Welcome to the GSTA blog! 

In an effort to keep the Graduate Student Teaching Association (GSTA) blog current, we regularly welcome submissions from graduate students as well as full-time faculty. Recently we have made the decision to expand and diversify the blog content to include submissions ranging from new research in the area of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL), public interest topics related to teaching and psychology, occasional book reviews, as well as continuing our traditional aim by including posts about teaching tips. The blog posts are typically short, ranging from about 500-1000 words, not including references. As it is an online medium, in-text hyperlinks, graphics, and even links to videos are strongly encouraged!

If you are interested in submitting a post, please email us at We are especially seeking submissions in one of the five topic areas:

  • Highlights of your current SoTL research
  • Issues related to teaching and psychology in the public interest
  • Reviews of recent books related to teaching and psychology
  • Teaching tips and best practices for today's classroom
  • Advice for successfully navigating research and teaching demands of graduate school

We would especially like activities that align with APA 2.0 Guidelines!

This blog is intended to be a forum for graduate students and educators to share ideas and express their opinions about tried-and-true modern teaching practices and other currently relevant topics regarding graduate students’ teaching.

If you would like for any questions to be addressed, you can send them to and we will post them as a comment on your behalf.

Thanks for checking us out,

The GSTA Blog Editorial Team:

Hallie Jordan, Sarah Frantz, Maya Rose, Raoul RobertsTashiya Hunter, Laura Mason and Megan Nadzan.

Follow us on twitter @gradsteachpsych or join our Facebook Group.

  • 04 Mar 2020 8:35 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    by Sam Sommers, Ph.D., and Lisa Shin, Ph.D., Tufts University

    We’ve been there. Even though we’re old enough that our students may assume we’ve been professors forever (literally so, in some of their minds), we still remember vividly the anxieties and uncertainties of teaching for the very first time, as graduate student instructors. Some of those original worries and challenges never go away! Others we have found ways to manage over time.

    So now that we are — let’s go with — experienced instructors, we sometimes get asked to offer advice to those who are embarking on their own teaching careers. One common question is how to balance the various responsibilities of graduate school once you add teaching to the mix. What do we say in response? Well, there’s good news and bad news when it comes to time management in graduate school. 

    First, the good news. There’s an easy formula you can follow, which varies by institution and discipline, but typically looks something like this: you should be spending 75% of your time and effort on your research, 50% on your teaching, and another 40% on your classes.

    The bad news, of course, is that the math doesn’t add up. In graduate school, not to mention faculty positions, no matter how much work you get done, there is always more work waiting. Given that you won’t be able to muster 165% of your time and effort most days, you must figure out ways to wear all these proverbial hats at one time. So, below are a few specific strategies we’ve developed for fudging the numbers in this formula — ways you can game the system, so to speak.

    1) Make these categories less mutually exclusive. Your allocation of time to research, teaching, and coursework can exceed a sum of 100% if you allow these endeavors to overlap. Incorporate your newest research project into your teaching. Use your teaching as a time to develop new research ideas. Take your graduate seminar writing assignments as the opportunity to design new research programs or explore new literature that broaden your scholarship. 

    We have also found that that research and teaching include crossover skills. Teaching well will make you a stronger researcher: talking in front of your students is an experience that will leave you far better at presenting your research at departmental colloquia and national conferences. Answering students’ questions will help you do the same in your academic talks. Devising and implementing strategies for explaining technical concepts to classes with different skill sets will serve you well when you present your work across disciplines or to lay audiences.

    2) Learn low-investment, high-reward tricks to successful teaching. You can cheat the time management percentages by learning that the little things mean a lot when you’re a teacher. A surprising number of positive teaching evaluations read something as follows: “The professor was so enthusiastic about the material,” or, “It was an excellent course that was very well organized,” or even, “It meant a lot that the instructor learned all our names.” It’s amazing how far you get as a teacher by simply paying attention to being enthusiastic, organized, and interpersonally accessible. Accomplish all three, and your teaching ratings (and more importantly, effectiveness) soar. 

    We’ve learned that so much of what makes you an effective teacher are the same characteristics that make you the type of person with whom others enjoy having a conversation. Being present and engaged. Being a good listener. Respecting others’ opinions but having something interesting to say. Being able to sense how your audience is responding (or not responding). No one likes a conversation with someone who can’t pick up on how bored you are, who can’t tell that you’re composing a grocery list in your head while they prattle on. Imagine how students feel when this happens in class.  Effective teachers can tell when their students are struggling and need a concept explained in a different way. They can sense when they’re losing the class and need to break things up with an activity or small group discussion.

    There are straightforward ways to develop and foster these skills. Remember what it is about your discipline that excited you in the first place and share it with your students.  Set up a clear plan for the structure of the course and stick to it — when modifications are necessary, explain why. And make the effort to learn your students’ names! Being enthusiastic, organized, and accessible are goals we can all accomplish without a huge amount of effort. 

    3) Be disciplined. One of the best aspects of a career in academia is that, for the most part, you’re an independent contractor who sets many of your own priorities. You must be disciplined to make it work. If you set up expectations with your students regarding how quickly you’ll respond to their emails, or regarding what type of questions you will and won’t answer over email, be sure you stick to those rules. If you must grade 40 papers in 7 days, set aside time each day for 6 papers.  It’s much less daunting than pulling a marathon session the night before they need to be done, and we’ve found that it also helps us do a better job of evaluating assignments.

    And what about when you give a lecture and realize it was a few slides too short, a few slides too long, or needs work in the middle third?  As soon as the lecture ends, make those changes to your lesson plan and/or slides so they’re ready to go for next time. Or, if you can’t pull that off, at the very least, immediately write yourself a detailed memo outlining the needed changes for the next time around. We can’t tell you how many times we’ve felt a debt of gratitude to past Sam and past Lisa for their conscientiousness from semesters prior.

    Do all these strategies work all the time? Of course not! Perhaps, more so than any other aspect of academia, teaching is all about trial and error. So, don’t be afraid to experiment.  And make sure to keep a list of what has worked well, what hasn’t, and why: believe it or not, before you know it, new instructors are going to be coming to you for advice, and you may very well start off your response with something like, we’ve been there; it feels like just yesterday that we were new instructors…

    Sam Sommers and Lisa Shin are Professors of Psychology at Tufts University, where they co-teach Introduction to Psychology.  Along with Carole Wade and Carol Tavris, they are co-authors of Psychology and Invitation to Psychology.  In addition to research programs in social psychology (Sommers) and clinical neuroscience (Shin), they collaborate on research examining the influence of textbook modality on student reading tendencies and learning outcomes, with a particular focus on how students use and learn from electronic textbooks.

  • 26 Feb 2020 7:30 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    By Flora Ma, M.S. (Ph.D. Student), Palo Alto University

    It is typical for graduate students who have completed their doctoral degrees to be thrown into institutional or faculty roles within various academic settings. However, there is much more to teaching than domain expertise. How do you help students care? How do you teach when there are so many different personalities in the room? How do you handle strong personalities? How do you cope with your own emotions and stress as a teacher?

