The Joys of Guest-Lecturing as a Graduate Student

By Adrian Taylor, MSc

‘I need you to teach my class.’

That was the phrase that I heard as a graduate student at the University of Guelph a couple of Januarys ago. It can be a scary sentence to hear as a graduate student. This is particularly true for someone without a lot of experience at the front of a room leading lectures. Looking back though, it was a fantastic learning experience.

‘So…these are the topics that I need you to talk about. Feel free to cover them how you wish.’

Wait…you’re not giving me any slideshows to work with?! The first time you prepare slides for a class can feel awkward, largely because people often want more direction about what they’re supposed to do. However, this ended up being a blessing in disguise because I got to teach how I wanted and I was able to put my own spin on things!

Great…but how does one go about creating lectures that cover the required material while still also being creative?

A great way to spice things up is to incorporate your own research into lectures. You’ll naturally have a deeper connection with the content you’re teaching, and your students will likely feed off this. We have all been in a class with an instructor that doesn’t seem interested in what they’re talking about. That’s no fun and it makes it difficult to be fully engaged. Talking about your research can be quite helpful for incorporating novel content into lectures to give them their own unique flavour.

Including current events in lecture content is also a creative way to make them unique and can also serve as a great vehicle for explaining difficult concepts. What’s great about current events is that there are always new stories that develop throughout the world about a wide variety of topics. That means the possibilities are endless in terms of how they can be integrated into lectures. Current events can also be a way of incorporating a hobby or passion into lecture, introducing a personable element into your teaching, which many students like. Current events and scenarios can also be helpful for reinforcing concepts by demonstrating how they’re involved in a real-life setting.

I’ll backtrack to a couple of Februarys ago when I was teaching about the relationship between genetics and environmental factors on athletic performance. Yes, that’s a mouthful and quite a complex concept to cover.

So how did I go about addressing such a topic? Well, football is one of my favourite sports and I knew the Super Bowl was coming up…then it came to me! I used my interest in football to develop a relevant scenario linking genetics, environmental factors and athletic performance to use in my teaching.

In speaking with my students afterwards, they were appreciative of the current events and scenarios that I incorporated into lectures as they reinforced the concepts being taught. They also thought it was cool that I incorporated my non-academic interests into lectures because it showed that I’m more than just some guy teaching at the front of the class.

And that’s really it. Practice delivering your lecture before you get up there for real. Be yourself when you teach by incorporating your own experiences. Lastly, be open to having a dialogue with your students to improve your teaching for the future. Happy teaching!

Adrian is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences at the University of Guelph. 

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