Thursday, April 29, 2010

Interdisciplinary Graduate Symposium

I spent Saturday at the UC Davis Interdisciplinary Graduate Symposium (IGS). I decided that it was a good venue to talk about the Graduate Teaching Community because the event had so many commonalities with our own group. It is completely run by graduate students, it represents a wide range of disciplines, and it has the effect of empowering graduate students.

I really enjoyed the event, I liked interacting with other graduate students who we
re passionate about their research, and many individuals were intrigued by the GTC. It was a great exchange! But... I must admit I was a little saddened by the lack of attendance. There were less than ten posters, between 10 and 15 ten minute talks, and most people at the symposium were the presenters themselves (although there were supporters filtering in and out to see their friends' talks). One could argue that having many more talks than this would make the event longer and less attended, (and I will agree that I was pretty sleepy when 5PM finally
rolled around) but really, this is a GREAT opportunity to share your research to a general audience. How often does that happen?

I am going to outline my talk for you, and while you read it, I hope you realize that you have plenty to talk about at next year's IGS and that you sign up for it next year as soon as it is announced!
I presented a ten minutes talk on the GTC (ok, I probably went a little over, but it's hard to stop gushing about you guys!) just before lunch so it was reasonably well attended. I explained a little about how the GTC worked, and what you would expect to get out of a typical meeting. Then I went in to the five elements that I think made the GTC so successful:

1) We established "Graduate Student Ownership" of the content, and the format of the meetings. Because the members are the ones that generate the topics, then form groups around these interests, and finally facilitate the meeting where the topics are discussed, we ensure
members are invested in the material, and the success of the discussion at every meeting.

2) We have established "Interdisciplinary Collaboration." The breath of content we have
covered over the course of the year is only possible because we have representatives from
different departments with complementary knowledge and varying experiences. Additionally working in a interdisciplinary environment is refreshing! It gets us out of our departments and discussing the big picture ways we are similar, so that we can more effectively transfer teaching techniques across disciplines.

3) Our meetings model an "Interactive Environment." The weekly facilitators rarely lecture, and when they do, they are always followed by, or spliced with discussions. Instead, we
do a lot of small group discussions and often engage on activities. Also, the weekly facilitators interact with each other and the material when determining how to most effectively pres
ent the content.

4) We have established a "Safe Environment." Members feel comfortable discussing the good and the bad of their teaching experiences, and also feel as though this is a safe space where we can practice lessons and techniques, and get helpful feedback.

5) Finally, we've "Filled a Niche." Up to this point many graduate students who wanted to improve their practice have felt isolated in their research centered departments. Being focused on research is good and important, but isn't teaching also an important part of aca
demia? One thing all graduate teaching community members have in common is that we value
our roles as educators.

So that was the gist of my talk... there were several aspects that I didn't get a chance to talk about, but that only means that there is ample material for another talk to give at next year's Interdisciplinary Graduate Teaching Symposium. In fact, if you'd rather not present about your departmental research, YOU should give that talk. :)


  1. Way to go Cass! And how awesome that the photo you included has "Leader" in the foreground. Nicely done!

  2. Awesome summary, thanks for posting your slides! Love the concept maps up on the blackboard.