    Many graduate schools provide minimal to no adequate training or appropriate support for novice professors. A national survey reported that 62% (146 out of 236) of graduate psychology departments prepare their graduate students for teaching with some form of teacher training (Buskist & Benassi, 2012). However, only 42% of those 146 graduate psychology departments have a formal graduate course that focuses on the teaching of psychology (Buskist, 2013). Research also shows there is a significant gap between the rated importance of training and the actual training graduate students receive on how to be an effective teacher and involved member in academia (Meyers, Reed, & Quina, 1998). In order to address this training gap, I had the opportunity to collaborate on the development of the Center for Educational Excellence (CEE) at Palo Alto University (PAU) to expand pedagogical support from faculty to graduate students.

    PAU recognizes the value of providing resources and training in evidence-based teaching strategies for instructors at all stages of their career for excellence in education through an inclusive, student-centered, and active learning environment. The vision of CEE aligns with PAU’s mission to engage minds and to improve their students’ learning outcomes and academic success of the overall university through innovative pedagogical education. The recent pedagogy shift emphasizing the importance of learning and the learner/student rather than focusing on teaching and the teacher (Barr & Tagg, 1995) has led to new expectations for faculty. These include knowing how to support students, how to facilitate active learning with the use of collaborative and innovative practical learning experiences (e.g., service in the community), and how to ensure a high-quality learning experience for graduate students. 

    PAU’s CEE provided teaching workshops that challenged me to critically think about multifaceted elements of classroom education. Instead of simply meeting course goals, I had to think about creating measurable learning objectives, accessible learning materials, and the right learning environment for my specific students. These trainings expanded my ability to navigate common teaching challenges with practical examples and integrate technology intelligently into teaching. For example, I learned about an audience polling tool, Participoll, to gather students’ learning progress and thoughts as well as how to integrate video technology like Arc video in a flipped classroom. By embedding these videos in my courses and harnessing active learning strategies during class time, I have been able to optimize learning and help students better assimilate and process concepts. Another benefit of this video resource was that it provided me with information like which students viewed the videos and when, as well as the feedback they have about the materials in real time. 

    The PAU CEE’s biggest event is our annual evidence-based teaching (EBT) conference that aims to improve faculty members’ teaching competencies to increase student classroom engagement and satisfaction and to prepare PAU students interested to enter future faculty or teaching roles. Our 2019 EBT conference sparked novel ideas, such as writing a Wikipedia entry as a course assignment and experience in publishing professional writing. Other workshops, such as one on the Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning, helped me to better understand the assumptions, cognitive processes, and key principles (i.e. segmenting, pretraining, modality, personalization) related to effective learning. 

    Here is my favorite initiative: a podcast series called “Teaching at PAU” which interviews PAU faculty members to illuminate innovative tools and perspectives on the multidimensional nature of pedagogy. This podcast fosters and strengthens the culture of continuous learning among PAU faculty, students, and other individuals interested in psychology and instruction. My favorite podcast episode (episode #4) was on pedagogy humility, which addressed the importance of cultural humility and intersectional pedagogy (i.e. effective teaching and learning strategies that address intersections of identity; Case, 2016) to continuously learn and adapt to be an effective teacher for a diverse student audience. 

    An offshoot of the student teaching summer workshops – the Society for Pedagogical Excellence (SPE) – was designed to provide year-round support for graduate student teachers across programs. Students in the SPE have been actively involved in research, often presenting their findings at the EBT conferences, and have taken leadership roles in managing student-led projects. Participating students have also gained knowledge and explored options to better prepare them for a career in pedagogy. Most recently, the SPE workshop speaker addressed general teaching competencies, ways to develop a teaching-related professional identity, and the various roles and responsibilities between research, teaching, and administrative services as a professor among different teaching contexts (e.g., research-intensive, regional comprehensive, liberal arts, community college). 

    Now’s your time. Find your local Center for Teaching and Learning or Center for Academic Excellence online. If you need help finding any and resources, I’m here for you - Find the insights that can help you the most. Find that you’ve discovered a new pedagogical home.

    Teaching is about understanding. Knowing my students and the relationships I hold with them matters as much as the content itself. Participating in the CEE has inspired me to think creatively and flexibly about how to implement strategies (e.g., the intersection of pedagogy with technology and diversity) to create meaningful results for and with my students. This is just the beginning of my pedagogy journey, and I’m relieved to know that I’m not alone. You’re not either. This insight into the CEE isn’t a secret; it’s an open invitation to join in.



    Barr, R. B., & Tagg, J. (1995). From teaching to learning—A new paradigm for undergraduate education. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning27, 12-26.

    Buskist, W., & Benassi, V. A. (Eds.). 2012: Effective college and university teaching: Strategies and tactics for the new professoriate. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    Buskist, W. (2013). Preparing the new psychology professoriate to teach: Past, present, and future. Teaching of Psychology40, 333-339.

    Case, K. A. (Ed.). (2016). Intersectional pedagogy: Complicating identity and social justice. Routledge.

    Meyers, S. A., Reed, P. T., & Quina, K. (1998). Ready or not, here we come: Preparing psychology graduate students for academic careers. Teaching of Psychology, 25, 124–126.


    Flora Ma, M.S., is a Ph.D. Clinical Psychology doctoral student at Palo Alto University (PAU) with experiences as a teaching assistant and a tutor in graduate courses including research methods and statistics, cultural differences, ethics, and professional standards. She also co-developed pedagogical evidenced-based teaching resources and co-hosted the Annual Evidence-based Teaching Conference for the Center for Educational Excellence at PAU. In her clinical work and research, Flora has focused on the intersections of culture and innovative technology in psychological interventions for underserved populations, specifically the geriatric population.

  • 11 Feb 2020 3:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    By Hallie Jordan, M.A. (Ph.D. Student), The University of Southern Mississippi

    At the Society of Teaching Psychology’s (STP’s) 2019 Annual Conference on Teaching (ACT), I had the opportunity to talk with Pooja K. Agarwal, Ph.D. about her book Powerful Teaching: Unleash the Science of Learning, co-authored with Patrice Bain, Ed.S., a middle school social studies teacher. We discussed the origins of Pooja & Patrice’s research together, explored the ways Pooja currently uses the book’s featured power tools in her college classrooms, and ended with a conversation about how I can implement these power tools as a graduate student instructor of an introductory statistics course. 

    Power Tools: Retrieval, Spacing, Interleaving, and Metacognition

    Powerful Teaching highlights four power tools: retrieval, spacing, interleaving, and metacognition. Pooja and I focused our conversation on the first two – retrieval and spacing. Retrieval is simply the practice of recalling previously learned information – what we think of when we think of traditional testing. Pooja describes this process as getting information “out” of one’s head, which counters ideas that learning is all about getting information “in.” Spacing includes retrieval; however, this is the process of recalling older information. This delayed recall, which by nature is more challenging, actually can help strengthen learning because of the challenge associated with recalling information from weeks or months ago.

    Powerful Teaching’s Origins

    As Pooja became more involved in research and teaching as a graduate student while at Washington University in St. Louis (under the mentorship of memory scholar Henry L. Roediger, III), it became apparent that teachers already use many of the strategies demonstrated to be effective for learning (e.g., retrieval). During the 2006-2007 school year, Pooja observed Patrice’s class full-time and saw just that: Patrice was already implementing retrieval practice using clicker quizzes. As their research collaboration began, they decided to begin manipulating the clicker quizzes.

