PhD life: teaching

Apart from doing research and developing myself, I am expected to educate the new generation of students during my PhD. Everyone doing a PhD at a university in the Netherlands has the obligation to spend about 10% of their time teaching. In our group, that comes down to supervising several students doing their bachelor or master thesis – more on that later – and assisting one course a year.

This year, like last year, I am a teaching assistant for the first year plant biology course. The course lectures are giving by professors.  I and the eight other teaching assistants take the rest of the course upon us. We each have our own group of 30-35 students. With this group we do the practicals, the student presentations and – unfortunately with two groups merged together this year – the tutorials. It is great fun. In fact, I enjoyed it so much last year that I volunteered to assist this course again this year.

During the few weeks that I spend with the students, I get the chance to actually get to know them. They are still relatively new to the whole ‘being a student’-thing and therefore somewhat insecure, but also very enthusiastic. It is great to talk with them about plants, experiments and life in general. Another perk of assisting a course is that it makes me feel so smart. Just because I am the teaching assistant, the students seem to think that I know everything. It is also fun to notice that they are generally genuinely surprised when I crack my first joke with them – she is a person too! -, but open up more and more after that.

I think that part of the reason why I liking teaching so much, is that I am good at it. While failed experiments or a seeming lack of direction sometimes make me insecure about my abilities when doing research, I am almost never insecure when I am in front of a group of students. The students listen when I talk, they respect me as their teacher and at the same time we can have a good time together. Also, ultimately, teaching works towards the same goal as this blog: spreading excitement and enthusiasm for doing research on the workings of the world around us.

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