Archived Newsletters

August 1994 Newsletter

Our newsletter editor Diandra Leslie-Pelecky chose to focus on graduate education , as described in her editorial. The AAPT also has a standing committee devoted to this area, and some of their activities are described in an accompanying article.

The first major member-involvement project of the forum is now underway, with the launching of our database of undergraduate research positions. For now, it is available via e-mail, and the instructions for access are given in this issue.

In This Issue

The Education of Graduate Students

Diandra Leslie-Pelecky

The general topic of graduate education is receiving attention from all quarters. APS has announced interest in a conference on graduate physics education, the National Academy of Sciences is concluding a year-long study of the state of graduate science education, and Science magazine will devote an upcoming issue to the topic. Interest in the training of graduate students is heightened by the growing realization of the need to address the un/underemployment of recent graduates.

Although there is a growing body of research in physics education at the undergraduate and pre-college levels, there is a surprising lack of similar work at the graduate level. This is a significant discrepancy, as the Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences states in their report "Graduate Education in Transition", "without reform in graduate education no lasting change in school or undergraduate education is likely...the attitudes and skills of school teachers are, in the long run, molded in colleges and universities, where these teachers are instructed by the products of our graduate schools. One does not have to subscribe to a domino theory to see that all parts of our education system are interdependent."1

In an informal poll of scientists from industry and government labs, I asked what skills physicists looking for jobs most often lacked. Two responses dominated the answers. The first was the perception of a narrow focus in both attitude toward what constitutes interesting research and in the breadth of techniques known by applicants. The employers felt some new employees had difficulty adapting to the different requirements of industry or government labs compared to academic research environments. The second comment was regarding a lack of oral and written communication skills. This issue features programs designed to address these perceptions.

The need for emphasis on management and communication skills is emphasized in an article by a physicist-turned-management consultant. (Mark Paul) This article details the evaluation of a graduate science program using techniques traditionally applied in the business world. The results show that development of management skills, written and oral communication skills and problem-solving abilities are essential to success beyond graduate school and argue that schools providing their students with these skills will be rewarded with increased interest in their programs.

While graduate coursework in experimental techniques may seem like an oxymoron, the lab training of experimentalists is often hit-or-miss. A graduate-level course in the theory of experimental techniques can both broaden the students' range of knowledge and ensure a strong understanding of the fundamentals. Although the program featured here is for Condensed Matter Physics, elements of this program can be translated to other fields.

Due to the impact on undergraduate courses, the area of graduate education that has received the most formal attention is the training of graduate teaching assistants. TA training has dual purposes: improving the quality of graduate student supervised laboratories and recitation sections and also improving the ability of the graduate students not only to teach but to present their ideas orally. This skill supplies not only to their assignments as Teaching Assistants but also to their eventual performance as physics professors. This issue contains an overview, discussing the rationale for increased attention to TA training, and reports on two programs designed to assist incoming graduate students with their duties.

The American Association of Physics Teachers' Committee on Graduate Education is working toward answering many of these concerns. Their activities and plans for the future, as well as areas where AAPT/APS collaboration could be increased, are detailed in this issue.

Finally, the database for registration of summer research opportunities for undergraduates is ready for registration. `Comments from the Chair' explains the rationale behind establishing the database and how you can register your opportunities.

Like many physics departments, we at the University of Nebraska are examining our graduate program and starting to address these issues by providing, for example, seminars on professional development topics (such as how to give a technical talk or write a vita). I hope this issue gives you some ideas about your role in the education of graduate students.

In addition to the article authors and interviewees, I'd like to thank Jack Hehn and Frank Peterson for their assistance with this issue.

  1. "Graduate Education in Transition", Notices of the American Mathematical Society, 39, 398 (1992)

AAPT's Graduate Education Committee Shares Goals

Diandra Leslie-Pelecky

The goals of the American Association of Physics Teachers' Committee on Graduate Education (CGE) overlap with the interests of many FEd members. Current chair Robert Beck Clark of Texas A&M University cited as one recent accomplishment the revision of an AAPT/AIP guidebook on graduate studies. This book, entitled "Planning for Graduate Studies in Physics and Related Fields" is aimed at undergraduates and covers topics such as: recommended preparation for graduate school, the admissions procedure, choosing a graduate school and financial support. A list of resources and considerations are suggested so that the student can make informed decisions about graduate school. The revision effort was led by Dennis Henry of Gustavas Adolphus. CGE has also co-sponsored (with FEd) a workshop at the April AAPT/APS conference on alternative opportunities for physics graduates. Among the committee's current projects is to encourage AIP to put together a study of the length of time to completion of the Ph.D.

