Student Spotlight: Monica Thieu, PhD, Department of Psychology

by | Jul 28, 2022

Monica Thieu, PhD, Department of Psychology
Completed the Teaching Development Program (Advanced Track) in Spring 2022



In this spotlight, Monica shares what motivated her to join the Advanced Track of the CTL’s Teaching Development Program, and how interacting with interdisciplinary peers has strengthened her teaching experience. She also shares her experience working on a Provost’s Funded Project, and imparts a strategy she uses in her own teaching practice that new graduate student instructors might consider incorporating into their own practice.

What motivated you to join the Teaching Development Program? Did your motivation shift or change when deciding to join (and complete) the Advanced Track?

I joined the TDP at first because I had already been attending a good number of CTL events. As I was getting closer to the dissertation stage of my PhD, I figured I may as well sign up and get the transcript notation! Ultimately, though, preparing a teaching portfolio for the TDP Advanced Track did actually force me to enumerate my teaching philosophy and take stock of my teaching artifacts and accomplishments in a way that I’ve never had to do explicitly before. It helped me see that I did actually have a coherent teaching philosophy, and that I could show evidence of it! Plus, I did end up submitting some of the teaching portfolio materials for postdoctoral fellowship applications, so it was immediately helpful for career prospects as well.

Through your work in the TDP, you have been exposed to so many of the CTL’s offerings—the Innovative Course Design Seminar, LTF-led events, observations, participation in the TDParty, and more! Is there a particular offering (or two!) that stands out as being particularly enjoyable and/or instructive? If so, why?

While (of course!) I’ve been really thankful to have an engaged and supportive graduate student community for teaching and learning in my home department, I have really enjoyed getting to meet and hear from students in other departments through CTL offerings like the Innovative Course Design Seminar, the TDParty co-working group, and events hosted by Lead Teaching Fellows (LTFs) from other departments. Working with grad students in other departments through CTL events has allowed me to abstract teaching tips beyond specific applications in the psychology classroom to figure out what makes those teaching strategies effective in general.

You worked on a Provost Funded Project (PFP) with support from the CTL and were able to publish and present on some of that teaching innovation work. What was that experience like and how has that experience changed your teaching?

First and foremost, I was incredibly grateful that the Provost Funded Project grant paid for my course design work. While I had informally told my teaching supervisor, Dr. Caroline Marvin, that I was interested in assisting with the project well before I even knew that she was submitting a PFP application with other faculty, she was instrumental in budgeting and securing funding specifically to pay a graduate assistant course designer (me). I’m glad she advocated for me!

Working on the PFP allowed me to contribute materially to an introductory survey course, PSYC 1021 Science of Psychology: Explorations and Applications, that I wouldn’t have otherwise had the chance to work on. In our department, graduate teaching assistants do lead their own lab sections for statistics and research methods courses, but typically don’t get the opportunity to design and teach whole classes without going through programs like the Teaching Scholars Fellowship, and especially not 1000-level survey courses, which are outside of the purview of the Teaching Scholars Fellowship. Through the PFP, I was able to learn about course design concerns specific to a 1000-level course, which I’ll almost certainly need to teach (perhaps in my first semester) as future faculty. Further, I got experience working on many more parts of the course design process than I had previously been exposed to as a TA—like choosing a textbook, setting grading policies, and designing assessments.

Looking back on your engagements with the CTL, in what ways has interacting with peers (in your department and across disciplines at the CTL) strengthened your own teaching practices?

As iron sharpens iron, one scholar of teaching and learning sharpens another. It’s been incredibly empowering to know that I have a community of like-minded peers who also enjoy the art and science of effective teaching. Sometimes, I’ve gone to those peers for solidarity and encouragement when I’m about to teach new material, and other times I’ve asked those peers to vet my more adventurous ideas and keep me in check. I have worked most frequently with peers in my department, because we’re already more familiar with each other and with discipline-specific concerns, but as noted above, I’ve learned a lot about discipline-general teaching concerns from peers across disciplines through CTL events.

Finally, what are 1-2 strategies that you use in your own teaching practice that new graduate student instructors might consider incorporating into their own practice?

Previous interviewees have given some pretty fantastic tips, so here’s my two cents that I think others might not have mentioned here:

Carefully consider run time when planning lessons. When backward designing a lesson—from learning objectives, to targeted assessments, to lesson content—it’s important to allow lesson run time to realistically constrain the scope of learning objectives. Lecture, discussion, and activity components can only serve learning objectives if they’re run clearly and slowly (enough). I have found that first-time lectures in particular tend to run longer than anticipated—for me, sometimes 30% longer than I initially expected. As a result, I over-budget for lecture time when lesson planning to make sure that I’m focused about what and how many learning objectives are actually accomplishable for a given unit of class. In this way, over-budgeting for lesson time helps keep me honest about how many learning objectives are sustainable to teach and assess, and forces me to prioritize which objectives I think are most important for students to reach.