Tomorrow I begin my second year in the doctoral program in the School of Education at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Being a doctoral student isn't quite like being a student at any other level. Doctoral work is more of an apprenticeship, although there are plenty of classes to attend and papers to write. I imagine there are a number of qualities our faculty look for in us doctoral students. During our first year, they see if we can grasp the fundamental methods of quantitative and qualitative research, and they test our understanding of the major political and philosophical issues in our field. During our third year, we'll take a comprehensive exam to measure if we have the focused expertise and vision necessary to go on to pursue work towards a dissertation that will contribute new knowledge to the field. So what do they look for in our second year? If my schedule is any indication, they must be seeing if we can maintain our sanity despite heavy workloads. I hope I'm up to the task.
The typical full course load for doctoral students is three classes (nine credit hours). To an undergraduate that sounds like an unimaginably light load, but the work is different at the doctoral level. This semester I'm taking the last of my core courses, Multicultural Education, as well as two other courses: Advanced Topics in Mathematics Education and Measurement in Survey Research. All will keep me busy.
In addition to our courses, most doctoral students beyond their first year have a 50% assistantship, meaning the work is expected to take 20 hours per week. When I came to CU, I expressed a desire to teach. Last year my appointment was a research asssistantship. I was a bit jealous of my colleagues who got to work with students, but I immensely enjoyed working with my advisor on some of his research projects. This year, however, I don't just get to teach a class, I get to teach four classes. I never thought I'd be teaching more classes than I'd be taking, and for all I know a four-class teaching load is some kind of grad student record.
The courses I'll be teaching break down like this: Three are for math and science majors who have expressed a interest in teaching, and those classes meet once per week for an hour and fifteen minutes each. In addition, those courses are co-taught and we have all the materials (lesson plans, activities, handouts, etc.) from past semesters at our disposal. My fourth class, however, is a totally different ballgame. I'll also be teaching basic statistics to undergraduates. That class meets once weekly for two and a half hours per meeting and I'm pretty much on my own when it comes to lesson planning and activities. Normally they'd give that class to a more senior grad student with experience as a teaching assistant, but this year they're taking a chance on me to do the job. Fortunately, I've got some great people around me who can offer advice and support, and if I'm smart I'll take all of it I can get.