For the love of the classroom
A few weeks before his convocation, Chun Chi Mak was called to an interview. The freshly graduated PhD in Chemistry didn’t expect his first work interview to result in a job offer.
But within a few weeks, he was selected for a teaching position at Vanier College for the following semester. For someone who wanted to make a living as a professor, the feeling was exhilarating.
A hands-on experience
Mak was among the first cohort to complete Concordia’s Graduate Certificate in University Teaching, a program created in 2014 under the guidance of Vivek Venkatesh, an associate professor of education in the Faculty of Arts and Science and an associate director of the Centre for the Study of Learning and Performance.
“The certificate we offer here at Concordia is different from what is offered elsewhere,” Venkatesh says.
“The goal is not only to train students about evidence-based research on innovative teaching and learning practices, but also to apprentice them throughout the process of creating and delivering a semester-long university-level course. And that’s something that is unique to our program.”
Mak agrees. As a student, he had been researching opportunities to hone his teaching skills. But aside from teaching assistantships and workshops, no other academic program he had come across provided the same extensive hands-on practice.
“We get the responsibilities and authority of a professor, from creating the course curriculum to evaluating the students.” Mak strongly believes that his success in finding work so quickly after graduating was due to his newly acquired credentials.
An interdisciplinary focus
The certificate is highly interdisciplinary in nature. Through readings and guest speakers, students mould their views on pedagogy through the lenses of different specializations.
“By brainstorming with my classmates on methods and strategies, I realized our approaches to teaching and learning vary from one discipline to another,” says Katerina Symes, a PhD candidate in communication studies currently enrolled in the university teaching program.
“The seminars help me develop a vocabulary around the insights and intuitions I formed while being a TA.”
Mak, who now also teaches a chemistry class at John Abbott College, admits that one of his main takeaways from the program is the ability to distance himself from his subject matter and approach it from a student’s perspective.
“We sometimes forget the stress of being a student. And while nobody can really show you how to teach well, trying to reconnect with the difficulties and experiences of your student years helps you become a better educator.”
After all, he concludes, “the greatest reward for a professor is to see students move on to the next step in their endeavours, whatever those may be.”
Find out how to apply to the Graduate Certificate in University Teaching.