    Pooja reflected on how they started by exploring effects of more vs. fewer clicker quizzes and noted “almost everything we did was a within-subjects design. For example, if Patrice was teaching a lesson on ancient Egypt, 10 of the 20 facts would be on the clicker quizzes, while 10 facts wouldn’t. Over time we played around with what if the quizzes are multiple choice or short answer, should they be online or at home, should they receive immediate or delayed feedback…it was uncharted territory!”

    This research started in Patrice’s classroom, but quickly grew to include the entire middle school and ultimately the entire school district in Columbia, Illinois (in the St. Louis area). Overall, they conducted research on the science of learning with more than a thousand students for an entire decade!

    Powerful Teaching in Pooja’s Classrooms

    The years of research Pooja conducted at Washington University in St. Louis occurred in middle school classrooms. As an instructor of college students, I was curious how these strategies transfer to classrooms in higher education. Pooja has incorporated retrieval practice in her college classrooms from the start (she teaches four psychology courses at the Berklee College of Music in Boston each semester), and this was initially through using clickers. As her teaching has evolved, she has shifted to using paper & pencil as well as GoogleForms, while acknowledging many instructors enjoy using mobile phone apps. For example, in a recent course, she incorporated spacing & retrieval practice using GoogleForms. The GoogleForm included a pre-test of neuroscience mythbusters before beginning a new unit (e.g., We only use 10% of our brain – true/false), but at the top of the form, Pooja asked her students to share one thing they learned about mental health from the last week’s lesson. So, even though they were completing a pre-test, they still had to retrieve – and the retrieval was spaced out.

    Since writing Powerful Teaching, Pooja has thought more about incorporating retrieval practice spontaneously during class rather than separately at the beginning or end of class. This highlights a significant benefit of powerful teaching strategies – they do not require significant pre-planning or grading, and they can be implemented spontaneously. If things seem to be dragging in class, the instructor can generate a retrieval question related to course content on the spot. For this purpose, Pooja likes to keep index cards on hand (she will pass them out for students to answer a spontaneous retrieval question), but notes instructors can alternatively have students write these responses on their own paper or have a “QR” code in the slides (with a little pre-planning) that students can scan to submit their response.

    When reflecting on retrieval practice using index cards, Pooja stated, “I love when students write something on an index card or piece of paper, and come up after class and give it to me – they’re expecting me to grade it. But it’s for them!” This captures the essence of retrieval practice: it is recalling information for learning’s sake, rather than for evaluative purposes.

    Powerful Teaching in My Classroom as a Graduate Student Instructor

    Pooja’s passion for helping instructors implement evidence-based practices in the classroom was no more evident than when she shifted the conversation to asking me about my classroom! We discussed strategies I could implement while teaching an “Introduction to Statistics for the Behavioral Sciences” course of 50 students. Again, none of the strategies we discussed required extensive prep time or even significant re-organizing of my class. Instead, it was just re-working a couple ways I approached teaching.

    Two Things: Prior to my conversation with Pooja, I was spending 2-3 minutes at the start of each class reviewing the main objectives from the previous class via simply reminding students what we learned. Pooja suggested I instead use spaced retrieval to accomplish this review. So, I started asking students at the start of each class to write down two things they learned last time. After they wrote their two things, they shared their two things with their neighbor, and added one of their neighbor’s two things to their list. This became a daily practice in our classroom and provided students another opportunity to practice getting information out.

    Weekly Quizzes: This is a strategy incorporating retrieval and spacing that I tried once and will absolutely implement again! Simply administer a low-stakes (key: low-stakes!) quiz at the start of class on previously learned information. This requires students to get information out at least several days after they initially put the information in. Research tells us this works. I elected to share the answers with the class at the conclusion of the quiz, where students could grade their own work (as it did not count for a course grade) and keep the quiz as a study tool. Although my students seemed initially nervous when I announced this small quiz, they were relieved at the low-stakes nature and noted this provided them an opportunity to practice their learning before a higher-stakes unit exam.

    Retrieval During Lessons: Pooja also recommended building retrieval in during the lessons – not just during exams. Throughout my PowerPoints, I added slides with a question relevant to that day’s lecture for students to answer independently. Vast research shows that, again, it is this retrieval of knowledge that is essential for learning to occur and last. When those slides came up, we would pause for students to think about and jot down their answer (in their notes), and then I would ask a student to share their response. I would provide feedback to the provided response and answer any clarifying questions that came up. In future semesters, I plan to incorporate more spacing in this exercise (so, asking a question about content from a previous class period). Additionally, I have considered ways to make this exercise more interactive through having students submit answers through a GoogleForm so we can see in real-time how the class was doing in their understanding.


    Pooja & Patrice’s work captures the reciprocal ways in which classroom experience can inform research, and then how research informs classroom experience. Pooja captured the essence of retrieval and spacing when she shared a beautiful metaphor she tells her students (who are all music students at Berklee College of Music): “As music students you have to practice your instrument, so in this class we’re going to be practicing your knowledge. The same reason you can’t cram the night before a gig, we use to approach other learning. You have to space it out, you have to practice in advance, you need feedback to know how well you’re doing; you can’t just watch someone play the piano and then just do it. You have to practice your instrument, just like we have to practice our knowledge.”

    Although we may find ourselves searching for fancy teaching strategies, at our core we know what works. When we let science guide our teaching, we can use these powerful strategies to help our students engage in effective, life-long learning.



    Check out Pooja & Patrice’s book Powerful Teaching to learn more about the research they conducted on four learning power tools (retrieval, spacing, interleaving, metacognition) as well as specific suggestions for implementing these strategies in a variety of classrooms.

    Pooja actively disseminates recommendations for implementing retrieval practice through her Retrieval Practice website and on Twitter @RetrieveLearn. You can even subscribe for a weekly email of retrieval practice suggestions straight to your inbox!

    Visit Pooja’s website for more information about her research, keynotes, and workshops.


    Pooja K. Agarwal, Ph.D. is a cognitive scientist, conducting research on how students learn since 2005. She is the author of the book Powerful Teaching: Unleash the Science of Learning and an Assistant Professor at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, teaching psychological science to exceptional undergraduate musicians. She is also the Founder of, a source of research-based teaching strategies for more than 15,000 teachers around the world. Pooja’s research has been published in leading journals; highlighted by The New York Times, NPR, Scientific American, and Education Week; and recognized by the National Science Foundation.

    Hallie Jordan, M.A. is a fourth-year doctoral student in The University of Southern Mississippi’s counseling psychology program with experiences teaching introductory psychology, statistics, and counseling theories courses. She has been a member of the Graduate Student Teaching Association’s (GSTA) Blog Editorial Team since 2018. As a member of the Behavior and Addiction Research Lab, her research focuses on college student substance use. Clinically, Hallie is interested in behavioral health and providing clinical supervision.

