When I took Introduction to Cell Biology as a sophomore, I knew right away that I wanted to be teaching assistant for the course in the future. The way my professors, Drs. Carsten Stuckenholz and Lance Davidson, presented the complex processes and pathways underpinning the function of the cell made coming to class a thoroughly enjoyable experience. From colorful, easy-to-understand slides to flipped-classroom lectures filled with science jokes, the information was always accessible and fun to engage with. In the summer of 2021, before my senior year, I reached out to Dr. Stuckenholz to express my intention of being a teaching assistant for him. He agreed, and we got to work on how to optimize the learning experience for first-year bioengineers taking cell biology.
Having had some prior experience as a teaching assistant for a general chemistry course, the transition from student to teacher for this class was not too jarring. However, the expectations associated with the Chancellor’s Undergraduate Teaching Fellowship added an additional layer of responsibility from what I was accustomed to. Luckily, Drs. Stuckenholz and Davidson were highly supportive throughout the semester. We held regular meetings to discuss strategies for conveying the details of complex signaling pathways, what kinds of questions to include on review worksheets, and how to encourage students after an especially difficult midterm. With their mentorship, I felt that I was consistently expanding by abilities as an educator.
Through the CUTF, I have found that the relationship between the student and the mentor is the most important variable in defining the quality of a teaching assistantship experience. My mentors struck a perfect balance between independence and support: I was given free reign of my recitations and had the freedom to trial several different teaching styles to determine what worked best for myself and my students, but also had the support of Drs. Stuckenholz and Davidson whenever I felt that I needed it. To those students who are looking to learn more about teaching, I would advise that they form a relationship with the professors for the courses that they are passionate about. Most professors are happy to have enthusiastic teaching assistants help them run their course. Having a good mentor to guide one’s development as a teacher is essential. Furthermore, if one is naturally curious about a certain topic, they will be better able to articulate the nuances of it to an audience that is attempting to learn it for the first time.