I’ve spent most of the last few weeks designing and revising curriculum that is the key output of an NSF-funded research project. This is part of the big writing project I’ve been working on all summer (remember the timeline I shared in May?), and my co-investigator and I decided that we’d teach the whole curriculum twice this summer. That seemed like a great idea at the time — we’d have specific deadlines for getting our revisions done, and we’d be able to get feedback from a broad range of participants before finalizing and publishing the materials this fall.
Although “past me” made the plans, “future me” had to do the actual work…and I’ve grumbled more than once in the last few weeks about the terrible ideas that “past me” comes up with! But it’s also been an opportunity to focus on something that I’m passionate about: STEM education and professional skills training. Our curriculum helps participants strengthen their communications, teamwork, and leadership skills so that they can be more effective when working in interdisciplinary teams.
I started facilitating these types of programs when I was a graduate student, so it seems like developing new professional skills curricula would be easy. But it’s surprisingly difficult to explain what you know, as an expert, to someone who doesn’t have the same context and background knowledge. This is sometimes called the “curse of knowledge;” the idea that an expert becomes so familiar with a topic that they overestimate how much their audience understands. Developing effective courses requires that you step outside your expertise and try to look at the topic from the perspective of a novice, with the goal of communicating both the “what” (concepts, facts, skills, etc.) and the “why” (the value or purpose of the information, and how it connects to the broader topic).
While relatively few graduate students end up working in education, as an advanced degree recipient you will be called on to share your expertise and training with others throughout your career. This week, I’m sharing some resources for thinking about your own role as a teacher, mentor and guide.
Three Things to Try This Week
Read — Learn more about the curse of knowledge, and how this cognitive bias can impact our ability to teach, learn, and apply knowledge.
Register — Next Thursday, July 29, join the CIRTL Network for a unique panel discussion featuring graduate students and postdocs who have developed courses based on their research experiences.
Teach — As engineering experts, we are often asked to share our knowledge with others. Whether this teaching involves formal classes or presentations, or more casual knowledge transfer as part of our daily work, all of us can learn to share our experience more effectively. Here are a few ideas to consider.
- The state of Michigan is hosting a summer webinar series designed to help build your resiliency skills through art, music, mindfulness, exercise and nutrition. Register for the virtual seminars or watch recordings from past events here.
- If you’re near campus this summer, make time to walk around downtown East Lansing and check out the new art installations from the MSU Broad Museum.
- If you’re interested in building your own professional skills, consider signing up for CMSE 890 005 in Fall 2021 (full disclosure: I’m one of the instructors!). We’ll explore communications, teamwork, leadership and mentoring skills for STEM professionals! Open to all graduate students at MSU.