An email from a former colleague brought up a topic that I don’t think has been addressed here before directly: what experiences do readers have as industrial scientists who have then moved into teaching positions?
I know that this is a fairly frequent move. For the readership here, I’d guess that many of the examples are from the “We really need someone to teach Sophomore Organic Chemistry” part of the job market, so to that end, it would be worth hearing about what texts are being used (any variations by part of the country?), what some of the best web resources are for people starting out in that position, and (of course) personal experiences.
I’m willing to bet that that last category varies quite a bit, because academia in general varies quite a bit in this country. The institutions and their student bodies are all over the place, to an extent that not many other countries (if any) replicate, and it would be good to hear about successes (and failures) in several different categories. I left out a category just there, because the people teaching organic chemistry are also all over the place, in terms of experience and aptitude, so general advice on how to make the jump to teaching (if there is general advice) would also be welcome. Organic classes have their own particular issues, what with the here-comes-a-hard-course reputation it has among undergrads, and the pitfall of teaching it (or learning it) as a gigantic pile of unrelated stuff to be memorized, as if it were anatomy with Erlenmeyer flasks.
Just from what I’ve seen, the two opposite-ends-of-the-spectrum errors that people can make are to be terrified that there’s no way that they can possibly teach this stuff coherently, and to think “Hey, how hard can it be, I know this stuff backwards and forwards”. A glance back at your memories as a student will establish, though, that knowing a field is necessary but not at all sufficient for being able to teach it effectively. Fantastic professors may well be born rather than made, but how does one maximize one’s chances of ending up at least in the “pretty good” category? Or avoiding the “disaster” one?
I’ve never taught per se, but for what it’s worth, my own advice would be for someone to take a good hard look at their presentation style. The professors I remember most fondly are the ones who took an organized approach to the material and were able to stick to it, giving a sense that they knew just where they were and where the class was going. This applies at the microscopic level – I had a professor once who seemed to get distracted sentence by sentence, piling up subclauses in call-waiting mode – and it applies at a macro one, as regards the order in which topics are introduced and how one builds on the previous material. For the first, I’d recommend setting up the smartphone and making videos of yourself trying to teach various topics from the course, just to see if you’re coming across the way that you hope. The second will depend partly on the text that you’re teaching from, but by now, there are several well-trodden paths to presenting the standard material of organic chemistry, and it would be a good idea to take advantage, as much as possible, of the work that’s been put into this over the years.
But that’s all I’ve got – I’ll turn the rest of the discussion over to the comments! I’ll be adding worthwhile links, etc., to this post as they show up.