David Gavenda of the University of Texas at Austin, a past chair of CGE, noted that previous sessions sponsored by the CGE at APS meetings have included trends in textbooks in Solid State physics courses and the evolution of the graduate program in terms of available texts. Both Gavenda and Clark mentioned that the committee was limited in accomplishing all of the activities they would like to because the CGE holds primary responsibility for organizing the plenary sessions at conferences. This responsibility takes the majority of the committee members' attention and doesn't leave time to accomplish as much in other areas.

One concern the committee would like to address is that many of the job openings in today's market are at schools that are more teaching oriented. Many of the students who are applying for these jobs do not have prior teaching experience. Participation in AAPT activities would give these students additional familiarity with teaching techniques and jargon. Both Gavenda and Clark also mentioned that, because of the overlap of interests, they would like to see increased cooperation between AAPT and APS. The number of physicists involved in both AAPT and APS is not as large as they would like it to be, although efforts are being made to simplify the paperwork for joint membership. As a model, they cite the twice- yearly joint AAPT/APS/SPS (Society of Physics Students) meetings held by the Texas Section. The joint meetings increase interactions between both societies and students.

Those interested in the activities of the AAPT's CGE can reach Robert Beck Clark by e-mail at or by phone at (409) 845-3332.

Comments from the Chair

Ken Lyons

I am pleased to announce that our first substantive project for active member involvement is now open for registration. This first project is built around a public-access database implemented at Christopher Newport University, in cooperation with the FEd's Executive Council. The present incarnation of this database has one section, which is devoted to summer research opportunities for undergraduate students. Other relevant topics will be added in the future after we get some experience with the mechanisms we have developed for automated access and updating.

We are indebted to the faculty and staff of CNU for their cooperation on this project, and their agreement to house the database for now on their local computers. I would like especially to recognize two members of the CNU Department of Physics and Computer Science, Shouben Zhou and John Hunter, who have been instrumental in implementing the database software on the CNU computers. I have written the mail handler myself to do an automated update of the information, which is intended to enable us to keep the info up to date in a way that calls for minimal administrative overhead.

The concept behind this database is not simply to make information available on existing programs, though. Naturally, we hope it will do that. But that is a minimum expectation. We hope it will do more. One of the advantages of electronic technology is the way it facilitates advertising to a highly targeted group--in this case undergraduate science majors looking for summer jobs. At present, the bulk of such positions reside in relatively large programs (30-100 students). We want to register all of those programs (REU's and others). The existence of this database should assist them in making contact with students, reducing their publicity costs, etc.; however, it will ALSO give this same advertising capability to the scientist who wants to hire one or two students -- it is our hope that there might be a large number of those. The intended effect, then, is to increase substantially the number of such positions available. Of course, it remains to be seen how effective that will be. In this first phase of the project, we are collecting information on positions available for next summer (1995). The registration procedure (see accompanying box for details) is designed to allow anybody with Email or internet access to register via Email to a central address at the APS computer network. The actual update procedure is via Email since the gopher server does not provide an update capability. The data transfer is almost entirely automated to minimize the administrative overhead required. This naturally requires proper formatting of the data in the Email message, but the template format and instructions should make this straightforward. This procedure is an experiment, and we encourage you to participate by registering if you would like to employ one or more students next summer. We would like to have most of the registration completed by late September or October, so please take the plunge if you're interested.

The second phase of this project will involve advertising for students to make use of the service. We will again be asking our members to help with that process, but more about that next time.

This approach will probably require some adjustments as we go forward. We have some ideas for additional sections that might be added in the future. For example, a means could be provided for students to register for employers to contact them, thus establishing two-way communication. Eventually, we want to use a similar mechanism for registering members interested in mentoring high school students on science projects or interacting with curriculum development projects. I am interested in your thoughts on these possibilities, or others you might suggest. I have no doubt that we will find eventually that proper use of technology will enable us to organize our membership in highly effective communities--but I'm equally sure that it will require a little searching, together with a spirit of cooperation, to get it to work. On all these subjects, I am open to your input and advice: just send an Email.

