Graduate Teaching at MIT Biology

Word cloud of words related to teaching


Teaching is an integral part of the Biology graduate training program at MIT. Graduate students at MIT Biology serve as teaching assistants (TAs) for two semesters; once in their second year and once in their fourth year. TAs provide indispensable support to both the instructors and students.

Why do we teach?

Teaching offers an opportunity for graduate students to gain valuable skills as scientists and researchers, and provides potential career opportunities for those interested in teaching careers. Education literature shows there is synergy between graduate student research and teaching: students who learn evidence-based teaching practices have increased confidence in research preparedness and scientific communication. Biology TA training is designed to provide an opportunity for graduate students to learn and apply the skills required for teaching. The key learning goals for Biology graduate TAs are described below.

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“I would try to share the perspectives that had led to my appreciation of a nuanced concept in biology. These practices help motivate students from diverse backgrounds to learn the fundamentals that are taught in an introductory-level course.”
Manraj Gill, Li Lab

TAs should be able to…


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“Make sure you learn people’s names and how they say them, because it shows that you’re interested in their wellbeing.”
Anonymous former TA

Who and what do we teach?

MIT Biology graduate students gain valuable experience teaching both undergraduate and graduate students. All undergraduates are required to complete 7.01x (Introductory Biology) as a part of the General Institute Requirement (GIR). Most second-year graduate students serve as TAs for one of these large-lecture Introductory Biology classes, offered in both the spring and fall semesters. In their fourth-year, TAs teach other graduate and upper-level undergraduate subjects offered by the department. Read the full list of classes that Biology graduate students TA (full descriptions are available via the Registrar’s Office).

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How do we learn to teach?


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“I would sometimes pepper in little stories about when I was an undergrad. It’s a good way to connect with them and validate that college is really hard.”
Erika Weiskopf, Reddien Lab

Graduate Teaching Awards

Each year, the department selects a number of students for their excellent performance as TAs. Outstanding TAs can be awarded the Gene Brown-Merck Teaching Award, the Theresa Keng Graduate Teaching Prize, or the Biology Department Award(s) for Excellence in Teaching.

Criteria for these awards are based on feedback from the students taking the class and the faculty/instructors leading the class. In the student evaluations, the department looks for evidence that the TA engaged with students during recitation and office hours, as well as evidence that these interactions impacted the students’ ability to learn the material. In the letters of support from faculty and instructors, the department looks for examples of the TA’s outstanding contributions to class organization and execution, including anticipating or solving problems that arise. Most importantly, the department seeks evidence of the TA’s ability to encourage and improve student performance, as well as compassion for students who are struggling. All of these criteria are combined in a holistic evaluation process to identify a set of TAs who receive recognition each year.