Great teaching changes everything

great teacher

Education is the key to building sustainable societies and individuals. In this essay I focus on identifying and describing the qualities of great teachers. If we understand the attributes of a great teacher we can develop instruments for measuring their skills. Then the instruments will make it possible to create a training program for turning out quality teachers. First I present my own experiences with great teachers and focus on examples of how great teachers have significantly impacted their students. Then I will identify the abilities of great teachers that we can measure in a university setting. In conclusion, I discuss how these can be developed into training to guide and inspire our teachers.

During my university studies, I came across many great teachers. Probably the most significant was my statistics professor. He was a very professional, determined and intelligent person. He had recently become a professor after having worked for more than thirty years for the Center of Military Aerospace, being in charge of the Psychology Department. Throughout his work experience, he had gained much insight into topics such as statistical analysis, psychological testing, assessment, training and people management. During class he was always concise and clear about the information he was trying to get across and was able to keep the students involved,. One of his greatest qualities was his passion for teaching: you could see his joy in explaining and discussing the different concepts. His ability fostered critical thinking and excitement and sparked changes in his students. All these characteristics plus charisma made him one of the greatest teachers I have had so far.

You can tell what a great teacher is like by the positive impact he has on his students. For example, once I started taking the statistics class and interacting with my professor, I noticed how much changed in the way I looked at psychological phenomena. I drifted away from snapshots and started understanding how often psychological concepts are interdependent in relationships like causalities and correlations. My critical thinking also improved and I think this was the most important skill I developed during that course. The fact that I was no longer accepting hypotheses as they were presented but started analyzing them and thinking about whether they made sense or not, helps me still in my everyday work.

When looking at the university setting, the characteristics of a great teacher can be organized into two main areas: soft-skills and hard-skills. Soft-skills refer to abilities that include leadership, time management, excellent communication abilities, strong work ethic and enthusiasm. Hard-skills on the other hand combine qualifications (certificates, degrees) with previous experience and computer and word processing knowledge.

Universities could use these characteristics to develop a training program to inspire teachers. By cultivating first of all awareness, teachers might become more critical and self-conscious. Triggering change in teachers may lead to change in students and therefore in society.

 

Writing THE proposal

The proposal is a deal-breaker, a game changer if you want. This is the main part of your application. This is the main criterion of selection, the topic, the way you write it, how you present it, how you plan it, even your motivation and what type of person you are is transmitted through these 15 pages.
Never underestimate the power of writing, make sure you make an excellent impression and you convince your admission officers that you need to be in this program.
Here are some tips on how to stand out:

1. Be organized
Think of the fact that the admission officers and professors read hundreds of proposals a day and it’s very stressful and eventually even boring. Make their job easy and be organized, they are just ordinary people that have feelings, frustrations and the only way you will ever convince them is through your writing. Here’s an idea – I saw yesterday a comedy about an admission officer in Princeton (see below) think of someone like them when writing.

2. Pay attention to the guidelines
Check on their website, research on the internet and always read their instructions carefully. If the requirement is Times New Roman 12 with a 1,5 paragraph don’t do anything different, if they want 10-15 pages never write more than that. It’s very important to show them that you are attentive to details and that you play by their rules.

3. Ask for 2nd opinions
Take your time, ask a professor whose opinion you trust to proofread it and also ask a couple of friends what they think. It’s very important that your writing is comprehensible, that you make your message comes across in a clear and straightforward way. This is a very important task as you have to write a scientific material that is delivered in a way that even someone who doesn’t know anything about the topic is instantly captured by it. At the same time, be aware that you are not writing an article for the New York Times.

4. Be original
The main aspect of your PhD is creativity: you have to bring something new to the topic, you are expected to make your own contribution. Still don’t re-invent the wheel, be very careful and again take your time analyze, think, brainstorm and write, write, write.

5. Keep it short and simple
Don’t beat around the bush. Nobody likes to read the same idea in 7 ways; you here because you have something to say, right? And seriously the admission officers and professors neither have the patience nor the time to read the same thing over and over again throughout your proposal. Don’t use the fanciest words you found in the dictionary and never try to over-impress because it will be obvious for your readers that you are trying to hard: they can tell! Just keep it simple and relaxed.

Keeping the above in mind on the content, this is the structure your proposal should have:
1. First page: Title, author, date and place
First impression is the title, try to think of it in a way that attracts the interest of the reader and at the same time gives the hint towards the concepts and the questions in your research. Sometimes the title makes the difference so never ever underestimate the power of a good title.
2. Abstract
3. Content
4. Literature review/ State of the art
5. Research questions/Objectives
6. Methodology
7. Conclusions
Appendix: Research Model, Plan

Here are some useful links where you can find in detail how to write each part of your proposal.

http://moodle.une.edu.au/pluginfile.php/191/mod_resource/content/2/examples-phd-proposals.pdf

http://newdelhi.daad.de/mainFrame/home/guideline_research_proposal.pdf

http://sydney.edu.au/stuserv/documents/thesisproposal.pdf

http://www.southampton.ac.uk/sociology/postgraduate/research_degrees/apply/how_to_write_an_MPhil_PhD_research_degree_proposal.page

http://www.exeter.ac.uk/media/universityofexeter/webteam/shared/postgraduate/pdfs/A_Guide_to_Writing_your_PhD_Proposal.pdf