Speaking of ideas: I am indebted to Natalia Meshkov, our secretary/treasurer, for suggesting a most interesting approach to the issue of public science education. This is an area where we have had significant concerns, but precious few substantive ideas that sound workable. Natalia has proposed an "APS Media Fellowship," modeled after the very successful Congressional Fellow program the APS has run for a number of years. The idea is that a scientist would take a year or two out of research and concentrate on working with a particular media organization, probably a major network, in some role similar to a science advisor. We are exploring this idea quite actively at this time, both from the standpoint of other support within the APS and possible interest from specific media organizations. We also have a model on which to build in the program the AAAS has run for graduate students for nearly two decades. Clearly, there are a lot of details remaining to be worked out, but this is the kind of innovative approach that I'd like to see us considering as we search for ways the Forum can increase the effectiveness of the APS in many facets of education through the involvement of our members.

Before I close, I want to remind our members that nominations for fellowship and ideas for symposia need to be submitted by early September, which really means over the summer. Please give it some thought and send your nominations for fellowship to our past chair (Drasko Jovanovich) and ideas for symposia to our chair-elect (Ruth Howe).

Database of Summer Research Opportunities for Undergrads

Ken Lyons

Directions for Accessing the Database
For a discussion of the purpose and rationale of the database, please see the comments by the chair.

We assume that everyone using the system will have Email access; however, since different people have different computer systems, we are offering two different registration options that should cover everyone. One is a Unix shell script, and the other is simply a template containing embedded instructions for an Email file.

On A Unix System
Send a message to, containing the line:

### get_script [optional_email address]

to download a Unix (nawk) script for running on your system. You will have to edit off the header lines before executing it. It produces a menu-driven input routine, with on-screen instructional prompts.

On a DOS or Mac System
Send a message to, containing the line:

### get_template [optional_email address]

To download an Email template file, with instructions. This option is compatible with any system, including Unix, that has a text editor. Since the instructions are embedded in the file, it works best with a screen-oriented text editor.

In Either Case, the optional third word in the command line may be used to specify an Email address if you don't want it simply returned to you at the "reply" address, or if the reply function is not working due to some oddity of your address format. (There are many varieties.)

Once You Have Your Template or Script File, use it to place the information on your summer job opportunity in the format accepted by the database. With either the template or the nawk script, full instructions are provided. The nawk script is menu-driven, with on-screen prompts for each response, while the template file contains embedded instructions. (Since the template is usable with any text editor, and is, therefore, the more general option, I'd appreciate feedback as to whether those of you who use the nawk script think it is a useful addition to the system.)

Mail the resulting file to You will receive a confirmation message after the mail is processed at the CNU system. The reply will contain a registration number that will identify your record on the database and will confirm the password you have chosen for modification access.

At this writing, the internet access to the database search capability is not fully tested, but we anticipate that it will be operational before you receive this newsletter. After you register, we will send you an email message with the instructions on accessing the database.

Other Email Commands
A number of other commands, accessible by Email, are available for such things as obtaining lists of the programs, reading the contents of a specified record and for updating your registration. All of these, and any others that we decide to add, will be covered in the manual page, which you can obtain by simply sending the message

### manual SJB [optional_email address]

To It will be updated as changes occur. Note that this line can be combined in a single message with those mentioned above.

Browsing Through the Journals

Tom Rossing

The May 1993 issue of American Journal of Physics carries a Guest Comment by Chair-Elect Ruth Howes and Chair Ken Lyons that no FEd member should overlook. The title is "Why the APS must concern itself with education"

One can learn much from reading an exchange of letters to the editor, especially when the writers are experienced teachers. One example is the dialogue on cross products and magnetic poles, which began with a letter by Professor Marcel Wellner in American Journal of Physics, 60, 777 (1992). This letter prompted an editorial by the journal's editor, Robert Romer (Am. J. Phys. 61, 1095 (1993)) and follow-up letters by Wellner, Andrea Respini, and Morris Leen (Am. J. Phys. 62, 393 (1994)).

A second series, having to do with the voltage distribution and electric fields of capacitors connected in series, began with a paper by Professor Ludwik Kowalski in The Physics Teacher, 26, 286-7 (1988) and continued in a paper at the Summer 1992 AAPT meeting. A response by Professor A.P. French (Phys. Teach. 31, 156-159) led to a paper by Professors Illman and Carlson (Phys. Teach. 32, 77-80 (1994)) and a letter by Professor French (Phys. Teach. 32, 262 (1994)). Anyone interested in the teaching of Electricity and Magnetism will profit from reading both of these exchanges.

