After 20 years, the Graduate Teaching Fellows program at the Vanderbilt Center for Teaching is coming to an end this year. The GTF program is a fantastic professional development opportunity for Vanderbilt graduate students interested in faculty and/or faculty development careers. GTFs facilitate teaching consultations for graduate students, design and lead workshops on various teaching topics, and partner with CFT senior staff on learning communities and writing projects and more. GTF alumni have gone on to all kind of positions around (and outside!) academia, including several who are now working at centers for teaching and learning.
Sadly, Vanderbilt’s Provost is cancelling the program as part of an effort to ensure six years of graduate student funding through students’ home departments and programs. That’s an admirable goal, but for grad students with a keen interest in the teaching missions of colleges and universities, the end of the GTF program is a loss. For many of our GTFs, serving as a teaching assistant for a sixth or seventh time wasn’t going to improve their CV, but having the chance to work at a teaching center for a year helped launch them into academic careers.
I posted the above on LinkedIn, where I am connected with a number of alumni of the program. Several weighed in with comments about what the program and their time at the Center for Teaching meant to them professionally. Here are a few of those comments:
- “My GTF work coaching my peers and introducing international grad student instructors to the US classroom is still something that I rely on as a lawyer advising clients and coaching colleagues. The things I learned observing the way instruction worked outside my wheel house are still valuable to me when I dig into a new industry or expert report.” – Jeff Sheehan, GTF 2004-2005
- “I would not have finished my degree if I could not have balanced the disciplinary pressures with reminders of “the outside world” by working at the CfT. Not to mention the friendships I would missed out on! Time away from the department has value beyond lines on a CV.” – Jessica Riviere, GTF 2013-2014
- “my GTF experience made me a better faculty member, and now (since leaving my faculty position) made me a stronger candidate for my current role in workforce training. My CFT experience was what attracted industry employers to invite me for interviews, which was critical when we consider the lackluster state of the humanities job market.” – Danielle Picard, GTF 2014-2016
- “I wouldn’t have gotten my three jobs in academia without the CFT, which also prepared me for my current college admissions position. This is such a shame!” – Alexandra Oxner, GTF 2018-2019
And here are a few more endorsements of the program, which I’ve copied from the program webpage while it’s still available:
- “Having the opportunity to focus on and talk about teaching and best practices and become familiar with research and the literature on the scholarship of teaching and learning is an invaluable experience for any future educator.” – Lily Clairborne, GTF 2010-2011
- “In deep discussion, collaboration, and teaching practice with colleagues and mentors at the CFT, I grew as a teacher to become better equipped to tackle the social, political, and intellectual challenges of contemporary university teaching. These personal and professional experiences instilled a desire that remains with me today: to develop further as a scholar not only in my field, but also as a teacher in my field.” – Christian Ehret, GTF 2014-2015
- “Being a GTF required me to critically reflect on my pedagogical choices and to think deeply about the kind of teacher I wanted to be, which prepared me for tough interview questions on the job market and for my first year as a professor. Several search committees commented on my teaching experience and the ways that serving as a GTF made me a more competitive candidate.” – Robert Marx, GTF 2018-2019
Personally, as an assistant director and later director at the Vanderbilt Center for Teaching, I enjoyed getting to know, to mentor, and to learn from our Graduate Teaching Fellows. I was at the CFT for 17 of the program’s 20 years, so I worked with most of the GTFs! They added so much to the work of the CFT over the years, and I’m proud to see what all they’ve accomplished after their time in the program. The end of the program is a loss for graduate students at the university.