Been there, done that.

After six years of grad school, there are a few things I've picked up from personal experience and a whole lot of time talking with other female grad students (AKA procrastinating). I've always wished there had been some kind of handbook about how to handle the whole world of graduate school, so I figured I'd start a friendly place to discuss what it's like to be female in grad school, and maybe pass on some wisdom too!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Graduate Teaching



As summer school grinds on, I have spent a lot of time thinking about what it means to be an instructor at a university. I really enjoy being up in front of a classroom, but I do recognize that as female there are a few additional things that go into being successful. This goes for both being a teaching assistant and the professor. The last few years I've spent quite a lot of time in both roles (indeed, I've taught almost every quarter of my graduate career), and lately as I watch my own actions in comparison to my TA, this has really started to irk me a bit. It may be just me, but it really feels like I have to work a whole lot harder to obtain the respect and attention that males command with much more ease. Has anyone else seen or felt this? I've sat in on other's discussion sections and lectures, and while the level of subtle ignoring of the instructor always goes on, it seems that females have to work harder to get the room going. There is almost the need to be larger than life--much more so in females than males.

Other things that I have read (and really annoy me) is that females that are more attractive are perceived as more intelligent, more competent, and better teachers overall. What's up with that? Also, dressing well and wearing (normal amounts of) make-up, all play a role in the way students judge their female instructors. This goes for both female & male students judging their instructor, too. Male instructors don't have to deal with anywhere near the same level of judgement (although I won't go so far as to say they don't see it at all). It's not fair, but there doesn't seem to be much that can be done about it. It is an extension of our cultural perception of male and female roles, and while these can change, it doesn't seem to be something that's going to do so easily or quickly.

Another aspect of this same topic that has struck me is the role of the first impression. The role of being attractive and well-dressed plays such a huge role in this first, initial, (and often long-lasting) impression is much harsher for women. It also leads me to really pay a LOT of attention to what I wear on my first day of teaching. Each day, actually, that I get up in front of a class, results in a lot of extra preparation time, with the goal of looking professional always in the back of my mind.

How, my question is, does competence play into this? Why do students view "pretty" female instructors as smarter, more fair, clearer, etc.? It doesn't make much sense to me. Does anyone have a good idea? Is an outward extension of grooming indicative of an inward attention to detail? That's the best guess I can get at.

At any rate, when teaching in graduate school, these factors can (and possibly should) play a role. Teaching evaluations can be vital to getting a job later on down the line. I've had to copy mine multiple times to submit with my job applications (and I've often wanted to add little notes to them, noting that from the stack from any given class, I sent X number to judicial affairs for cheating, so keep that in mind while reading!). Taking an added interest in how you present yourself in front of a classroom, not just in preparing well and presenting a great lesson, but in your appearance can play a big role.

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