Another example of involvement by the local scientific community is described in "Community Involvement in a Science Program" (Phys. Teach. 32, 288-9 (1994)). The interaction took place in Hawaii, but it could just as well have been your community.

The May 1994 issue of Physics Education (London) features several papers on teaching optics and laser physics, including such timely topics as digital-optical computing and microlens arrays. Also in this issue is a report on a physics awareness workshop for girls.

"Teaching Science by Seminar" is the title of an editorial by Professor George Greenstein in the May 1994 issue of Physics Today. Rather than make great claims for the `new' compared to the `old', as is so prevalent in the literature these days, Professor Greenstein discusses the difficulties as well as the advantages of instruction in seminars.

A Graduate Course in Experimental Physics

Daniel H. Reich

Many students beginning graduate study in experimental physics know very little about the techniques, lore, and art of the field in which they have chosen to work. For both the student and the advisor, the challenge is to get the student up the learning curve as quickly as possible so that he or she may begin to function as a productive member of the research group. The range of material the student must cover is extremely broad, from the relevant theory to the relevant vacuum pump. This knowledge is usually obtained through work in the laboratory, individual study, and interactions with other members of the group; hence, there is a risk that students may become too narrowly focused on their own work and learn little about how experiments are done outside their own laboratory.

This situation may be addressed in part by a classroom course in experimental techniques. This course can serve both as a means of passing on information about techniques used locally and as a means of imparting general knowledge about techniques used in a particular field. Such a course is often organized in a seminar format. One approach is to have a series of single lectures given by different faculty members about the techniques that they use. Another is to have the students themselves give the lectures. In Condensed Matter physics, perhaps the best-known example of this latter approach took place in the low-temperature physics group at Cornell in the early 1980s. The lecture notes from this course have been published, and are now one of the standard references on low-temperature techniques1. At Johns Hopkins University, where the experimental Condensed Matter group consists of only four faculty and approximately fifteen graduate students, neither of these approaches is practical. What has proved to be effective, instead, is to offer a more formal course in Experimental Condensed Matter Physics with one professor taking the primary teaching responsibility? In teaching this course I have primarily targeted students in their first year of research. My goal has been to provide a basic underpinning of knowledge, and then to give some impression of the range of techniques available. In the first part of the course, I have concentrated in some detail on a few of the most basic and widely used techniques. These include transport measurements, vacuum technology, small-signal ac measurements, cryogenics and low-temperature techniques, thermometry and temperature control, and statistical analysis and fitting of data. The middle part of the course contained lectures on more specialized topics, and in the last few weeks, each student was asked to give a one-hour talk in this same vein. Examples of areas covered include electron spin resonance, molecular beam epitaxy, Auger spectroscopy, lithography, DC and RF SQUIDS, and small-angle neutron scattering.

The most obvious problem that arises in teaching such a course is that it is very difficult to make an adequate presentation of a technique with which one has no direct experience. In this regard, this course would clearly benefit from team teaching. As this has not been possible to date, I have prevailed on interested faculty to serve as guest lecturers. One professor, for example, gave two lectures on neutron scattering and then organized a field trip for the students to the research reactor at NIST. Such additions need not come only from the experimentalists. A theorist gave a lecture on "computer experiments" done by Monte Carlo or molecular dynamics simulations that fit in very well. Another way of broadening the range of material covered is to have the students give their talks about techniques that they are using. This is particularly effective if senior students are enrolled, as they may be better versed in the practical aspects of a given topic than the instructor.

Another challenge is to find appropriate reading material to supplement the lectures. Some sub-fields have a number of good reference books, but these tend to become dated as techniques evolve and new equipment becomes available. For some hardware topics, such as vacuum technology or the theory of operation of a lock-in amplifier, good introductory material may often be found in the catalogs and manuals provided by the manufacturers. For a broader perspective on a particular technique, an approach that works well is to find a scientific paper with an accompanying article in a journal such as Reviews of Scientific Instrumentation.

The students' reaction to the course has been very positive. They like the emphasis on the practical and feel that the course also served to broaden their perspective on experimental research. Judging by its success, this is a course that will probably become a standard part of the training of condensed matter experimentalists at Johns Hopkins.

  1. R. C. Richardson and E. N. Smith, Eds., Experimental Techniques in Condensed Matter Physics at Low Temperatures, Addison-Wesley, (1988).