  • 10 Feb 2020 12:56 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By William S. Altman, Ph.D., SUNY Broome Community College

    You’ve probably noticed that as scholars, we tend to do an awful lot of writing.  We write articles, blog posts, and lots of other kinds of documents to communicate our thoughts or research findings.  Sometimes we write to help us understand what we’re trying to learn, or to clarify our own thinking about something.  But quite often, we face the daunting task of knowing HOW to get our thoughts down in some coherent way.  It would be nice to find some method to make this easier and less stressful.

    One possible solution is the V-diagram, originally developed by D. Bob Gowin at Cornell University.  Using this format will help us to develop our thoughts, organize our ideas automatically, and see where we might need more information or better connections.

    So, let’s see how using a V-diagram might help us.  The sides of the diagram represent conceptual information (on the left) and data-driven information (on the right).  The center of the V contains the focus question that the writer hopes to answer with their work.  The actual event or object that the writer has observed is placed at the bottom of the V.  In other words, once you have your focus question, you work your way down the left side to develop your experiment or observational method, and once the experiment or observation is done, you work your way up the right side to deal with the data and draw your conclusions.  In general, the entries on the left and right sides will tend to mirror one another, as you’ll see in the examples below.

    Here’s how the V-diagram is constructed:

    Just as an example, let’s use the diagram to write about research on how to be safe when hiking in the forest.

    As you can see from the example above, it would be pretty easy to translate this into a finished article or book chapter.  Tackling a typical psychological paper would be very much the same:

    In fact, this method has been so helpful over the years, I used it to help write this piece.  Here was my diagram:

    So, as you can see, the V-diagram does make writing a lot simpler.  I definitely encourage you to try it!

    You can learn more about V-diagrams by reading Learning How to Learn (Novak & Gowin, 1984) or The Art of Educating with V Diagrams (Gowin & Alvarez, 2005), or by visiting the following websites:


    Gowin, D. B. & Alvarez, M. C. (2005) The art of educating with V diagrams. Cambridge University Press.

    Novak, J. D. & Gowin, D. B. (1984). Learning how to learn. Cambridge University Press.


    William S. Altman is a professor in the Psychology and Human Services Department at SUNY Broome Community College, and currently serves as The Society for the Teaching of Psychology’s Vice President for Resources. Dr. Altman holds Ph.D. and M.S. degrees in Educational Psychology and Measurement, and an M.P.S. in Communication Arts from Cornell University, and a B.A. in History from the University of Pennsylvania. In 2018, STP honored him with the Wayne Weiten Teaching Excellence Award.

    He spent over a decade sharing information about education and psychological science on local radio, been a professional photographer, and performed in theater and as a standup comic (ostensibly to work on classroom presentation skills, but mostly because it's fun).

    Bill Altman is driven by a wide and unpredictable curiosity, an almost pathological and sometimes annoying need to solve problems of nearly any sort, and a sense that it all ought to be fun.

  • 27 Jan 2020 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Yuliana Zaikman1, Jamie S. Hughes2, and Laura Madson3

    1 Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi

    2 The University of Texas of the Permian Basin

    3 New Mexico State University

    As a graduate student TA, should you seek training in a specific teaching strategy, like team-based learning (TBL), inter-teaching, or cooperative learning? What are the risks and benefits on the job market and as an early career faculty member of having adopted a specific teaching strategy? Two of us (YZ and JH) tried team-based learning as graduate students while being mentored by LM. YZ and JH continue to use it as early- and mid-career faculty members. Our experiences with TBL have featured unexpected benefits and challenges. We will start by shortly explaining what TBL is and then discuss some of the benefits and challenges we experienced with it.

    A typical TBL module takes 2-4 weeks of class time. In TBL, the majority of class time involves students working in permanent teams (5-7 students) on disciplinary tasks that require and reward creative, critical, and collaborative thought (Michaelsen, Knight, & Fink, 2004; Sibley & Ostafichuk, 2014; Sweet & Michaelsen, 2012). For example, the instructor might ask teams to choose a mental illness that disrupts the most of one’s daily routine and have the teams justify their choices. Teams work on the same, significant problem, make a specific choice, and report their choice simultaneously. After within-team discussion, all teams report their choices and the instructor leads the full class in a discussion of different teams’ reasoning for their choices. Because there is no “right” answer, this discussion and students’ understanding of the material is enriched when teams disagree.

    TBL is a complete teaching strategy that guides all aspects of course design and assessment and leads to improved learning and student engagement (Madson, Zaikman, & Hughes, in press). In TBL, the instructor’s job is not to lecture about the material, but rather to create learning opportunities for the students to get hands-on experience with the material while working with their team members. Team activities can be graded or ungraded and students can complete typical individual examinations as well.

    TBL can be fun and engaging for instructors and students. Instructors can get to know their students better, and students (along with instructors) feel a greater sense of accomplishment after having fully explored and applied subject matter following activities and tests. Within- and between-team discussions expose students to different perspectives and allow students to practice oral communication and critical thinking skills. Further, student attendance, conversations, and course evaluations suggest they are engaged and enjoy the work.

    In addition to providing a more engaging and fun way of teaching, YZ believes that TBL may provide a leg up on the job market. It gave her something additional to discuss in her teaching philosophy statement and during interviews. Search committees almost always asked her something about TBL, and it felt amazing to be knowledgeable about such a progressive and fun method of teaching.

    There are some challenges with TBL, especially for a beginning graduate student or early career faculty member. One challenge was the necessary mental shift about the role of the instructor. For example, YZ’s original reaction to TBL was, “What do you mean I am not the center of attention, the fountain of knowledge the students ‘have’ to listen to?” YZ resisted at first. Even recently, YZ noticed that she lectured much longer than is normal for a TBL classroom. However, over time one becomes more comfortable with the flow of the TBL classroom and we feel “off” if we lecture for more than 15 or 20 minutes. 

    Another challenge with TBL is that creating interesting and productive activities is not easy. It is sometimes very difficult. For example, it is important to create activities that interest and engage students and that require students to make a specific choice. Open-ended questions can be challenging because they can be less conducive to teamwork. It can be incredibly time consuming to develop all course materials before the beginning of the semester. This means that during your first three to six years as an assistant professor, you will spend much of your time developing new courses or revising courses you had taught before. However, the amount of time spent developing courses early on is similar to the amount of time others spend to create engaging courses or lively lectures. We also find that creating activities can sometimes be even more rewarding than writing lectures.

    Starting out we created some very interesting, challenging, and engaging activities, as well as many activities that were not stimulating or challenging and were just plain bad. Over time we began to understand, more intuitively, the types of questions and response options that work best for team activities. For example, overtime we discovered the types of answers that might be attractive given a question, but that are nonetheless not correct. Creating questions with really good distractors takes practice. For example, the best activities are those in which teams must debate options that may seem equally attractive. There are workshops available through STP or the TBL collaborative that can help one improve in a number of areas, such as activity or multiple-choice question development.

    Another potential challenge of TBL is the amount of support you have surrounding you. It is highly dependent on your institution whether or not you will have teaching assistants or graders. If you have activities for every single class, someone needs to grade those! This is where having a grader can be VERY helpful, particularly if you teach large sections. However, it is not impossible to teach TBL without graders (JH has never used a grader but has had small class sizes (n < 30)). You can have students complete the activities for completion grades, or grade random questions, or you can grade only one or two components of an activity (e.g., tell teams that you’ll collect answers to questions 1 and 3).

