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Scientific Teaching Fellows

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Applications are now closed for the 2021 Scientific Teaching Fellows. Applicants will be notified of final decisions by mid-December.

Deadline to apply: Tuesday, November 17, 11:59 p.m.


Learn More

About the Program

Part of the Wisconsin Program for Scientific Teaching

If teaching biology is part of your career path, it's worth polishing your skills and gaining experience as an actual instructor to add to your resume.

Scientific Teaching Fellows gain special insight into the needs of first-year biology students as they spend a semester developing instructional materials for a first-year course and then teach the course the following semester. Designed for graduate students and postdocs, the program offers two credits per semester for graduate students. There are no course prerequisites, but experience as a teaching assistant is highly recommended.

The program takes a unique hands-on and top-to-bottom approach, combining theory, practice, reflection, assessment, and more practice, while providing experience in all aspects of teaching, including meeting the unique needs of first-year students. Participants build classroom skills and understanding through active learning, with continuous feedback provided by intensive mentoring and peer support. In addition to classroom experience, opportunities are available for mentoring undergraduate peer leaders and facilitating interdisciplinary learning that connects biology to math and chemistry. The program is designed to help participants:

  • Become more effective with a broader range of students, addressing issues of diversity
  • Assess learning outcomes and use data to continuously improve
  • Develop instructional materials that encourage active learning, and test them in a real-life setting
  • Experience all aspects of teaching, from class rules to grading and evaluation
  • Learn about mentoring undergraduate peer leaders and facilitating first-year interdisciplinary learning communities
  • Join an ongoing community of peers who care about teaching and mentoring 
Spring Semester: Learn about teaching (format: online)
Fellows meet weekly for two hours, completing a one-credit seminar course on evidence-based teaching. The course covers the fundamentals of learning theory and practical strategies for teaching science courses, while also developing community around this shared experience. The cohort will work together to learn the core themes of scientific teaching (active learning, assessment, and diversity) in theory so that they can make informed decisions about their teaching in the future.
Average time commitment: 2-4 hours/week.
Summer Term: Developing Materials (format: TBD)
Fellows meet on a semi-regular basis to design instructional materials for the course they will teach in the fall. This time is designed to provide a practical application of pedagogical knowledge through the development of instructional materials for use in a university science education context. The process will be based around cohorts of participants working together to identify learning objectives, and create evidence-based assessments and learning experiences to target those objectives.
Average time commitment: 1-5 hours/week - this time commitment is much variable, as Fellows do not meet every week and will have more or less work depending on their step in the materials development process.
Fall Semester: Teaching (format: TBD)
Fellows meet weekly for 2hr/week, completing a one-credit practicum course, where they discuss and reflect on their teaching experiences, in real time. This is in addition to actually teaching undergraduates. This course continues the development of science graduate student's skills in teaching and learning college science courses, by providing a mentored, independent teaching experience. Participants will have the opportunity to see how theories of learning and teaching play out in real instructional settings by implementing and refining instructional activities and then evaluating the outcomes of those activities on the basis of student artifacts (i.e., what students say, do, or create). A particular emphasis will be placed on participants thinking about equity issues in the classroom and creating an inclusive learning environment for teaching diverse student populations. The course also provides participants with frameworks for teaching and managing their own courses, should they pursue academic positions after graduate school.
There are two main courses that Fellows can teach, Exploring Biology and Secrets of Science. These two courses are described in more detail below. Which course a Fellow teaches is determined based on their interests, expertise, experience, and discussions with the WISCIENCE staff. 
Average time commitment: 6-10 hours/week. The fixed time commitment is 2-3hrs/week spent teaching, and the 1hr/week regular meeting of the practicum course. Additional time spent grading, planning, and communicating with students will be more variable.

Discuss your participation in this program and its time commitments with your PI (or equivalent) prior to applying. 

Exploring Biology (Integrated Science 100)

Teaching Fellows starting during the Spring semester typically design materials for the large first-year seminar Exploring Biology, which is taught in the fall. The course is designed to introduce students to the Five Big Ideas, enhance their awareness of career options, help them navigate biology-related degree options at UW–Madison, and introduce them to high-impact learning opportunities, such as study-abroad experiences and undergraduate research. This course meets in one of the WisCEL classroom spaces, and is taught by a team of Fellows working together to develop instructional materials, and teach the course. 

Secrets of Science

Teaching Fellows also teach a smaller first-year seminar, called Secrets of Science. This course has many of the same goals of Exploring Biology, but also explores the science behind biology research in the popular press and helps students come to understand more about the overall process of doing science. This course helps students improve their analytical skills, gain confidence as a scientific thinker, and become a more informed consumer of the science in their lives.

Learning Communites and Peer Leadership

Most discussion sections are part of the Freshman Interest Groups (FIGs) program, which means that students in those sections are also in the same section in two other classes, forming a mini learning community. This model, which is growing in popularity across the country, adds interesting dynamics to the section, as well as providing opportunities to link biology to chemistry and math.

Exploring Biology also has a peer mentor component, another effective teaching tool found at institutions across the country. Fellows may choose to be involved in the IMPACT Peer Leaders program, gaining additional experience mentoring undergraduate peer leaders.

Apply to be a Scientific Teaching Fellow

Cara Theisen, PhD

Director of Professional Development in Teaching & Learning
Contact Info

(608) 890-4497


445 Henry Mall

Room 114B

Madison WI, 53706

Currently I am course director for:
Exploring Biology (Integsci 100)
Secrets of Science (Integsci 375)