I recommend reading Prof. Dr. Qais Faryadi’s article from the American International Journal of Contemporary Research on How to Write Your PhD Proposal: A Step-By-Step Guide

http://www.aijcrnet.com/journals/Vol_2_No_4_April_2012/12.pdf

How to apply for a PhD? Part 2

All right, so you found the programs you want to apply for, it’s time to get started on your applications. Please keep in mind that the entire application, selection and admission process may take at least 6 months so be sure to plan ahead.
Usually, these are the documents you will be needing for your applications:

– Exposé or proposal of the planned dissertation (a 15-20 pages ”sketch” of what you would like to research during your PhD.)
– Letter of application
– Letter of motivation a.k.a Statement of purpose
– 2-3 Recommendation letters (in my experience at least 2 have to be from your former professors)
– Curriculum Vitae (emphasizing your research/academic achievements)
– Master Degree (legalized copy or original)
– Master Degree Transcript of Records
– Bachelor Degree (legalized copy or original)
– Bachelor Degree Transcript of Records
– Language certificate (only required if you are applying for a program in another language other than your mother tongue)

Seems like a long list and lots of stuff to do, so where do you start? Try to choose the most simple, the easiest task or the one you like to most. That way you start on a positive note and you won’t loose your enthusiasm and motivation. It might take a while to get all of them done, surely the biggest amount of time will be dedicated to writing your exposé.

How to apply for a PhD? Part 1

We’ve cleared out and established a presumably strong motivation for signing up for a PhD challenge now let’s see how to do this. First thing you need to think about is that you may need around 6 – 10 months to search for scholarships, prepare documents and write your proposal. It might sound like a lot of time, but as you will find out the searching and applying might require some time and you need to prepare for travelling, interview and possibly also presenting your proposal in front of a committee.
As you get started, please have in mind that there are 2 types of programs: “the traditional PhD” and “the structured PhD”. Please see below the main characteristics.

Untitled

Great, so hopefully this has helped you decide whether you would like to pursue a traditional or a structured program and which one suits better your personal and professional life. Now you need to decide on your priorities; so think what is more important for you: what you want to research/study or where you would like to do this. During my application period I’ve come across some very interesting databases that might help you decide. Just select your options and click search, you’ll be having fun in no time.

US
http://www.hotcoursesusa.com/us/3-phd-doctoral-degree/database-management-in-usa.html
http://education-portal.com/database_phd.html

Europe
http://www.phdportal.eu/

UK
http://www.findaphd.com/

Germany
https://www.daad.de/deutschland/promotion/phd/en/13306-phdgermany-database/

You will probably find a lot of interesting programs, my suggestion would be to think of applying at least to 5 or so. I’ve noticed sometimes people prefer to apply only for 1 program, I suggest finding different funding solutions because you can never be too sure. It’s great if Plan A goes well, it’s even better if your Plan B goes well too, then you have more options.

Why should anyone write a PhD?

Surely one of the most important questions and the constant motivator throughout the process of writing your thesis is constantly keeping in mind the reason you started.
A fresh PhD graduate told me she has learned a lot from this experience and developed her presentation and research skills; has gained a lot of in-depth knowledge, has met and worked with great people. She told me she wrote her thesis because she would like to work afterwards either in Academia as a Post-Doc/Assistant Professor or in a company in the R & D Department as a Researcher/Method Specialist. Her advice was to keep in mind all the time the objectives you set for yourself at the beginning because the road can sometimes seem never-ending, there is no palpable outcome, that is not something you can actually measure and subjectivity is your biggest enemy. You will ”fight” with yourself, with others, you will be constantly criticized, sometimes strangled alone in a sea of concepts, research methods and you should be capable of managing this independently.
One of my friends, who is in his 3rd year of PhD, told me that not a day passes by that he does not ask himself why, even several times a day: he asks himself that when he goes in the morning to the university, when he receives feedback from the journals he submitted articles to, when he has writer’s block, when he has to revise his papers 10-12 times in a period of 2 months and especially when he goes home and thinks of all the papers he still has to write/read. So I asked, why are you writing this? He said his initial motivation was so he could later have a better position and a higher salary, now he’s just doing it because he cannot take it anymore and just wants to finish it already. In the end, he thinks PhD students exist so that professors can publish articles in the journals and build their academic/research reputation with cheap researchers.
Personally, I cannot think of anything else I would rather do: if the opportunity presents itself, if you have time and you want to invest in yourself don’t think twice and take it. I don’t believe this will make me a better, more capable person, surely I will acquire different skills and learn a lot and that matters. Having the work experience, I know what it means to be an employee in a multinational company, to work under tight deadlines and be constantly on the edge, always fighting to reach your target and going from the office straight home to bed because you don’t have the energy to do anything else. I have been dreaming of this for a long time but I never thought about it in a realistic way, I never thought I would go back to Uni… But here I am now. I plan to keep a part-time job and start my PhD in September. Sounds like a great plan.

Additionally, here are some interesting opinions and articles on what people think about PhDs:

– this article from The Economist on ”The disposable academic” is just great, wraps all the things you need to know
http://www.economist.com/node/17723223

– Thor May’s straightforward opinions and his experience from writing a PhD
http://www.academia.edu/1978293/Why_Write_A_PhD

– and to balance the score, Lucy Russel’s article in The Independent on why writing a PhD is still one of the most interesting and life-changing experiences
http://www.independent.co.uk/student/postgraduate/why-writing-a-phd-is-still-a-lifechanging-personal-journey-444247.html

So why should anyone write a PhD?
Hopefully the personal opinions I mentioned and the articles I referred to, gave you an overall idea on why people do this. So if you have the time and energy to invest in a 3-year project and if you have an opportunity to do so (e.g. receive a stipend) you should not hesitate.