    The lack of support can also manifest itself in lack of understanding from (or among) faculty members in your department. JH’s first department did not understand why she was using TBL. Her approach to teaching was very different from the normative method and several believed that her non-conformity was troublesome. Fortunately, JH was able to make a move to another university and her new work team encouraged her independence in the classroom.

    What can you do even if you don’t have a mentor like LM in your life?

    There are a lot(!) of resources about TBL online. We recently published an article about the applicability of TBL in psychology, but there are whole websites (; that have very useful tools for TBL. There is also a Facebook group that is primarily dedicated to TBL in psychology ( You can join it and reach out for ideas or tips. Through these domains you can try and find a mentor – someone who already practices TBL and can provide you with support while you embark on this wonderful journey of TBL[sf1] . We have found that students in TBL classrooms are more engaged, have more opportunities to practice applying and evaluating course concepts, and have more opportunities to form bonds with their classmates compared to lecture-based classrooms. As instructors, we have more opportunities to get to know our students, we find teaching TBL more challenging, and in short, we have more fun than we did using lecture methods. We hope you will give TBL a try and experience its benefits.



    Madson, L. J., Zaikman, Y., & Hughes, J. (in press). Psychology teachers should try Team-Based Learning: Evidence, concerns, and recommendations. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology.

    Michaelsen, L. K., Knight, A. B., & Fink, L. D. (Eds.). (2004). Team-based learning: A transformative use of small groups in college teaching (1. Stylus paperback ed.). Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

    Sibley, J., & Ostafichuk, P. (2014). Getting started with team-based learning (1st ed.). Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

    Sweet, M., & Michaelsen, L. K. (Eds.). (2012). Team-based learning in the social sciences and humanities: Group work that works to generate critical thinking and engagement. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing


    Yuliana Zaikman, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor at Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi. She teaches social psychology, human sexuality, experimental psychology and media psychology. Her research interests involve gender inequality such as the sexual double standard.

    Jamie Hughes, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor at the University of Texas Permian Basin. She teaches courses on social psychology, psychology and law, research methods, and statistics.  She conducts research related to teaching pedagogy, moral psychology, and social justice.

    Laura Madson, Ph.D. is a Professor in the Psychology Department at New Mexico State University. She teaches 300-400 Introduction to Psychology students every academic year using team-based learning, has written a textbook specifically for use in her team-based learning Intro Psych classes, and offers regular workshops on team-based learning for the Teaching Academy. She also teaches a graduate course in the Teaching of Psychology. Her scholarship focuses on helping instructors adopt team-based learning.

  • 24 Jan 2020 11:22 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    By Stacie M. Spencer, PhD, MCPHS University, Boston, MA

    Now more than ever, students, parents, employers, and the media are questioning the value of the bachelor’s degree. The term “return on investment” (ROI), once used figuratively in higher education to refer to intellectual growth and increased potential for employment, is now used literally as the financial relationship between the cost of education and future earnings. The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) recently used U.S. Department of Education College Scorecard data (net price, median debt, median earnings ten years after first attending college) to rank-order 4500 colleges and universities in terms of financial ROI (Carnevale, Chesh, & Van Der Werf, 2019). The Washington Post report of the Georgetown CEW report was titled “Is College Worth It?”

    You might be thinking, “Of course college is worth it!” You also might be wondering what ROI has to do with you, one instructor who only teaches a course (or a few) within the curriculum. Although you do not determine college costs or establish wages, you do have the ability to prepare students to succeed in the workforce and to help students make explicit connections between the knowledge and skills gained through coursework and employer expectations. Professional development, one of the five goals for undergraduate psychology majors established in Guidelines 2.0 (APA, 2013), includes career exploration and the development of transferable skills. Career exploration is the iterative and nonlinear process of determining which occupations best fit an individual’s work values, interests, and skills. Transferable skills include the cognitive, communication, personal, social, and technological skills developed through the psychology major that cross employment domains and are valued by employers (Naufel et al., 2018).

    Professional development belongs in the curriculum. You do not have to be a career expert or seasoned faculty member to facilitate career exploration and skill development; you just need to create opportunities for students to engage in these processes. Think about the courses that piqued your interests. Perhaps you remember as an undergraduate thinking, “I love this course! I wonder if I could find a job related to this!” For most psychology students, that line of thinking typically ends by adding “psychologist” to the course title. You might have heard students say (or said yourself) “I like social psychology, I want to become a social psychologist” or “I like human development, I want to become a child psychologist.” These course-career connections are perfectly reasonable and are easy to mentor when in alignment with your training; however, only 14% of psychology baccalaureates earn a graduate degree in psychology and only 4% earn doctoral degrees in psychology (APA, 2018). We need to mentor the remaining 86–96%.

    The best way you can support career exploration in your courses is to engage students as active participants in the process of connecting course content to real-world applications and job opportunities. Simple and effective ways to engage students in identifying real-world applications are to send them to the Divisions of APA webpage, the APA Monitor, and the APS Observer to look for ways in which course concepts are used in diverse settings. To identify course-related job opportunities, challenge students to locate bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral level job postings using job search engines (e.g.,,,, Prior to sending students on the search mission, establish search terms and criteria (Tip: for maximum search results, avoid using “psychology” as a search term).   

    When students share the information they gather, their appreciation of the breadth of applications of course content and the diversity of job opportunities grow exponentially. Working together to organize the applications discovered through the APA and APS websites, students improve their abilities to articulate concepts and examples. Writing job titles on the board and talking about respective roles and responsibilities provides a powerful illustration of the diversity of job titles and helps students see the connections between the major and potential job opportunities. Taking this one step further, identifying additional courses, volunteer, internship, and/or research opportunities that will prepare them for jobs provides the opportunity for students to take control and continue career exploration and skill development after the course ends.

    Skill development is just as important as career exploration and is often less intimidating for instructors to infuse into their courses. You can assess how well you are incorporating skill development in your courses by reviewing the five domains (cognitive, communication, personal, social, and technological) and seventeen corresponding skills described in The Skillful Psychology Student: Prepared for Success in the 21st Century Workplace (Naufel et al., 2018). If you already include activities and assignments that facilitate the development of employer-valued skills, you should make these connections explicitly clear by including skills in course learning objectives, connecting course content to skills (e.g., discuss how group think concepts can be used to improve group projects), and providing opportunities for students to reflect on skill development (Naufel et al., 2019).

    Another way you can support professional development is to design assignments that yield portfolio artifacts (i.e., evidence of skills). Artifacts can include traditional course assignments, such as APA-style research papers and slides for oral presentations; however, most employers are interested in products that more closely resemble non-academic tasks. Generating workforce-relevant assignments does not mean eliminating traditional and important assignments. For example, rather than replace the research paper, you can have students use the information submitted in the research report to create an infographic for a specific audience. Whereas the research report demonstrates critical source synthesis and writing, the infographic assignment demonstrates the ability to communicate concisely and visually with non-academic audiences.

