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Just as with any form of communication, your audience greatly changes your goals for and approaches to teaching. Moving from teaching undergraduate to graduate students may necessitate some critical thinking about teaching strategies, classroom management, and persona.

What is different about teaching graduate students?

You might find, upon first teaching a graduate class, that your students are more ready to engage with materials and present their own ideas and theories. The willingness of students to speak out, and indeed speak with some authority, often invites a constructivist approach to teaching, where knowledge is built by active student participation instead of passive student listening. Therefore, you may wish to plan lessons in a way that gives more time and agency for students to converse, share, and even debate.

Although we all appreciate students who actively participate in the classroom, student participation can be intimidating when graduate students are knowledgeable or even experts in the area in which one is teaching. It is important to remember that the relationship of teacher to graduate student does not need to be defined in terms of power or authority. Rather, it can be defined as mentor to mentee, as graduate students are often best served by professional development and opportunities to engage with future colleagues.

How do I teach graduate students?

Even though graduate students differ greatly from undergraduate in terms of their motivation and background, they ultimately learn in the same way. Some best practices for teaching graduate students are very similar to those for teaching undergraduates:

  • Establish learning goals
  • Provide frequent feedback
  • Incorporate discussions to allow students to build on their expertise.

However, you can use some strategies that capitalize on the uniqueness of graduate students:

  • Incorporate presentation and teaching skills into the course
  • Integrate publication
  • Involve graduate students in developing the course goals and design.

You can read more about these and other strategies for teaching graduate students in this page on Teaching Graduate Students published by the Center for Teaching Excellence at the University of Kansas.

For tips on teaching graduate students how to write clearly, one of our favorite resources is Wendy Laura Belcher’s Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks. Feel free to stop by the Faculty Center to take a look at the book, which is organized as a hands-on workbook, or get a preview at Belcher’s website.

More briefly, some tips on teaching essential writing skills to graduate students are available from the Association for Psychological Science.