U.Va.’s Teaching Resource Center Shapes Future Professors

By Melissa Maki
Deandra Little and Michael Palmer

Deandra Little and Michael Palmer
Photos by Michael Palmer

The University of Virginia’s Teaching Resource Center is filling a practical gap in graduate education through its Tomorrow’s Professor Today (TPT) program. The program helps students learn the skills they need not only to secure faculty positions after graduation, but also to excel in their new careers.

Michael Palmer and Deandra Little both serve as program administrators for TPT, as well as faculty consultants at U.Va.  They explain that TPT was initiated about three years ago based on research confirming that graduate training does not include adequate professional development for those interested in academics.  “When you look at the literature, most studies suggest that graduates feel very ill-prepared to teach,” says Palmer.  Yet from the beginning, new faculty are expected to know how to design courses, order the appropriate textbooks, and teach a number of courses.

TPT aims to fill gaps in graduate education by targeting three different areas: teaching, professional development, and adjustment to an academic career.  TPT participants take workshops on a variety of topics, from writing curriculum vitae to teaching at different types of institutions.  In addition, they interact with administrators and faculty regularly to discuss key issues such as how to integrate teaching and research and how best to advise and mentor students.

There are currently 38 participants in TPT, from 19 different departments, resulting in interdisciplinary peer interactions.  “I love the interaction with people outside my department,” says Carmen Garcia Armero, doctoral candidate in Spanish and TPT participant.  Armero has participated in a number of workshops, including one on building a teaching portfolio.  “It helped me a lot since I am on the job market this year,” she says.  “I used all the material not just to write the cover letter, but also to prepare for the interviews, and to show part of my teaching portfolio to the interviewers.”

The program stresses the significance of gaining teaching experience while in graduate school.  Not every department has opportunities for graduate students to teach, but Little suggests that there are creative ways to gain this necessary experience, such as volunteering to serve as a guest lecturer for a particular class or to lead a discussion section.  “They can find even small windows to get experience,” says Little. 

Dan Muth, TPT participant and Ph.D. candidate in environmental science, believes that the program is a great opportunity for graduate students who are interested in academic careers.  “Interaction with mentors, guest speakers, and peers, creates a forum where the issues of instruction, administration, and research can be addressed,” says Muth.  “The end result is that we become more aware of the challenges facing new faculty members and are better positioned to accept them.”

TPT is sponsored by the Teaching Resource Center, the Office of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and the School of Engineering and Applied Science.  Students interested in participating in the program can visit the TPT website for more information on how to apply.