Daniel H. Reich is an Associate Professor of Physics at Johns Hopkins University. He conducts research on superconductivity in artificially structured materials, and magnetism in low-dimensional systems.

Graduate Teaching Assistant Training

E. Leonard Jossem

The education of physics graduate students has become the subject of increasing attention and concern in the physics community. Evidence for this is provided, for example, by the Career Workshops1 held at the APS-AAPT meeting (April 1994) and by the Joint Symposium of the APS Committee on Education and the AAPT Committee on Graduate Education entitled "Expanding your Horizons with a Ph.D. in Physics"2 at that meeting. Publications in Physics Today and elsewhere3 also attest to concerns in the physics community about current employment problems, the desirability of changes in the physics graduate curriculum and, more generally, about the overall relations between the physics community and society.

The interest of society in the role of graduate students as teaching assistants found expression recently in the US Congress in Title V of H.R. 3254, the National Science Foundation Authorization Act of 1994. Section 501: `Requirement for Funding' begins as follows:

"Each educational institution that receives a research grant from the Foundation in fiscal year 1995 shall, as a condition of receiving such grant, provide to the Foundation the following information on its undergraduate mathematics, science, and engineering activities: (1) A description of teacher training programs mandated by the institution for teaching assistants, including the number of training hours required. "

Seven other categories of information about institutional policies concerned with undergraduate education are required by the bill, but information on what is being done to prepare graduate students to teach undergraduate classes has pride of place on the list. HR. 3254 is awaiting action by the Senate, which may adopt this (or its own) approach, but the final passage of the NSF Authorization Act is expected sometime in the Fall of 1994.4

"One never steps twice into the same river", and the details of the concerns of today are different from those of a generation ago, but this is not the first time the physics community in the US has been obliged to give serious consideration to the nature and character of the education it provides for its students.5 It is, in fact, a continuing responsibility in response to which each generation must find its own appropriate courses of action.

In the past decade or so, several developments have begun to influence the situation. One is the increasing public recognition of the problems in our educational systems, including the problems with the math and science literacy of the general population. Universities, as well as the primary and secondary school systems, have come under increasing pressure to improve the quality of education they provide to their students. Another factor is the increasing recognition of the need for a better system of mentoring for graduate students and new faculty in physics departments. A third is the increasing recognition of research in physics education as a legitimate, and indeed a necessary, activity within university physics departments. The Topical Conference for Physics Department Chairs sponsored by the American Association of Physics Teachers and The American Physical Society in April of 1993, entitled `Physics Departments in the 1990's' (6) had sessions addressing all of these matters.

In particular, the session on mentoring graduate teaching assistants presented a sampling of programs for new graduate students at various universities. Those represented were Cornell, Minnesota, North Carolina State, and The Ohio State University. The programs run in length from a few days to a full summer session in the case of Ohio State. All have follow-ups during the academic year. Many other physics departments have or are planning such programs.

Of major importance for such programs is the growing body of serious research in physics education, the results of which are increasingly being incorporated into programs for the education of graduate teaching assistants. Much yet needs to be done, however, and the process of assessing and improving instructional programs in physics at all levels calls for the continuing interest and active support of all members of the physics community.

  1. A workshop on Career Choices in Physics was hosted by the AIP Career Planning and Placement Division on 17 April 1994. Bull. Am. Phys. Soc. 39 (2), 971 (1994)
  2. Session C'5 Bull. Am. Phys. Soc. 39(2), 1050 (1994)
  3. "Physics, Community, and the Crisis in Physical Theory", Silvan S. Schweber, Physics Today 46(11), 34 (1993); "Physics Round Table: Reinventing Our Future", Physics Today 47(3), 30, (1994); "America's Academic Future: A Report of the Presidential Young Investigator Colloquium on US Engineering, Mathematics, and Science Education for the Year 2010 and Beyond", National Science Foundation Publication NSF 91-150
  4. Reported in FYI #70 19 May 1994 Richard M. Jones, Public Information Division, American Institute of Physics
  5. See, for example, The Transition in Physics Doctoral Employment 1960-1990: Report of the Physics Manpower Panel of The American Physical Society 1979. The American Physical Society ISBN 0-88318-257-2
  6. Physics Departments in the 1990's American Association of Physics Teachers & The American Physical Society ISBN: 0- 917853-52-0 Available as TC-07 from the American Association of Physics Teachers One Physics Ellipse, College Park, MD 20740- 3845
  7. E. Leonard Jossem is Professor Emeritus at Ohio State University

Preparing the Physics Professoriate

Karen L. Johnston

At North Carolina State University, we take both a broad view and a long view of preparing graduate Teaching Assistants (TAs) in physics for teaching. Our multi-faceted program includes instruction and orientation for the situational training needed to make the transition from undergraduate student to graduate teaching assistant as smooth as possible, as well as instruction that embraces a longer view of the graduate student as the next generation of physics academicians.

