Being an i3 Phd Teaching Fellow
I admit, this post may be nearly a year late, but I do not see it that way. It's a year long recap.
In June 2018, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to be a PhD teaching fellow with i3. The iSchool Inclusion Institute (i3) is an undergraduate research and leadership development program that prepares students from underrepresented populations for graduate study in information sciences. This program, located at the University of Pittsburgh, is different from other summer research programs because it focuses on serving this unique population and because of its length. While the students physically meet only for 4 weeks over the summer, they work remotely on a year long research project with their partners under the supervision of an experienced researcher.
2 weeks did not seem like enough time for me and my fellow researchers to teach both research design and programming; and let me tell you, it is a full 2 weeks. It is almost mind boggling how much happens during this time and how the students (and the rest of us) manage to power through the high of the adrenaline that is summer research camp. Here is a brief summary of that experience now as we inch closer to the 2018 cohort finishing up their projects.
1. You get out of it what you put into it.
Your teaching commitments is about 1.5 hours a day, which is very reasonable. And considering that there isn't any required grades, it is the ideal teaching situation. Who wouldn't want to be able to teach and run fun activities without grading? But if that is all that you are committing to while you're here, you're missing out on all the wonderment that is i3. It is more than just what happens in the classroom.
Being able to chat with the students during down time or during social activities is great. My co-teacher and I held office hours to chat with students about their projects (and what they wanted to do in the future). I recommend sitting in on some of the research and leadership talks. Take the opportunity to meet with the Pitt faculty you are interested it. I felt like my schedule was super intense and I had minimal downtime despite a light teaching schedule. BUT I felt like I got so much out from the experience. If you are only expecting to teach the 1.5 hours a day and then check out, maybe this is not the program for you. It is a great experience if you put your time into the experience of it.
2. Its the best teaching situation you'll experience
Personally, I have a difficult time with online classes. From the instructor side, the most interaction I have with students is if someone is upset at a group partner or for a deadline extension. Here, you get to teaching something you enjoy (hopefully) and you have a group of student who are smart, thoughtful, and engaged. There was never a need to force students to answer questions or to participate. They all were willing to add to the conversation. They also brought so much to the table from their own experiences. These undergraduates are thoughtful, kind, funny, and passionate. They are a joy to teach. Plus, did I mention that you don't need to grade anything?
3. You get to see them grow over the year.
The program spans for a year. Students meet over the summer, go work with their research advisor for the year, and then come back the following summer to share their work. I cannot think of many other opportunities where you get to see students you worked with progress and develop over the year. And beyond that, the program has high expectation for its students, because they are so capable.
Each year, students submit posters and papers to the iConference, an annual conference for the iSchools. At the 2019 Conference this April, i3 scholars, faculty, and teaching fellows had 9 papers, 7 posters, and 9 undergraduate symposium attendees! Even more amazing, EVERY SINGLE TEAM from the 2018 cohort had at least one submission accepted. All eight! Four posters, three short papers, and one full paper.
These are undergraduate researchers, and for many, their first time submitting for a conference, attending a conference, and their first publication. I cannot emphasize enough of how wonderful it is to see the next wave of researchers thriving. To add the cherry on top with these, if you didn't already get to see them at iConference, you return in the following summer to see how much they have accomplished. Your heart will beam with pride.
4. It is a big i3 family.
This is going to sound cheesy, but I think it's important to discuss. Because of the way i3 is set up, you are not siloed to your cohort year. The previous year students come back and meet the new cohorts of students. You meet and chat with the previous fellows and research advisors. You begin seeing them around at conferences, and they introduce you to other people they know and so forth. Someone should definitely make a network map of all the nodes and connections that is the i3 family.
On a very practical level, it is great for networking. If you are planning to go on the job market in the future, they are so many people here willing to make that introduction. If you are looking for a future collaborator, this the spot. If you're looking to catch up over a cup of coffee with a someone because you happen to be in town, you're going to meet someone here. You get to be around a group of energetic, passionate people just like you. With i3-ers being all over the world, no matter where you go, you can run into someone you know.
This summer program is just a rewarding and valuable experience for the students who get to attend, but for all the fellows and faculty involved. If you get an opportunity to be a research advisor or teaching fellow, take it. It was certainly one of the best teaching experiences (and one of the most rewarding) of my career so far.