Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Valuable Teaching Assistant Experiences at Business Schools

It felt very good to submit my course grades last week,  especially since the final exam for my Transportation and Logistics class at the Isenberg School was quite late this year - December 22 and that was also the deadline for the course project papers.

The exam was from 10:30AM-12:30PM and the students had wanted cookies so I had baked (again) and brought the plate of goodies below. Good for motivation, as well. It was fun to see which students selected a cookie at the beginning of the exam, at the middle, or at the end.
The day was very cold and it was snowing and, luckily, I had my Teaching Assistant, doctoral student in Management Science, Deniz Besik, to assist me with proctoring the exam. This was extremely helpful since one student thought the exam was at 1:30PM and we realized this into the exam that the student was missing. A quick call and the student literally flew in and finished the exam in one hour with the help of a lot of adrenalin.

At the Isenberg School of Management, and many other business schools, part of the education of our doctoral students, in order to prepare them for careers in academia (or they realize that industry is better suited for them or another type of career post PhD), involves having them actually teach undergraduate courses. The doctoral students usually teach one course, for two or three semesters, beginning in their third year of the doctoral program. This is rarely done in engineering schools.

Prior to that, students can serve as a TA (Teaching Assistant) and/or an RA (Research Assistant). Being a TA can include holding office hours, helping the professor grade homeworks, and giving a lecture or two in order to gain experience. Such experiences help a student decide whether or not she/he is interested in teaching and research as a career. One learns lessons of responsibility, how to best explain course material to students during office hours, and how to evaluate homeworks. The personal interactions between students and the TA I believe are very important and I was pleased, but not surprised, how much my undergraduates appreciated Deniz during this past semester. Some students may prefer going to a doctoral student's office hours than to a professor's although I must admit that there were several students this past semester that were frequent visitors to both of our office hours. Many times, students want to chat and to also discuss their career paths and it is nice to have another set of ears and someone else to offer advice. Also, it may be helpful to have someone else explain some of the material, which may be done in a slightly different way. In addition, since our Operations and Information Management students at the Isenberg School are so bright and hard-working, and also intellectually curious,  they often are also interested in the TA's research as well as the professor's.

Being a TA builds a doctoral student's confidence and also helps the student prepare for teaching a course independently. In some years, I have had the TA sit in  my class as well, to learn how to respond to questions, how to lecture, etc. Some, based on this experience, become very eager to teach, and it is great to see them standing in front of a class to teach their first class at Isenberg! Some of our doctoral students in Management Science have become so successful in the classroom (one example is my PhD student, Shivani Shukla) that they have received the Isenberg Outstanding Doctoral Student Teaching Award, which is an annual award given out in the spring. Shivani last semester elected not only to teach a face-to-face class (Business Data Analysis)  but also a class online (Introduction to Operations Management) to garner additional experience. This certainly looks great on a cv when a doctoral student is on the job market!

In addition, while being a TA, and also having full responsibility for teaching a class, a doctoral student learns how to juggle both research and teaching, since without a dissertation, one does not get a PhD. Hence, important time management skills are learned and these help one in the profession after graduation.

After the exams were handed in last Thursday by the undergraduates, I took my TA out to lunch at the University Club at UMass Amherst. Also, visiting were my former PhD student, and co-author of the Competing on Supply Chain Quality book, Dr. Dong "Michelle" Li, and her fiancee, who is a postdoc at MIT. My daughter, who is a doctoral student at another university, also joined.

At the lunch I was presented with an MIT beaver, which we named "Bucky" and I think it is a great inspiration for continuing the hard work, which is also very enjoyable and rewarding!