University initiatives and programs with a general focus are designed to appeal to students across disciplines while our departmental program engages graduate students in student-centered reflective activities on teaching physics. The university-sponsored orientation program provides a glimpse into the teaching culture at North Carolina State University. The program includes workshops for all new graduate students on topics relevant to their new responsibilities in graduate school and optional programs to introduce aspects of graduate student life, such as fellowship opportunities and professional travel stipends from the Graduate Student Association. This one-day program is conducted prior to the beginning of classes in the fall semester and is mandatory for new graduate students for the first time in the 1994-1995 academic year. The semester-long departmental educational begins with a half-day program including a welcoming reception, departmental orientation and safety program. TAs are assigned laboratory teaching or tutoring in our Physics Tutorial Center or Physics Courseware Instructional Laboratory. A twelve-week program focusing on numerous aspects of physics teaching, required of all new TAs, is conducted in the fall semester. Graduate students meet once per week for one hour and engage in discussion, activity-based workshops and reflective processes intended to develop their skills as reflective teachers. While some of the activities address immediate situational issue facing the TA in his or her assigned duties, the underlying foundation for all discussions is effective teaching practices in the physics classroom/laboratory. Topics such as developing questioning skills, problem solving, learning styles, evaluations (student and self, including videotape analysis), student preconceptions, and testing are covered. All topics are placed in the context of the teaching of physics and include a wide variety of activities and practices that mirror the role of the teaching physicist.

The departmental program has evolved over the past twelve years. Several faculty participate in teaching particular topics. Research in physics education provides the background for most topics. Resources such as Arons' book, "A Guide to Introductory Physics Teaching" and publications from the American Journal of Physics and The Physics Teacher, along with chapters from Teaching Physics for First Time Teachers (in progress) serve as background reading in our program.

Karen L. Johnston is Professor of Physics at North Carolina State University where her research focuses on Physics Education.

Guiding Graduate Students Through the Transition from Student to Teacher 

Susan R. McKay

Many graduate students encounter their first experiences teaching a physics laboratory or class when they become teaching assistants (TAs), often in a new setting where they know no one well enough to feel comfortable discussing this new role. Frequently this transition from student to teacher occurs with very little guidance or instruction. In particular, the new TA may receive some directions about the content of the teaching assignment, but general considerations and expectations for them as teachers are often left unaddressed.

The training program begun last fall in the University of Maine's Physics and Astronomy Department is designed to provide TAs with information on general issues related to teaching, as well as give them the opportunity to meet other teachers in the department and get to know them early in the semester. This training can smooth the transition for new TAs and give them more confidence as they begin their duties. The program also focuses attention on teaching and its importance at a time when new graduate students might otherwise be too busy with moving, registering for courses, and finding their way around campus to give their teaching much thought.

The Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Maine has sixteen TAs, each of whom teaches introductory classes, workshops or laboratories, and grades their students' homework and lab reports. For many undergraduates, the TA is their first and most extensive personal contact within the department; thus, the way the TA treats each student can be crucial in establishing that student's view of physics and astronomy at the University. A well-prepared, approachable, professional TA who communicates effectively with students can really enhance their learning, while a bad TA sends students scrambling to transfer to another course or section.

An important aspect of this training program is its timing; reaching TAs before they actually begin their duties enables the department to explain the expectations and standards required of TAs. From the beginning, the TA is aware of how duties should be conducted and who to contact with questions or concerns. The training began with four sessions during the first week of classes and continued with several lunch-time meetings throughout the semester. Before these TAs met their students for the first time, they had heard introductory remarks on the department and its expectations of TAs by the department chair, participated in a panel discussion on teaching strategies for a diverse student body, attended a presentation and discussion on sexual harassment, and met in small groups to discuss course-specific strategies for effective teaching and fair grading. Also included in the first week's program were a pizza dinner and a couple of other refreshment breaks so that TAs had a chance to talk informally with other TAs and faculty.

