Yale Center for Teaching and Learning

The Poorvu Center Helps Prepare the Next Generation of Teaching Faculty

December 17, 2021

By Staff Writer

The Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning offers a robust set of programs to prepare graduate students, professional school students, and postdocs to be teachers and mentors at Yale and in their future careers.

A big part of that support network is the team of 20 McDougal Teaching Fellows, doctoral and professional school graduate students from a wide range of disciplines and departments who make the scale of the Poorvu Center’s work possible.

Supported by a generous gift from the McDougal family, Fellows receive 12 hours of required training over two days in May, along with another day of mandatory training in August. As part of the Poorvu staff, they attend team meetings and contribute to the Center’s growth. Working an average of 6-8 hours a week, they can construct schedules around their coursework and research. Their primary work involves mentoring fellow graduate students through a series of pedagogy workshops that run from September to May.

Last year an astonishing 1134 graduate and post-doctoral students attended over 80 cross-disciplinary workshops and events, with an average of 4 engagements per person. “They are very popular,” says Dr. Suzanne Young, Director of Graduate and Postdoctoral Teaching Development. “There is a misconception that teacher development will interfere with graduate students’ research, but research shows that it doesn’t, and for many, this training actually contributes to their success as faculty members.”

The workshop topics range from the fundamentals to advanced teaching subjects, with recurring core workshops that include Mentoring in the Lab, Rubrics and Grading in the Inclusive Classroom, and Technology for Peer Learning. “Graduate students and postdocs who join our programming will be well-prepared to go on the job market and be able to talk about their values and methods in a coherent way,” says Young. “And they will be better teachers.”

The directors run workshops and one-on-one consultations for graduate students and postdocs, giving advice on course design, teaching statements, and methods, while the Fellows run workshops and classroom observations. It is a hallmark of the center’s programming that Fellows engage with peers both within and outside their disciplines. “It’s a unique space for graduate students at Yale, both for the fellows and the students they are mentoring,” says Dr. Gina Marie Hurley, Assistant Director of Graduate and Postdoctoral Teaching. “You have musicians observing classroom practices of scientists, and vice versa.”

Many graduate students and postdocs also choose to get the Certificate of College Teaching Preparation, which focuses on the fundamentals of education in humanities and sciences. At the end of that process, students have syllabi, a teaching statement, annotated student evaluations, and a firm grasp on the necessities of a teaching career. “The endpoint is not the certificate, it is to be ready for the job market,” says Young. Other opportunities for graduate and postdoc students include Teaching Innovation Projects grants, the Teaching as Research program, the Associates in Teaching program, and courses through the international Center for Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning (CIRTL) Network.

In all these ways, the Poorvu Center is helping future professors match their scholarship with classroom training, navigate their teaching assignments, and create a healthy work-life balance. “We are training graduates and postdocs to be good mentors for the next generation, preparing future faculty,” says Young. “When I was a graduate student, this is the cohort I wanted to find.”

In fact, Hurley herself participated in this innovative program while at Yale. “When I started attending workshops, I developed myself as a teacher and didn’t feel pedagogically isolated,” she says. After finishing the Certificate of College Teaching Preparation, “it just clicked and became the focus of my career.”

For many others, the Poorvu Center’s work has provided not only a launchpad to careers, but a new way of thinking about their work. “At our graduate and postdoc workshops you become part of a community,” concludes Young. “We are people who care about teaching and who want to develop our practice together.”