Abigail Richard is what you might call a math nerd, and she’s proud of it. She’s a UC Mathematical Sciences PhD candidate doing research in geometric analysis. When asked about her research, she gleams: “So, there’s different types of metrics that we can study in geometry. The most common type is the Euclidean geometry that we learn about in high school. It’s just drawing lines and shapes on a piece of paper, but there’s other types of metrics that we can study too. When you talk about geometric analysis you’re not just focused on studying that one particular common metric from high school, but you’re interested in studying all possible types of metrics.” Her heart is clearly that of a theoretician.
But Richard isn’t just a math nerd. She’s also a dissertation fellow of the Taft Research Center, a recipient of an outstanding graduate assistant award, a teacher, and a student in the Preparing Future Faculty certificate program. “My Taft fellowship,” she says, “is enabling me to focus all my time and energy on doing this kind of research.” Before her fellowship, she had to spend a great deal of time teaching and working to pay her bills. However, when asked about her time spent teaching, her excitement triples. “That’s my hope for my future,” she says. “I truly love teaching.”
To this end, she has sought to improve her teaching abilities through the PFF program. “I know when I first started as a teacher here at UC, on my evaluations I would often score a two, but with the help of the PFF program, I’ve actually increased that to an average between four and five. So, I’d say that’s pretty good, a big improvement. I love PFF for that. PFF has opened my eyes to different ways to engage the students.” One method she learned in the program is called a gallery walk, which involves posting visuals around the classroom and motivating students to get out of their seats to review them. Richard says, “That’s just one of many new tools at my disposal.”
Two other components of the PFF program, reading groups and development workshops, have been of extreme benefit to Richard as well. “Another example of one of the things that I learned is blended learning, and after doing the reading group I thought, I’d really like to incorporate something like this in my classroom.” So, with the help of her mentor, Crystal Clough, an assistant professor in the Mathematical Sciences program, Richard began making instructional videos for her students to view outside of class. “And that was one way I started breaking the routine and trying to invigorate my students. One of my students from a classroom I had done blended learning in, he said he felt like I was teaching only to him.”
The development workshops have also been “great,” Richard says. “I went to a workshop that talked about how to develop a teaching portfolio. I’m planning to use information from that workshop to create my own teaching portfolio that I can submit to jobs.” Because Richard is interested in doing education research, which involves human subjects, she also attended a workshop on how to submit proposals for human subject research. “They taught me in that workshop how to do [human subject research], what the policies are, what constitutes human research, what doesn’t constitute human research, and what doesn’t need this kind of proposal.”
Lastly, Richard explains the benefits of the program’s two required courses, Teaching Effectiveness and Academic Job Search. “Teaching Effectiveness,” she says, “open[ed] my eyes to an entirely different way of getting students engaged that I had never experienced before. And [it built] my toolbox more, to learn new activities that I could implement.” Furthermore, in Academic Job Search, “we practiced giving elevator speeches, so I think that was really useful and great because a lot of students before that class had never really given an elevator speech before. I know I hadn’t. So it’s great to be able to think about your research and try to explain it someone from outside your field. And that actually ended up being useful for me because I got a Taft fellowship right after that semester, and guess what? The people in Taft wanted me to come in and sit down with them and explain my research to them.” All in all, the PFF program has expanded Richard’s knowledge of teaching and life as an academic.
She says of PFF, “I really love the program. It’s provided me with the opportunity to meet people outside my discipline and to develop strong relationships outside of my discipline. So I truly love the PFF program.”
Written by Patrick Barney, PFF Program Coordinator