    When designed well, professional development assignments help students identify interesting career paths, develop and demonstrate employer-valued skills, and assess the value of their investment in the bachelor’s degree as a positive ROI. For you, adding professional development assignments to your courses will result in an incredible set of student-generated examples you can use in mentoring beyond the classroom. As more departments seek ways to incorporate professional development across the curriculum, you will also be a strong candidate for faculty positions.


    American Psychological Association. (2013). APA guidelines for the undergraduate psychology major: Version 2.0. APA. Retrieved from

    American Psychological Association. (2018). Degree pathways in psychology. [Interactive data tool]. APA. Retrieved from

    Carnevale, A. P., Chesh, B, & Van Der Werf, M. (2019). A first try at ROI: Ranking 4500 colleges. Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Retrieved from

    Naufel, K. Z., Appleby, D. C., Young, J., Van Kirk, J., Spencer, S. M., Rudmann, J., Carducci, B. J., Hettich, P., & Richmond, A. S. (2018). The skillful psychology student: Prepared for success in the 21st century workplace. APA. Retrieved from

    Naufel, K. Z., Spencer, S. M., Appleby, D. C., Richmond, A. S., Rudmann, J., Van Kirk, J., Young, J., Carducci, B. J., & Hettich, P. (2019, March). The skillful psychology student: How to empower students with workforce-ready skills by teaching psychology. APA. Retrieved from

    Additional Resources

    Halonen, J. S., & Dunn, D. S. (2018). Embedding career issues in advanced psychology major courses. Teaching of Psychology, 45, 41-49.

    Spencer, S. M. (2019, October). One course, two courses, three courses, more? Providing career support throughout the undergraduate curriculum. APA. Retrieved from

    Strohmetz, D., & Ciarocco, N. J. (2019, December 9). Enhancing skill development: The potential of high impact practices. GSTA Blog. Retrieved from

    Stacie M. Spencer, PhD, is professor of psychology at MCPHS University (formerly known as Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences), director of the BS in health psychology program, and recipient of the MCPHS Trustees’ Award for Teaching Excellence. She earned a BA in psychology from Allegheny College and PhD in experimental social and personality psychology from Northeastern University. Dr. Spencer completed a post-doctoral fellowship in behavioral medicine at the University of Miami and a post-doctoral fellowship in psycho-oncology at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute. Her current research focus is on professional development and interprofessional education. 

  • 23 Jan 2020 9:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Aaron S. Richmond, Ph.D., Metropolitan State University of Denver

    Hello Graduate Students! I wanted to take this occasion to tell you that there are exciting changes coming to the Society of Teaching of Psychology’s (STP) flagship journal Teaching of Psychology (ToP) and I want you to be involved. But first, let me take this opportunity to thank Drew Christopher, the outgoing Editor-in-Chief, for his exemplary service to ToP and STP. He has helped shape our field and has guided graduate students (like me at the time) with a gentle, supportive, and constructive hand in the process of publishing their first work in ToP. His editorial style and guidance are responsible for instilling the passion of the science of teaching and learning to many of us. Thank you Drew, we will be forever in your debt.  

    Now, the exciting changes to ToP that you, as graduate students, can be a part of. First, we are integrating Open Science practices into ToP. You as an author in ToP (hint, hint) can now have your materials be open, your data be open, and include preregistration with each manuscript. Second, much like most medical journals, were moving to a structured abstract for both data and non-data driven articles. This will allow graduate students to better access, summarize, and cite the important work that is published in ToP because the structure will allow you to go directly to the results, or the method, or the educational implications. Third, we have reorganized the types of submission that you can submit to ToP. Specifically, we are now accepting manuscripts in one of four corners: Replication Corner, Proof of Concept Corner, Science of Teaching and Learning Corner, and the Scholarly Teacher Corner.

    The Proof of Concept Corner will house promising pilot studies or small-scale studies. In this corner, we are looking for  shorter articles that provide quantitative evidence for teaching and learning related interventions, establish associations in teaching of psychology variables, and/or to present descriptive data to purpose problems to solve. For graduate students, this is HUGE. It will allow you to develop the seed of an idea and get it published in a quality journal. You can then use this “proof of concept” as a rationale or evidence for a larger project like a grant proposal (hint, hint).

    The Replication Corner will encourage graduate students and their collaborators not only to replicate findings from previously published studies, but to also have some novelty to their study (e.g., different type of institution, psychology subject matter, class size, additional measures). The beauty of this corner is that it does not require you, as an overextended graduate student, to reinvent the wheel.

    The Science of Teaching & Learning Corner will be full-length articles that are data- or theory-driven, meta-analytic investigations, or conceptual position articles. Submissions to this section are meant to illuminate teaching of psychology topics with broad implications or importance to SoTL researchers.

    Finally, the Scholarly Teacher Corner will be a forum for shorter articles that provide practical reviews, activities, and/or resources for teachers of psychology to directly use in their classroom or teaching responsibilities. They can be reflective essays, practical activities, nondata driven emerging ideas, subject specific (e.g., abnormal, developmental), how to incorporate a book into your course, research reviews that illuminate findings for teachers of psychology, translating new research, issues to consider, etc. This is another type of submission that is perfect for graduate students. Typically, you won’t need IRB review (halleluiah) to write up and review these materials. For more details about the changes to ToP follow this link.

    Another change that is coming to ToP is our emphasis on involving graduate students. In the past, graduate students have not been officially involved (although they were welcome). Therefore, I’ve specifically reserved a seat on the editorial board for at least one graduate student that serves a 3-year term. I am pleased to announce that our first  graduate student and GSTA member to serve as a Consulting Editor (not just an ad hoc reviewer) is Raechel Soicher from Oregon State University. Moreover, I highly encourage you to volunteer to become an ad hoc reviewer for ToP. By becoming an ad hoc reviewer, you are on the path to becoming a member of any editorial board. It is a great line in your Curriculum Vitae. If you are interested in becoming a reviewer, please contact me @  

    Finally, I would like to leave you with a few ideas on how to create cultural shift of involving GSTA and graduate students with ToP and the field of science of teaching and learning in general. First, I want to create a mechanism by which you become more involved in the science of teaching and learning. STP is a community of teacher-scholars and scholarly teachers and the entire society starts with you. Meaning, many of us “seasoned” society members had someone who was passionate about STP, or teaching, or the science of teaching and learning that sparked a desire to be a part of this incredible community. Whether they modeled exemplary teaching, or they were incredible scholars, or whether they introduced us to STP—it started in graduate school and we are committed to this wonderfully supportive academic community. Consequently, I want to involve you in this outstanding field and especially through ToP. You may ask: How may we accomplish this task? My first idea is to suggest that you apply to be a part of STP’s SoTL Writing Workshop. Dr. Georjeanna Wilson-Doenges is the Director of this program and (a) she is incredible, and (b) if you are accepted into the program you will be matched with a scholar in our field and be mentored for over 6 months on your project. You will then meet at STP’s Annual Conference on Teaching to participate in the workshop. I have mentored several graduate students in this program and it is in an amazing opportunity to learn how to become a scholar in the field and invariably get published and do great work. My second idea is to create a mentoring program for reviewing for ToP. I would like to establish and match graduate student reviewers with experienced Consulting Editors so that they could guide students through this somewhat “implicit procedural knowledge” process. In other words, there are weird social norms and templates used to review manuscripts that most students do not receive guidance or training on—they are just expected to know how to do it. Thus, having someone who has literally done 100s of reviews is extremely important.