The department chair's remarks set the tone for the semester, emphasizing the importance of the TAs' duties and the expectation that they would work hard to do their best as teachers. He provided a brief overview of the introductory courses and the students who take them, particularly warning TAs that they may find students with very weak math backgrounds in their classes. He also described the kind of professional conduct that is expected of every TA, stressing such practices as beginning classes and labs on time, being well prepared, holding office hours as scheduled, treating all students with respect, reporting missing or troubled students, watching for and reporting instances of cheating, and establishing a fair and consistent grading system. His remarks probably surprised no one in the room, but they established a common framework for future discussions.

Next, teaching assistants attended a presentation and discussion of sexual harassment run by the campus Office of Equal Opportunity and oriented toward new situations that might arise now that the graduate students are staff members. They were instructed, for example, how to handle a situation in which a student reports a possible instance of sexual harassment by another student to them and told that their dating students in the classes and labs that they teach is not acceptable.

The third meeting, a panel discussion of teaching strategies for a diverse student body, included as panelists some of the best teaching assistants from the department and a couple of faculty from other departments specializing in communication strategies. These faculty participants provided handouts that listed specific suggestions for establishing positive patterns of communication between students and the teacher in a classroom or laboratory. Items from the handouts that were highlighted in the discussions included ways to encourage women and minority students in science both inside and outside the classroom and communication styles that favored participation by a large number of students rather than the dominance of classroom discussion by only a few students. Strategies for handling a disruptive or rude student, identifying students' areas of difficulty (Is it math, physics, lack of communication skills, etc.?), getting students to participate and be active learners in class and lab, and intervening to help lab groups with interpersonal difficulties were also discussed. This panel gave new TAs an awareness of some of the issues that can arise in teaching and, perhaps more importantly, provided the opportunity for them to become better acquainted with experienced TAs and faculty who could help them with situations in their own classes and labs.

The fourth session consisted of separate meetings of TAs with faculty members coordinating their particular course and the other teaching assistants within their course. One objective of this session was to establish more uniform grading standards for homework and lab reports so that students in different sections would be graded comparably. The faculty member also provided guidelines for what should be emphasized in both teaching and grading and the procedures that needed to be followed to keep the course running smoothly and on schedule. This meeting gave the TA information about how classes, workshops, and labs fit into the general structure of the course.

Once the semester was underway, training continued using two types of meetings: informal discussions of how things were going and improvements that could be implemented in the introductory courses, and meetings with outside speakers discussing topics related to research in physics education. These sessions were designed to build a sense of teaching community within the department and retain the focus on teaching which had been established during the first week.

How did all of this work? The consensus among faculty and TAs is that providing some type of training at the beginning of the semester is definitely a good idea. Familiarity with the topics covered in last fall's program is essential for new TAs and can help them start teaching better, minimizing major mid-semester corrections. Also, having teachers get together at the beginning of the semester and become acquainted was valued by both TAs and faculty. This early training stresses the importance of quality teaching within the department. Some TAs felt that more meetings should be held during the semester as a follow-up, to encourage TAs to remain focused on improving their teaching. Others suggested that course credit should be given to TAs attending and participating in this series of training sessions. These ideas and modifications are still being considered for next year's program, but the strategy of providing general training to make the transition from student to teacher a positive one for new TAs has definitely proved worth continuing.

This training program was supported by a grant from the Women in the Curriculum Program at the University of Maine.

Susan McKay is Associate Professor of Physics at the University of Maine in Orono. Her research focuses on theoretical study of magnetic systems, including spin glasses.

We're Not a 'Business', We're Academia!

Mark Paul

Recently, a department head at a graduate school of science and technology asked me to support their internal improvement process. He wanted to capture those elements of the latest thinking in organizational development and decided to retain the services of a management consultant. As a physicist by training (and now the President of my own leadership consulting firm), I was in a unique position of being able to evaluate how to optimize their organization's ability to do the best science possible. Although the results reported here are for an Environmental Science and Engineering department, the process and the insights gained are applicable to many different scientific organizations.

Although scientific organizations are not in the habit of thinking of themselves as businesses, by doing so they can gain insight on how to optimize resources and improve productivity. A strategic planning process was undertaken to define the current situation and the desired state of the organization by identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the department and assessing current and future challenges and opportunities. The department recognized that organizational optimization leveraged their time so that they could be even more effective at doing science. This balance was found to be essential to become even more competitive for dwindling financial resources.

