Experiential Learning Helps Educate the Next Generation of Professors

Ph.D. students talking

Whitman Clubs Complement Classroom Learning With Real-World Skills

When one thinks of experiential learning in higher education, the concepts that often come to mind are internships, real-world projects and hands-on activities.

Students often engage in these types of activities to discover what their chosen career paths will be like for them on graduation. And when one is a doctoral student, experiential takes on a different meaning. For doctoral students, who are preparing to be researchers and teachers, an important part of their experiences are in classrooms and at conferences. In fact, teaching complete courses and presenting research to colleagues are requirements all doctoral students ought to meet to graduate.

Michel Benaroch and student
Michel Benaroch (left) with a former Ph.D. student

“We begin preparing our Ph.D. students early, starting with an orientation upon their arrival to Whitman,” said Michel Benaroch, associate dean for research and Ph.D. programs at Syracuse University's Martin J. Whitman School of Management. “They attend a short program, side by side with our newest full-time faculty members, which covers the basics of syllabus creation, grading rubrics and teaching best practices.”

At Syracuse University, all doctoral students attend a general teaching assistant orientation, which covers a little bit of everything they need to know to teach.

The Whitman School takes it a few steps further. It offers students a series of training workshops that provide them with a deeper dive into teaching concepts and approaches. One example is a workshop on how to use instructional technology inside and outside the classroom. More significant is the pairing of every doctoral student with a full-time faculty member, so they can shadow a course for a full semester. This helps doctoral students prepare for the courses they will actually teach at the Whitman School.

“Our Ph.D. students teach the introductory courses for the most part,” said Benaroch. “Together with their faculty mentor, they prepare materials and assignments for the course, which helps them learn not only how to do those activities but also assists them in finding their own unique approach.”

One of the students currently shadowing an accounting professor of practice is Ying Zhang, an accounting doctoral student. MaryAnn Monforte, a longtime student- favorite teacher, is helping Zhang get acclimated to the classroom; Zhang will teach Introduction to Accounting this summer.

“As teachers who seek to disseminate knowledge, we need to learn how to effectively communicate with students; merely being knowledgeable about the materials is not enough,” said Zhang. “In-classroom communication skills are very different from those for academic research presentations. Shadowing the class is helping me to get prepared.”

Zhang added that she also teaches two recitation sessions every week, which is a great opportunity to practice teaching skills. “I’m more comfortable with teaching and ready for my very first teaching of a full course this summer. I look forward to it."

“Ying has been coming to my classes, observing me and taking notes, trying to hone her craft and determine how she will deliver the material when it’s her turn,” said Monforte. “If you’ve never had the experience of being in front of people, that transition can be scary. The ability to shadow someone whose focus is teaching helps take the fear away so she can be successful.”

Ph.D. student in the real estate center
A current Ph.D. student teaching

Monforte said the opportunity to mentor offers the best of both worlds for the doctoral students, who also are mentored by research faculty members who prepare them for life as researchers.

“I’ve embarked on a project pipeline that will hopefully jump-start my career and relieve some of the pressures associated with the transition to an assistant professorship.” – James Bort

Doctoral students also get an early start when it comes to research. Their first summer they choose a research project to work on and they present their progress during the fall and the spring semesters of their second year. This all counts toward a six-credit course that gives them their first experiential opportunity to carry out research work on their own and complete a full paper. Students are expected to submit these papers to academic conferences, often being accepted as presenters, extending their experiential learning even further.

“It’s important for them to know what it takes to lead a esearch project. This is important for their career because in many cases these projects become the basis for their doctoral dissertations,” said Benaroch. “All doctoral students in the program are invited to attend these presentations, allowing them to learn from each other.”

“I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be able to share my research at numerous top management and entrepreneurship conferences and doctoral consortia, most recently winning a best paper award with Professor Todd Moss at the 15th Annual Social Entrepreneurship Conference hosted by University of Southern California” said James Bort, doctoral student in entrepreneurship. “Our focus on hands-on, collaborative research is also extremely beneficial. I’ve embarked on a project pipeline that will hopefully jump-start my career and relieve some of the pressures associated with the transition to an assistant professorship.”

“We’re preparing our doctoral students for their first academic appointments, and experiential learning is the key to making them effective knowledge creators and knowledge disseminators,” said Benaroch. “By allowing them to teach and conduct research in the real world we are ensuring that they are bringing the right set of credentials to their searches for jobs as young new professors.”