Being an instructor of record (IOR) while you are in graduate school is a golden opportunity for you to engage in professional and personal development, strengthen your scholarship, and advance your career prospects.
What is an IOR? The instructor of record is the formally designated instructor (or professor) of a credit-bearing, college-level class who is responsible for instruction, evaluation and final grade submission. To teach undergraduates as an IOR, you have to have (at a minimum) a master’s degree or 18 hours of graduate coursework in the subject being taught, which most Ph.D. students have by the time they complete prelims.
Although being a teaching assistant (TA) is a great opportunity for professional development, the greater range and depth of responsibilities you will navigate as an IOR may be the best experience you can have in your development as a teacher, and it can help you decide more confidently which career paths appeal to you. It certainly won’t be lost on search committees: for many faculty positions, this type of experience may be critical in advancing in a search, the teaching evaluations you receive may be needed for applications, and if you invite observers (i.e., current faculty) into your class, they’ll be able to provide stronger letters of recommendation.
There are a few typical paths for Duke Ph.D. students to gain IOR experience. One is teaching a course for their department or the Thompson Writing Program. The Graduate School offers Bass Instructional Fellowships, which can also provide up to a semester of full financial support. Some students have also managed to teach at Durham Tech, Elon University, or regional colleges or universities. Duke’s Graduate School maintains collegial relationships with a range of nearby institutions who occasionally send out requests for adjunct applications via the Certificate in College Teaching (CCT) and Preparing Future Faculty (PFF) programs. We asked some current and former IORs to talk about their experiences. Here is what some of them had to say:
How did you benefit from being an IOR?
Getting to teach a class about an aspect of my dissertation was immensely beneficial to my research. The students' questions and our conversations allowed me to sharpen my understanding of my work and anticipate the questions my committee would have. Also, teaching just turned out to be incredibly fun, which motivated me to push through other challenges in grad school. –Carolin Benack, Ph.D. candidate in English
I had an incredible time teaching at a different college. It was a new and fresh perspective to work at a primarily undergrad institution to gain teaching and mentoring skills, and to learn what it was like to be a faculty member at a PUI [primarily undergraduate institution]. I had the opportunity to teach at Guilford after helping my PFF mentor develop a new class. I shadowed her for a semester and then became the sole instructor the following semester. –Tess Leuthner, Ph.D. candidate in Environment
Prior to my IOR experience, I was considering either a teaching faculty route or a career in industry after graduate school. Having the opportunity to be an IOR gave me hands-on experience designing and implementing my own course, which really helped me solidify my next steps after graduate school. Though I enjoyed teaching, I decided that the university faculty route is not for me, and I'm glad I had the opportunity to teach at Duke so I could reach that conclusion. I also gained communication and leadership skills through classroom management and instructional experience. These skills will be transferable to any career, especially when working on interdisciplinary teams. –Iman Hamid, Ph.D '22 in Genetics and Genomics
Despite challenges, I have to say that the Bass Fellowship was probably the most enlightening and beneficial (professional) experience in my time at Duke. I think it, along with heavy CCT involvement and TA work, was a major factor in my landing a visiting professor role at a top-ranking liberal arts college. And since I got that visiting role, I now have a tenure-track position starting next academic year at another top-ranking liberal arts college. –Ryan Kozlowski, Ph.D. '21 in Physics
What challenges did you face?
Time management was a first big challenge, especially when it came to group activities that ran too short or too long. Providing meaningful and appropriate feedback was also another challenge that is overcome with time and practice. –Francesa Magario Wadlington, Ph.D. candidate in Romance Studies
The biggest challenge was balancing dissertation research and teaching duties. If I could have spent all my time on prepping for class or planning assignments, I would have. I had to learn not to let perfect be the enemy of good. Teaching in COVID was also a challenge because students seemed to be burnt out. Finally, I think the combination of being both a woman of color and a grad student made it more challenging for me to gain the respect of my students as an authority figure and expert on the topics we discussed. –Iman Hamid, Ph.D '22 in Genetics and Genomics
How did the CCT program contribute to your experience?
The CCT program has allowed me to discuss general classroom practices and strategies with colleagues in other disciplines, leading to meaningful reflections on my own teaching and on how I can improve to better serve my students. CCT is professional development in the form of interdisciplinary college classes! –Francesa Magario Wadlington, Ph.D. candidate in Romance Studies
CCT courses formed great groundwork for course/syllabus design, visual design, and possible pedagogical practices. This program was actually one aspect of Duke that drew me. The CCT is thorough, unique, and inspiring, and I actually sometimes bring up pedagogical ideas from my CCT courses that my colleagues at a teaching-focused college have never heard about. –Ryan Kozlowski, Ph.D. '21 in Physics
I used knowledge I gained from the CCT Fundamentals of College Teaching and Course Design courses about facilitating group activities, creating an inclusive learning environment, incorporating different types of assessment, etc., when planning and implementing my course. I also reflected on feedback I received when participating in the Teaching Triangles a few years previously (while I was a TA), using that to inform the way I managed the classroom as an instructor for my own course. –Iman Hamid, Ph.D '22 in Genetics and Genomics
It opened my eyes to the many opportunities at Duke to get experience teaching and being able to explain that to future employers. –Siobhan Oca, Ph.D. candidate in MEMS
What advice would you offer prospective grad student IORs?
You will feel like you have to cover all your bases, like your lectures/answers to student questions have to be ironclad. That is not the case. It's perfectly okay to not know the answer to something and tell your students that you'll get back to them. There will always be questions you didn't anticipate, so you can't prepare for everything anyways. You will get better at not overpreparing as the semester goes on, though. –Carolin Benack, Ph.D. candidate in English
Follow and make time for your passion, even if it is teaching when your job is research. See the opportunities for doing what you love and don't limit what you think is available until you have explored all options. Prep as much as you can for the course, but expect curveballs, be open and flexible to change in the first semester you teach a course—it will happen. Enjoy the experience! –Siobhan Oca, Ph.D. candidate in MEMS
Author's note: if you are an IOR teaching in Summer Term 1 in May 2022, you may be interested in The Graduate School's pilot course, GS780S Graduate IOR Seminar. Contact Dr. Hugh Crumley for more information.
Assistant Dean, Academic Affairs
Since joining Duke in 2006, Hugh has been involved with multiple aspects of graduate education and currently provides leadership for all Graduate School teaching & teaching assistant (TA) programs, including directing and teaching in the Certificate in College Teaching, directing the Preparing Future Faculty program, and coordinating Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) training for all 3800+ graduate students at Duke.
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