The general results of the consulting effort indicated the focus on identifying and satisfying the needs of the `customers' of the department could be improved. An organization has both internal and external customers. In academia, internal customers -- those inside the organization who bring in the most revenue -- are the faculty. By serving their needs, they will become more effective at obtaining funds to perform research and producing highly qualified graduates.

External customers consist of students (current and alumni), grantors and the companies and government agencies that hire the students and pay for research. Meeting the needs of funding agencies and companies that pay for research is probably already well suited to most department's core capabilities. As "end users" of our product (read: students), we must continually listen to the changing needs of academia, government and industry and respond accordingly.

Attracting high-quality graduate students is essential to producing good research. By offering the opportunity to develop those skills desired by students (and deemed necessary by employers), a program can attract and retain the best students. Alumni -- past customers -- are in an excellent position to provide feedback on which skills are necessary for success and whether they received these skills during their graduate schooling. Although we must balance the needs of all external customers with one another and ensure that we don't fail because we're trying to be all things to all people, I will concentrate the rest of this article on the results of the study, performed as part of the consulting effort, as they apply to graduate education. To satisfy the needs of customers, a process for evaluating these needs must exist. We polled each set of customers to determine how the department could better satisfy their needs in the future.

Current students were asked: "What knowledge, skills, and experience do you feel you will need in order to obtain a high-quality job, once you graduate?" Answers were developed using an Affinity Diagram. Masters and Ph.D. students (each as a group) came up with a list of responses, which were then organized into like groupings. `Science skills' refers to the development of research skills, breadth of scientific knowledge, and, in the case of Ph.D. students, teaching skills. Business skills include leadership/management skills, written and oral communication skills, networking, problem-solving ability and fundraising. Career skills include job-finding skills, such as writing a resume or c.v. and understanding the needs of businesses, as well as personal traits such as the ability to self-motivate. Experience refers to hands-on practical experience in the form of laboratories, internships or field experience. Each student was given a fixed number of points and allowed to distribute those points to each topic as he or she desired. Figure 1, which summarizes the weighting given each area by the Masters and Ph.D. students, represents the responses of approximately 40% of the graduate population. In general, Masters students emphasized the practical application of skills in both coursework (including case studies and `real-life' examples) and practical experience (internships and other fieldwork). Ph.D. students wanted exposure to a larger variety of skills and emphasized networking and fundraising skills.

These results show that Ph.D. students and Masters students have different "recipes" for success and suggest that different programs for the two desired endpoints might be beneficial. This general trend is also visible in the alumni results. Alumni were asked two questions. These were: "What knowledge, skills, and experience did you need in order to 1) obtain a high-quality job, and 2) perform, once hired?" The results are shown in Figures 2a and 2b. Ph.D. students reported that the single biggest factor in finding a high- quality job was contacts and networking, while Masters students emphasized technical skills and knowledge. Among business skills, Ph.D. students and Masters students both emphasized presentation and speaking skills, while only Ph.D. students mentioned writing skills. Both groups agreed that, in addition to technical excellence, communication, management, writing, work experience, and other non-science-based skills are required. This balance is essential to leverage scientific capabilities to achieve even greater results.

Those companies and government agencies who have hired or will hire graduates from the institute were asked what skills were required of employees. Again, Figure 3 indicates the necessity for a balance between scientific skills and business skills.

As a result of this evaluation, the department's approach to educating graduate students evolved into a `student development program' to prepare students to provide even more value to their employers and themselves. The curriculum is now viewed as part of the entire process and is being constantly updated to meet the needs of all involved. Increasing competition and limited resources emphasize the importance of leveraging technical and scientific capabilities to achieve even more. Leadership and management techniques, proven effective in business, are just now filtering into academia. These tools can help technically excellent institutions become world-class competitors. The only thing stopping these improvements will be our own attitudes and culture.

Mark Paul is president of Phoenix Management, Inc., a leadership consultancy dedicated to supporting the improvement efforts of organizations within industry, academia, and government. Figure 1: Responses of current students to: "What knowledge, skills and experience do you feel you will need in order to obtain a high-quality job once you graduate?" Figures 2a and 2b: Answers from alumni to the questions: What knowledge, skills and experience did you need to a) obtain a high-quality job and b) perform, once hired Figure 3: Responses from corporate and government employers

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