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% How to Succeed in the Miami University Geography Graduate Program

You and the Department

Compared to your role as an undergraduate, you will likely find graduate school to be an adjustment. On one hand, academic expectations rise fairly substantially, and you may feel yourself struggling at times to keep up. On the other hand, most of you are also taking on new roles as teaching assistants. At times you will likely feel these two roles in some tension. This course is designed to prepare you for this new experience, and to give you some tools and resource to draw on as you adjust.

In the Miami Geography Department, there are two primary models for the work that teaching assistants do:

  1. primarily supplementing a lecture course by providing grading and logistical help
  2. more direct instructions overseeing labs or discussion sections

The first case involves more background work where you will typically not be interacting extensively with students, outside perhaps of office hours. The second involves much more direct and extensive interaction with students, where you are actually contributing to instruction. Each role relies on different skill sets: the first in particular on organization and attention to detail, and the second on inter-personal communication.

Engaging Students

If you have a role as a teaching assistant, a large part of your responsibility is to the students, and the professor, you serve. This may be the most difficult transition for you, as you are asked to move from being a typically-passive consumer of information, to now being asked to help teach. No matter what your specific role, central to doing this job well is learning how to effectively engage students.

There are no silver bullet answers on how to effectively enage students. What may work for one class or situation may not work well for another. Above all then, success tends to be more likely when you adopt certain habits, like:

Be Prepared : Know your material as well as you possibly can, and learn about your students as quickly as you possibly can. This knowledge will give you more room to navigate as you encounter new issues and challenges. Pay Attention and Be Responsive : So much of successful teaching is about interpersonal relations; not only between instructors and students, but also among students. To the degree possible, look to optimize these interactions to everyone's benefit. This suggests paying attention to when students are struggling, and when they're engaged, and then using that information to adapt. Take note of problems that crop up, and talk through them with others.

Grading and Logistics

If student engagement puts you front stage in interacting with students, grading and other logistical work associated with maintaining a class is obvious background work. Nevertheless, as you will see, the frontstage and backstage are linked.

Balancing Priorities

As you might imagine, there will be times your two roles will be in conflict. There are only so many hours in a week, and sometimes this will involve strategic balance. The more organized and prepared you are, the easier it will be to balance these priorities.


Ultimately, success will come through the ability to adapt and to adjust. Being able to do so will come from your ability to exploit existing resources.

The Graduate Bulletin : You can pretty much think of this as the manual for the Geography MA program. Anything you need to know about policies and curriculum should be here; if it's not, ask.

The Howe Writing Center : The Howe Writing Center at King Library can be a resource to help your students with their writing. It can also be a resource to improve your own writing to reflect the heightened expectations of graduate school.