As faculty members at research universities, we decided to pursue this career because we enjoy the challenges of teaching, research, and integrating these activities. However, we realize in the early stages of one’s faculty career, massive amounts of precious time can be lost to “reinventing the wheel,” particularly when it comes to teaching and mentoring. Research on early career faculty shows that many spend far too much time preparing for class and on other teaching duties, often at the expense of their scholarly work and research portfolios (Boice, 2000). New faculty in the physical sciences often face additional and unique challenges from the rigors of large lecture classes, often composed of diverse student populations with differing levels of interest and capabilities. Furthermore, faculty are often required to integrate parallel laboratory courses into their large lecture syllabi, labs which ideally are well-integrated with lectures to create an educational whole and that require the marshalling of diverse resources for success.
The Cottrell Scholar Award recognizes faculty at research universities for their dedication and excellence in both teaching and research. We surveyed 241 Cottrell Scholars in 2012-2013 asking them about practices that they have found to be effective in enhancing student learning and their own enjoyment of teaching. We asked them to think back to their earliest teaching experiences as faculty members and to reflect on what they might have done differently, as well as to think about what advice they wished they had received when they started their careers.
From the 46 faculty who responded to our survey, approximately 50% reported that they were given no advice or mentoring before teaching their first class; hence this text. We hope that it may find use as a personal handbook, directed primarily towards junior faculty, but with sufficient generality to find relevance with tenured faculty as well. In contrast to many (very useful!) quantitative measures of “what works,” this book is by design and by construction purposefully conversational and colloquial. Along with the text, which weaves together themes that emerged from the survey responses, we include some actual survey responses to personalize the content. In addition, some other faculty who are not necessarily Cottrell Scholars contributed to the content independent of the survey. Information and ideas were also obtained at the annual Cottrell Scholars conference, attended by past scholars as well as science education experts and leading policy and government officials. It should be pointed out that those named here do not necessarily endorse the entire content in this book; the main text, its organization, and commentary is principally that of the authors. At the end, you will find a resource list and a bibliography that provides brief summaries of some of the resources in the literature which we and others have found useful should you wish to delve further into a particular area.