Many of Carolina’s graduate students are planning careers as faculty. The Graduate School, through the innovative CIRTL program, is making sure they are prepared for their future.
Preparing future faculty to excel in classrooms through standardized training should be the norm, or so one would think. Yet no significant systematic approach to fully train and equip each new wave of educators existed until the early 2000s.
The Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning (CIRTL), founded in 2003, focuses on developing faculty nationwide who implement and advance evidence-based teaching within STEM undergraduate education. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill joined the CIRTL network in 2016.
Graduate School Dean Steve Matson says CIRTL training makes students more competitive when applying for full-time faculty positions that include classroom teaching. Already, about 85 UNC-Chapel Hill graduate students have committed to achieving the associate, or first, level of CIRTL training.
“Some of the things they’re going to be asked about in that interview are ‘What teaching have you done, what’s your teaching philosophy, what formal pedagogy do you use, what’s important to you?’” Matson says. “If you had no training in any of that, then you may not have the answers. CIRTL will provide students with answers to those questions and real experience that they can share in those interviews.”
Dillon Morse, a doctoral student in physics, says the CIRTL program will help him be more competitive in the job search.
“It’s my hope that prospective employers will see it as evidence of my dedication to being an effective instructor,” Morse says. “Further, I think it will show that I am aware of a variety of evidence-based approaches when it comes to course development and classroom management.”
CIRTL training consists of both virtual and in-person workshops designed to offer flexibility in supporting graduate students’ teaching skills and professional development, says Brian Rybarczyk, assistant dean for graduate student academic and professional development at The Graduate School.
Any graduate student can register for CIRTL and begin completing program requirements at any point during the academic year. Students can complete up to three levels of accomplishment. Each level requires diversity and inclusion training as well as individual teaching statements.
David Abraham, a doctoral student in chemistry, says the massive open online courses, or MOOCs, are very flexible with his graduate school schedule.
“They allow me to participate in the course on my own schedule and complete assignments at my own pace,” Abraham says.
Chad Lloyd, a doctoral student in marine sciences, says he values the diversity of thought that CIRTL encourages and the environment in which he and other students can express their ideas freely.
“What I really like about the program is the diversity that it brings from people working at different institutions,” Lloyd says. “A lot of times there are many different opinions on a topic and I like that they can be shared openly and the environment is very friendly and welcoming.”
Matson says CIRTL gives graduate students an advantage in their careers – and the training helps them succeed in their work while at Carolina.
“Graduate students are so important to the teaching mission of UNC-Chapel Hill, and they bring enthusiasm and creativity to their work with undergraduates,” Matson says. “CIRTL offers knowledge that can support graduate students in classroom teaching. We’re just so pleased with the many ways this innovative program benefits our graduate students.”