teaching dossier supports (e.g., career centre advisor who can review your materials) at your institution.
Identify transferrable skills related to teaching
Job search engines, professional network platforms (e.g., LinkedIn), think tanks (e.g., Brookfield Institute), or services focused on career transitions, all emphasize the importance of transferrable skills — competencies that can be carried from one job or setting to the next. Teaching-related skills, including communication, creativity, public speaking, leadership, facilitation, knowledge translation, evaluating performance, motivating others, etc., include some of the most desirable skills in any career. Articulating these skills and connecting them to specific experiences increases your value as a prospective employee. So, how can you identify and articulate skills related to teaching?
- Explore different definitions, frameworks, worksheets and toolkits to reflect on and identify your transferrable skills.
- Examine skills inventories related to specific teaching-related competencies like people skills, motivation (e.g., Motivated Skills Inventory) or emotional intelligence.
- Use storytelling (or other strategies like mind-mapping) to connect skills to specific experiences.
Keep building and nurturing your teaching
Whether you are an academic-in-waiting or seeking a non-academic career, it is important to reflect on and show off the breadth of your teaching experience. The key is to demonstrate that your skills are relevant to a range of workplace situations. John Singer, CEO of Professional Development Strategies, encourages graduate students to use the situation, action and result approach — creating three-sentence narratives to “convey to employers precise examples of strategies a graduate student has used and what kind of success they achieved.” Whichever of these steps you choose to undertake, remember that teaching is source of many crucial skills that are valued both inside and outside of the academy.