P209: Readiness for graduate school: How?
Providing talented undergraduate students with opportunities to develop their communication and interpersonal skills can prepare them for the responsibilities awaiting them in graduate school. Most students entering graduate school have no prior experience in formal teaching: the prospect of teaching undergraduate laboratory classes, or leading recitation/discussion sections for large lecture courses is daunting and rather overwhelming at first. About 10 years ago, a small-group, peer-led discussion program, meant to provide support for students enrolled in my organic chemistry classes was started at the University of North Texas. The peer-leaders are selected from former students who have excelled in the organic sequence: they are invited to serve as volunteer leaders, to engage small groups of students in discussing various organic chemistry concepts. Their weekly out-of-class meetings with the same students throughout the semester fostered mutual trust, and gave the group leaders ongoing opportunities to mentor their peers and hone numerous skills. Uniquely fulfilled, most continued to serve this way until they graduated: later, many have gone on to graduate school, medical school, etc., convinced that this experience had made them better prepared for these challenging undertakings. They have expressed their heartfelt gratitude for the leadership training opportunity they were given, typically at the beginning of their junior year, which paved the way for smooth transition into post-graduate endeavors. Interestingly, during this time, several of them also discovered their passion for teaching- sure seems like a good way to prepare for graduate school!