Tag Archives: class

My Favorite Class at Tufts

Written by Alia Wulff, Cognitive Psychology Ph.D. student

I have completed my fourth semester here at Tufts and have taken nine classes. Every single one of those classes had unique insights and learning experiences that make them impossible to compare. So I’m afraid the title of this blog post, “My Favorite Class at Tufts,” is basically just clickbait. I can’t pick a favorite class. It would be like making me choose a favorite between chocolate chip cookies, waterslides, and cute videos of unlikely animal friends. How could I choose between things that are so different and all so amazing?

However, that doesn’t mean I don’t have anything to write about. I may not have a specific class, but there certain factors that I look for when planning my class schedule. The first of these factors that affects my enjoyment of a class is my comfort with class discussion. This is really important in graduate school specifically, as most (if not all) classes are seminars. Even for the classes that aren’t seminars, it is important that the students are able to comfortably ask questions and interact with others in front of the class. My public speaking anxiety has gone down since entering graduate school, but it is still nerve-wracking to voice an opinion in front of a group of people. Anything that lessens that anxiety helps me to find my voice and engage directly with others’ ideas and opinions.

Secondly, I find direct application to be really important. Whether it is to my research, my teaching ability, or even my life, being able to apply the information I learn to my own experiences is really important. Being able to get something out of the class beyond a grade is an essential part of keeping the class relevant.

Finally, it is really important that I’m interested in spending 13+ weeks discussing the topic. This seems like a no-brainer, but it actually is more important than I expected. My undergraduate colleges were on a quarter system, so our classes took a max of 10 weeks. Going back to a semester system like I had in high school, feels like a big jump. Making sure the classes can engage my interest for such a long period of time is an important factor when I make my schedule. If there is a subject you want to learn about but don’t want to spend a whole semester studying, check if you can sit in on a few of the more pertinent classes or find a related workshop or talk you could attend.

I have a pretty good system to assess these factors ahead of time when registering for classes. It’s very easy if the class is in my department. I generally know the professor and their teaching style. I know the people taking the class or can ask around until I find them. I might even know people who have taken the class in the past and can give me information from a student’s perspective if needed. This is probably the main reason why I haven’t taken any classes I haven’t enjoyed at Tufts: I spend time making sure the class is pertinent and interesting before registering. 

It does get trickier when the class is in a separate department. I have only taken one outside of my department. The course was designed to be cross-discipline and therefore other members of my lab had taken it, so I didn’t have to do too much investigating. If your program involves a lot more interdisciplinary classes you may have to do more research to ensure the class is a good fit, but it will be worth it. One of the perks of graduate school is you don’t have to go through two years of “trying classes out” before finding an area you actually enjoy. 

You may have heard that classes don’t matter in graduate school. This is not true at all, at least in my case. While research is important and takes more time, every class I have taken so far has directly led to me being a better graduate student and researcher. Taking care with my class schedule and making sure I will benefit from every class I take is essential to my learning. Take classes seriously and you will receive serious benefits, I promise!

Adventures of a Tufts Teaching Assistant

Written by Alia Wulff, Cognitive Psychology Ph.D.

When I first was admitted into Tufts, I barely thought about the fact that I would need to be a teaching assistant. It was an abstract concept, something that graduate students naturally knew how to do or were taught how to do during some mythical three-month intensive course. I knew I would have to take on the role of a TA, but I didn’t know what it would mean.

Fast forward five months, and I was attending the teaching assistant orientation during my first week at Tufts. I sat down with my notebook and pencil in hand, ready to have all of the necessary knowledge to be a teaching assistant implanted into my brain. Two hours, at least a dozen speakers, and a whirlwind discussion with a current psychology TA later, I still had no idea what I would have to do. The Tufts orientation taught me everything I would know about the ethical obligations and workload expectations of a Tufts TA, but it would be impossible to have an orientation that would teach every individual TA their responsibilities for every class they would ever TA for. I left, full of questions and worry. The TAs I had in undergrad taught full classes, knew the answers to every single question, and graded papers. I didn’t know how to do any of that.

Then I went to my first class. I introduced myself to the class and saw the faces of 40 undergraduates staring back at me, full of excitement and concern and boredom in equal measures. I realized that I was going to be fine. I didn’t know every answer, but that wasn’t my responsibility. My only responsibility was to the 40 people in that room. I was not there to teach them everything about the subject, I was there to help them understand what had already been taught. Being worried would not help me help the students.

I created quizzes for that class, taking notes and writing questions from those notes. I pulled questions from the test bank and edited them to better align with the lecture. I graded activities. I had students come into my office confused about terms and definitions. I offered basic study topics and techniques if people expressed concern about testing abilities. I learned the name of almost every student in that class.

The semester seemed like it flew by if I marked the time according to the syllabus. The midterm came and went. Finals loomed, and suddenly my first semester as a teaching assistant was done. It was rewarding and educational and I appreciated everything I had learned about teaching and organizing a class. I even got positive teaching evaluations. One student referenced how much they appreciated that I took the time to learn their name. At the time, it seemed like just another task I had to do, but it actually made a difference in this student’s perception of me as a teacher. I took that to heart and still do my best to learn the name of everyone in my class.

The next semester I was assigned to a course that is generally taken further on in the program. I had to grade papers this time, which worried me at first. I quickly learned how to create a rubric and stick to it. My comments were short and to the point, but I always encouraged my students to come to me and talk about how to improve next time. I got evaluations that thanked me for my quick grading (and one that complained that I took too long), my feedback, and my helpful email responses. I also was told that I was too harsh of a grader and didn’t explain the requirements before I graded. I now make sure that I grade easier the first time a student makes a mistake and set expectations early.

This semester I am a teaching assistant to a course that requires me to teach a lab section once a week. I’ll admit that it still seems weird to be in front of the class, rather than sitting in the front row taking notes, but it’s a good weird. I’m learning even more about what I should be doing to help the students get the knowledge they need. Next semester I am not taking a TA position, as I have research assistant funding available. It will be nice to focus on my research, but it will also be strange not to be preparing for class every week. Being a teaching assistant was once a hugely foreign concept to me. Now I am not sure what grad school will be like without it.