    I would like to leave you with an open invitation to contact me about what I have proposed, ToP, career advice, or whatever you would like. I welcome your thoughts and wishes.

    Dr. Aaron S. Richmond is a professor of educational psychology at Metropolitan State University of Denver and is the Editor-in-Chief of STP’s flagship journal Teaching of Psychology. In more than 85 publications involving over 50 undergraduate and graduate students, Dr. Richmond has explored effective pedagogical approaches to instruction in both the k-12 and higher education setting. He is a passionate and accomplished teacher who loves to engage and mentor his students. 

    Contact Dr. Richmond via email ( or Twitter (@AaronSRichmond).

  • 13 Jan 2020 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Jeffrey D. Holmes, Ph.D., Ithaca College

    Since you are reading this blog, it is likely that you aspire to become the most effective teacher you can be.  Perhaps you are already teaching or are working as a teaching assistant for college classes.  Perhaps you attend teaching conferences or read empirical research about teaching.  If you are particularly lucky, you may have had the opportunity to take a course designed specifically to teach you how to teach.  You may even consider yourself to be passionate about teaching.  Although “follow your passion” is a common mantra that does not always represent sound or realistic advice, it is quite relevant to your career as a teacher because such intangible teacher variables likely have a substantial impact on student outcomes. 

    There is extensive scientific literature on the relative effectiveness of various pedagogical strategies.  For at least a century, researchers have been on a perpetual search for the techniques likely to yield the greatest benefit in terms of student learning.  These researchers have provided us with expansive ideas about how to approach our roles and responsibilities as educators.  To be sure, such research is sometimes used to advocate for exclusive implementation of certain strategies and the denigration of others.  Findings often are discussed—perhaps unintentionally—in falsely dichotomous terms as if even a single study, at a single institution, often in a single academic subject, revealing modest effects without controlling for a host of relevant variables justifies sweeping, generalized conclusions such as “lectures don’t work.”  It is certainly true that some studies show certain methods to be superior to others in certain contexts and for certain objectives, but virtually none of these studies control for the interests, motives, engagement, or other characteristics of the teachers who implement the strategies.  Moreover, most studies comparing teaching methods are conducted by instructors who are invested in the efficacy of a specific method; therefore, conclusions warrant particular caution especially since blinded studies of teaching strategies seldom are feasible (see Springer, Stanne, & Donovan, 1999).    

    Even in light of such methodological limitations, the difference in student learning outcomes associated with differing teaching strategies tends to be small.  This is not to malign the critical efforts of those who conduct pedagogical research, as it is extraordinarily challenging to conduct studies that are both methodologically rigorous and ecologically valid in terms of actual classroom implementation.  Nor is it to say that what we do in the classroom does not matter or that we should not carefully scrutinize our strategies and objectives.  However, mountains of research data have not helped educators to identify methods that are unambiguously superior across instructors, students, and contexts.  Moreover, meta-analyses sometimes indicate that as study quality improves, effect sizes indicating differential effectiveness of various strategies declines (e.g., Kavale & Forness, 1987).   

    The disappointing reality is that differential teaching strategies are associated with less variance in student outcomes than we might like to think (Detterman, 2016; Jacob, Lefgren, & Sims, 2009).  The more palatable interpretation is that as long as instructors are motivated in their work and passionate about student learning and inspiring students to think, there is little evidence that varying teaching strategies will have a dramatic separate effect.  Aspiring teachers, as well as those with years or decades of experience, would be wise to maintain their familiarity with the scientific research on teaching.  Such familiarity helps us to continue moving incrementally forward in our endeavors to help students learn, and it also helps us to avoid unproductive paths such as attempting to teach students according to their presumed learning styles (Pashler, McDaniel, Rohrer, & Bjork, 2009).  Most people who take the time to conduct or consume pedagogical research are probably already among the most passionate instructors.  Research comparing the effectiveness of teaching methods is a critical tool for those wishing to maximize their teaching efficacy, but lesser-studied factors such as teacher enthusiasm, engagement, and rapport with students may be just as important.  There is little reason to hope that any teaching method will counteract the detrimental effects of a disengaged instructor; however, there is likewise little reason to fear that any method will substantially disadvantage students when implemented by a passionate, reflective, inspiring instructor.      


    Detterman, D. K. (2016). Education and intelligence: Pity the poor teacher because student characteristics are more significant than teachers or schools.  The Spanish Journal of Psychology, 19, 1-11.

    Jacob, B. A., Lefgren, L., & Sims, D. P. (2009). The persistence of teacher-induced learning. The Journal of Human Resources, 45, 915-943.

    Kavale, K. A., & Forness, S. R. (1987). Substance over style: Assessing the efficacy of modality testing and teaching. Exceptional Children, 54, 228-239.

    Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2009). Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9, 105-119.

    Springer, L., Stanne, M. E., & Donovan, S. S. (1999). Effects of small-group learning on undergraduates in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 69, 21-51.

    Jeffrey D. Holmes, Ph.D. is Professor of Psychology at Ithaca College where he teaches courses on psychological testing and assessment, abnormal psychology, controversies in psychology, and introductory psychology.  He is the author of Great Myths in Education and Learning, and has published research in journals such as Teaching of Psychology, The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, Basic and Applied Social Psychology, and the Social Science Journal.  He is currently Treasurer of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology, and he is a licensed psychologist specializing in psychological testing.

  • 02 Jan 2020 1:54 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Dr. Guy A. Boysen, McKendree University

    My wife and I were recently on the market for a car. We had a list of “must have” features: four doors, a sunroof, heated seats, under 30,000 miles, and less than 4 years old. When a pushy salesperson tried to get us to drive cars without these features, my reaction was “Not interested, bye,” not “Yes, I would love to buy different car than I asked for!” Academic search committees can be choosy too.

    Faculty positions in psychology often yield dozens of qualified applicants. As such, search committees can be selective. Poor fit is a kiss of death that leads to automatic rejection (Boysen, Morton, & Neives, 2019). Getting on the short list of applicants to be interviewed requires nearly perfect fit with the qualifications listed in the job advertisement.

    Lots of great cars sit undriven on car lots, and lots of highly qualified candidates get rejected for faculty positions. No, I do not want an SUV, even if is top of the line. And, no, your amazing record of research or teaching will not get you a job unless it matches what the search committee is looking for.

    The importance of fit cannot be overstated. In fact, there are several different types of fit to consider when applying for faculty positions (Boysen, 2019).

    Specialty Area

    The first type of fit to consider is specialty area. Search committees want someone with training and experience that falls into a specific area (e.g., clinical, cognitive, social). Candidates from other areas will be rejected. Despite all the work some candidates put into writing application materials that make themselves seem qualified for positions outside of their specialty area, the first line of their CVs may be the only thing search committees read if it lists the wrong specialty.

