Learning as a UTA

Hello everyone! My name is Nehal Chakraborty and I am a senior neuroscience major on the pre-medicine track. Through CUTF, I’m working on a project to create learning materials for Foundations Biology 1 students. I am currently working as a UTA under the guidance of Dr. Linda O’Reilly and creating review materials to help students prepare for each exam this semester.

Before I even heard of CUTF, I had plans to spend the Fall 2023 semester as a Biology 1 UTA for Dr. O’Reilly. I have previously been a UTA for Dr. O’Reilly in Fall 2021. Since then, I built a one-on-one relationship with her by being either a student or UTA in her classes over the years. When I heard of CUTF last spring, I immediately visualized myself as a leader in her Biology 1 classroom. My previous UTA experience with her gave me a glimpse of common difficulties that students face, so I had an idea of what project I wanted to pursue. I reached out to Dr. O’Reilly with a project idea that I could implement while being a UTA. We discussed the details and feasibility of my proposal to create exam review sheets for students that emphasized drawing out concepts and using visual memory aids. Dr. O’Reilly was very supportive and offered advice on structuring the review sheets. She had an idea to use my project to motivate students to come to UTA office hours more often. Only UTAs have the solutions to my review sheets, so students have the incentive to come to office hours to clear doubts about the review sheet and hopefully ask more questions about other problem areas. Throughout this semester, we developed a system where I send Dr. O’Reilly a draft of my review sheet a week before each exam. Dr. O’Reilly helps me extensively by fact-checking my work, disseminating it to students, and consistently reminding them to bring the review sheet to UTA office hours. 

Because of CUTF, I gained a deeper understanding of how to plan a course while working closely alongside a professor. I’ve observed that Dr. O’Reilly plans every lesson with a clear set of objectives that she wants students to understand. Every decision Dr. O’Reilly makes about the structure of an exam, class activity, or worksheet, she makes after envisioning the outcome from the students’ perspective and maximizing the benefit to them. I’ve also learned how much responsibility comes with being a leader in a classroom. I make sure to submit my exam review materials to Dr. O’Reilly on time and with proper attention to detail because my work will be seen and relied upon by 250 other people. Rather than being motivated by maintaining a grade, the lecture hall full of Biology 1 students keeps me accountable and motivated to produce my best work. 

For those of you who are interested in becoming a UTA and applying to CUTF, I’d suggest building a relationship with a professor whose course you are truly passionate about. Once you demonstrate to your professor that you are highly interested in committing to a UTA role in the upcoming semester, you can share with them your intent to apply for the fellowship at least a month before the application deadline. It helped me to set up a time to talk face to face, where I shared with my professor my project idea, even when it was a very rough sketch. We worked together to come up with a final proposal that would work for both of us! 

Being part of CUTF has made my Biology 1 UTA experience so valuable. It is so rewarding to see students use my materials for studying and asking me questions about the concepts. The fellowship also provides an avenue to forge a relationship with my professor though this new way of collaboration. I highly recommend applying for CUTF, or even just having the experience of being a UTA for a class you love!

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