Student Spotlight: Bennett Slibeck, PhD Student in Earth and Environmental Sciences

by | Jun 13, 2024

Bennett Slibeck, PhD Student in Earth and Environmental Sciences
Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning (CIRTL) Fellow 

In this spotlight, Bennett Slibeck shares how working with the CTL has shaped and evolved his pedagogical practice. He discusses his highlights from serving as a Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning (CIRTL) Fellow and from participating in the CTL’s Teaching Development Program (TDP) Sprint. Lastly, Bennett shares strategies that he uses in his teaching practice that new graduate student instructors might consider incorporating into their own practice.

What motivated you to get involved with the CTL?

Honestly, the first thing was a desire to develop a sense of direction. I had been in classes with effective instructors, and classes without them, and had a certain vision of what kind of instructor I wanted to be, but didn’t know the first thing about getting there! Working with the CTL was a breath of fresh air in a series of teaching experiences that had just felt like trials by fire at every step along the way.

What is an important focus of your teaching? How has the CTL helped you to pursue that focus?

As an earth scientist, one of the most important things for me is to help students develop is a sense of relationality with the world around them. We live in a fantastically interconnected world, and this history of the rocks and plants beneath our feet factors into our lives in countless ways we don’t even realize. Helping students train their ability to lift that veil is a constant goal of mine. Through the CTL, I’ve had the space and support to think about how to turn that goal into pedagogical practice, and how to implement that practice into my own classrooms. Even that simple step, of having a goal and knowing how to implement it, is something that would’ve seemed totally overwhelming before my time in the CTL, and I’m so grateful to be here now.

You have participated in the TDP Sprint and served as a CIRTL Fellow, as well as engaging in other CTL programming—can you describe a couple of highlights from those experiences and how they have impacted your work?

The first thing that comes to mind was meeting peers from so many different backgrounds during the TDP Sprint, and realizing that at the end of the day, we did really have a lot in common. Good teaching isn’t all the same, but it has a lot of throughlines. Getting to design lessons and compare thoughts with students from departments outside my own was an absolute treat, and I’m still happy to see some of my table mates around campus! The second highlight for me was leading a Journal Club for the CIRTL network. Mentally, this felt like a huge test of my credibility, and I was sure I was going to have to be defending my every thought, word, and deed. I realized throughout the session though, that my fears were unfounded. I had real insights to share, and they were valuable, despite any feelings to the contrary. I think one thing a lot of graduate students struggle with is finding that balance, and through the CIRTL Fellowship as a whole, I definitely gained confidence in my ability to make changes in higher education, and I want that confidence to be something more people have as well.

Additionally, what are strategies that you use in your own teaching practice that new graduate student instructors might consider incorporating into their own practice?

The most important change I’ve made in developing my teaching practice has been being transparent with students. It can be a real challenge to feel any agency when you’re a TA, or working with pre-provided course materials, but signposting to students why exactly we’re doing what we’re doing, or how it might help their learning, can not only boost their confidence to try new things, but also helps you as an instructor clarify your learning objectives. I’ve also tried to really hone in on a teaching signature [to borrow a phrasing from a CTL Symposium], as a form of identity building, but also as a mode of self-discovery. I know a lot of people who can define ways they don’t want to teach, but being able to turn those into a positive, and then to live that positive, is going to be really important for any sort of career long perspective. Taking the time early in your career to really think about who you want to be in the classroom increases your odds of becoming that person tremendously.