    Research vs. Teaching

    The second type of fit is with an institution’s relative focus on research and teaching (see more on this topic here). For example, as illustrated by the figures, faculty at doctoral universities report that having few publications is very much a kiss of death that leads to automatic rejection, but they are only somewhat kisses of death at master’s universities and baccalaureate colleges (Boysen et al., 2019). Teaching experience is essential too, but it follow the opposite pattern of importance by university type. Of course, at community colleges, there are no scholarship requirements, so extreme research productivity in the absence of teaching experience is a sign of poor fit.

    Teaching and Research Topics

    Job advertisements often list specific courses that successful candidates will be able to teach and specific areas of scholarship that successful candidates will be able to publish in. Although a candidate’s teaching and research area often overlaps with their specialty area, the two are not synonymous. Two psychologists in the same specialty area can have nonoverlapping teaching and research experiences. It is best not to stretch the truth about who you are as a psychologist. Neither you nor your future employer will be satisfied if you are hired to teach or do research in an area that does not fit your interests or expertise.

    “Additional” Qualifications

    Job advertisements can include a host of additional qualifications. Just to name a few examples, search committees may want candidates who know advanced statistical methods, who are dedicated to liberal arts education, who have assessment experience, or who have a commitment to diversity. Although qualifications like these may be categorized as “preferred,” “ideal,” or “additional,” do not treat them as optional. You can apply for positions where your CV does not cover every additional qualification, but you should take care to explain why you still think you are good candidate even without some of the qualifications. Ignoring holes in your CV is yet another kiss of death.

    Conclusion: Your Final Checklist

    When my wife and I were looking for cars, we created a list of features that became our car-search guide. You can do the same during your job search. Use the qualifications listed in job advertisements as a checklist for your application materials. Ensure that your materials – especially your CV and cover letter – demonstrate fit with most everything on the checklist. The search committee is assessing fit, and you should too.


    Boysen, G. A. (2019). Becoming a psychology professor: Your guide to landing the right academic job. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    Boysen, G. A., Morton, J., & Nieves, T. (2019). Kisses of death in the psychology faculty hiring process. Teaching of Psychology, 46, 260-266.


    Guy A. Boysen, PhD, is a Professor of Psychology at McKendree University. He received his Bachelor’s degree from Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota and his PhD from Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. His scholarship emphasizes the teaching of psychology, professional development of teachers, and stigma toward mental illness. He is the author of Becoming a Psychology Professor: Your Guide to Landing the Right Academic Job and An Evidence-based Guide to College and University Teaching. Dr. Boysen is on the editorial staff at Teaching of Psychology and Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology. Visit

    Contact the Author

    Twitter: @guyboysen

  • 09 Dec 2019 7:25 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Karen Brakke, Ph.D., Spelman College

    One of my intellectual heroes is Jerome Bruner.  In graduate school – back in the last century – it was his writings on infant language acquisition and skill development that guided my thinking.  As my research interests drifted into early motor development, I stepped away from Bruner in favor of another hero, Esther Thelen.  Then, around 2010 I joined a faculty book club on my campus and read Acts of Meaning.  I fell for Bruner all over again; this time focusing on his arguments about the use of story and narrative to share meaning and create identity.  Since that time, I’ve had the good luck to engage in a number of collaborations that have convinced me that story and narrative are critical tools for psychology instructors, and that these tools can be used to advantage in many ways.

    Stories themselves are not new, of course, nor are the narratives or frames used to tell them.  In fact, the power of story lies in its timelessness.  Our ancestors have told stories since the dawn of recorded history, and probably for generations before that.  Indeed, in many ways our brains are built to create and learn through stories. Throughout the millennia and across all cultures, as Bruner argues, stories have been used as a way for people to share experiences, pass along knowledge and wisdom to others, and provide frames of meaning to our lives.  In short, stories have long been the tools of education.

    One of the goals of contemporary teaching, particularly in this age of staggering data proliferation, is to help students generate meaning about what they learn. Why not use stories to help do this?  As psychologists teaching about human behavior, many of us already use stories to support our work in the classroom. We may do so, however, with little thought other than wanting to provide an illustrative example here and there. Or we may write case studies without fully realizing the narrative devices that make some cases more effective than others.  We may not take advantage of all the ways that stories can be used in our classes to introduce or assess material, to reinforce and apply concepts, or even to help our students practice life-authorship as they prepare for adulthood.

    This blog doesn’t provide nearly enough space to discuss all the ways in which story can support teaching and learning.  Fortunately, there are many resources available that support the pedagogical use of story in higher education.  Several websites are devoted to the art and craft of storytelling. Among these is Tim Sheppard’s site (, which provides a clearinghouse of resources that you may find helpful. If you are interested in digital storytelling, the Creative Educator website  ( is a good place to start.  The National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science ( provides a host of resources on case-study development and has several psychology-relevant case studies available for use as well. 

    Other resources not only provide practical ideas to use in the classroom, but also delve into the science behind storytelling.  For a quick overview of using story to teach psychology, I recommend three articles: Green and Brock (2000), Hazel (2008), and Landrum, Brakke, and McCarthy (2019).  One of my favorite sources of inspiration – and not just because I worked on it – is Telling Stories: The Art and Science of Storytelling as an Instructional Strategy, an STP ebook available for free download at Collins & Cooper’s The Power of Story: Teaching Through Storytelling is a handy book as well.  For a deeper dive into the role that stories play in human development and culture, I suggest (of course) Bruner’s Acts of Meaning and Actual Minds, Possible Worlds; Brian Boyd’s On the Origin of Stories, or Jonathan Gottschall’s The Storytelling Animal.  Once you start looking, you’ll find a wealth of additional resources to support different uses of story in your teaching.  If you take the time to explore and let your creativity flow, I’m confident you’ll find a lot of engaging and effective ways to expand your teaching toolkit with story.


    Boyd, B. (2009). On the origin of stories: Evolution, cognition, and fiction. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

    Brakke, K. & Houska, J. A. (Eds.). (2015). Telling stories: The art and science of storytelling as an instructional strategy [ebook]. Retrieved from

    Bruner, J. S. (1990). Acts of meaning (Vol. 3). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

    Bruner, J. S. (2009). Actual minds, possible worlds. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

    Collins, R., & Cooper, P. J. (2005). The power of story: Teaching through storytelling (2nd ed.). Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.

    Gottschall, J. (2012). The storytelling animal: How stories make us human. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

    Green, M. C., & Brock, T. C. (2000). The role of transportation in the persuasiveness of public narratives. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology79, 701-721.

    Hazel, P. (2008). Toward a narrative pedagogy for interactive learning environments. Interactive Learning Environments16, 199-213.

    Landrum, R. E., Brakke, K., & McCarthy, M. (2019). The pedagogical power of storytelling. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 5, 247-253. DOI: 10.1037/stl0000152 

    Karen Brakke is Associate Professor of Psychology at Spelman College in Atlanta GA, where she teaches a variety of courses and serves on several committees.  A developmental psychologist by training, she has published on early cognitive and motor development as well as teaching and learning.  Brakke is active in the Society for the Teaching of Psychology and has participated in many of the organization’s initiatives over the years. 

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