The Scientific Teaching Fellows is a year-long program for graduate students and postdocs in the biosciences or connected fields. Through training and practical teaching experience, Fellows learn about and develop innovative and effective ways to teach science. Fellows also learn how to apply the spirit and rigor of research to their teaching.
Scientific Teaching Fellows is 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 gives Scientific Teaching Fellows the opportunity to:
- Gain in-depth training in research-based teaching methods
- Serve as an instructor and gain first-hand experience designing and teaching a first-year biosciences course
- Become more effective supporting a broad range of students, addressing issues of diversity and inclusion in teaching environments
- Develop instructional materials that encourage active learning, and test them in an authentic teaching setting
- Experience all aspects of teaching, from developing learning outcomes to managing a classroom environment to grading
- Join a community of peers who care about teaching and mentoring
What past Teaching Fellows have to say about this opportunity:
“I use the skills I developed in the Teaching Fellows Program daily. This was one of the most valuable things I could have done as a graduate student. It made me a competitive applicant for tenure-track positions…. It also gave me access to mentors who supported me and encouraged me to pursue tenure-track positions where teaching and research were of equal importance.”
“The Teaching Fellows program “changed the way I thought about education and research. I’m truly thankful that I was able to learn pedagogy theory with the teaching fellows program, and I still refer back to frameworks of thinking that I initially learned during my training. To my surprise, learning to teach helped me organize and communicate my research better.”
Spring Semester: Learn about teaching
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
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
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 Communities 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.
Applications are now closed for the 2021 Scientific Teaching Fellows. Applicants will be notified of final decisions by mid-December 2020.
Deadline to apply: Tuesday, November 17, 2020, at 11:59 p.m.
Program Eligibility Requirements
- Interest in and enthusiasm for teaching, and a willingness to try new teaching approaches
- Completing the program in its entirety, from January 2021 – January 2022, including attending the College Science Teaching course in Spring 2021, regular meetings in Summer 2021, teaching and weekly meetings in Fall 2021, and compiling a teaching portfolio to wrap up the program
- Approval from your PI/advisor to participate in this program (you may be asked to provide this approval in writing in the future)
- Your major field of study involves the life sciences in some way (check with Dr. Cara Theisen if you have questions)
- An online application form with:
- Your contact and program information
- A research blurb: You are riding on the bus and the person next to you asks you to explain your research. You have until the next stop which translates to a MAXIMUM OF 150 WORDS. How do you explain what you do?
- A resume or CV that includes:
- Teaching experience (specify your role/responsibilities for each course)
- Research and mentoring experience
- A list of any courses, trainings, or workshops that you have taken related to teaching
- A personal statement (1-2 pages) that addresses these topics:
- Your career goals
- Why you are interested in participating in this program
- Your ideas on what is important in undergraduate teaching and learning
- A statement of your existing obligations (research, teaching, etc.) and known conflicts from January 2021-January 2022. Include any time periods that you would be unavailable for program responsibilities and recurring weekly commitments when you are unavailable for meetings.