Doctoral Student Preparation

Boston University Focus on Future Faculty (BUFFF)

Studies show that students who have a strong foundation in teaching and pedagogy are more effective researchers because they already know how to teach at the onset of their independent research careers. Effective doctoral student teaching also benefits the undergraduate students taught by these doctoral students. The goal of the BUFFF Community is to share ideas, materials, and plans for how to best prepare our doctoral students to become future faculty, and to do so for their full role:  teaching and professional engagement. There are currently 111 faculty members in the BUFFF group and Blackboard site.

Boston University Focusing on Future Faculty (BUFFF) is a working community of faculty who are interested in preparing our doctoral students for the teaching dimension of their future faculty role. In parallel to this initiative, we have engaged in the 23-University Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning (CIRTL) group, which is focused primarily on preparing future faculty in STEM areas. CIRTL has three key pillars: Teaching as Research, Learning Communities, and Learning Through Diversity. We hope to both find synergies between our BU initiatives and CIRTL activities as we move into the coming academic year.

On Friday, March 22, the Center for Excellence and Innovation in Teaching and the Office of the Provost held a symposium focusing on where we are – and where we hope to go – with preparing doctoral students to be effective teachers and mentors. Associate Provost for Graduate Affairs, Timothy Barbari, and Associate Provost for Undergraduate Affairs, Elizabeth Loizeaux, collaborated with CEIT and attended this event.

We were honored to have many department chairs, graduate program directors, faculty, and doctoral students to attend.

The Symposium was held in the Photonics Colloquium Room (906) on the 9th floor of the Photonics Center (8 St. Mary’s Street).

Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning (CIRTL)

CIRTL is the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning out of University of Wisconsin, which has developed, implemented, and evaluated training in teaching for future faculty over the past 10 years. CIRTL expanded to 6 institutions in 2007 and to 23 in 2012, including Boston University. The CIRTL Network mission is to broadly impact undergraduate STEM education in the US by greatly expanding the training in effective and evidence-based teaching practice among graduate students and post-docs who are the nation’s future faculty. Boston University, as part of the CIRTL Network, is building training in STEM fields by providing access to courses, materials, and activities to help train grad students and post-docs in teaching. The attached documents describe BU’s vision in CIRTL, as well as the outcomes of the CIRTL program over the last 10 years.

The following is a brief outline on CIRTL as provided by their website:

CIRTL has focused for the last decade on the leverage point of preparing the future national STEM faculty to be both excellent teachers and excellent researchers. Since ~80% of STEM PhDs are granted at only 100 research universities (NSF, 2009), targeted intervention before graduates transition into faculty positions can have a huge impact in education at the 4,400 U.S. research universities, comprehensive universities, liberal arts colleges, and community and tribal colleges. CIRTL seeks to improve STEM undergraduate education through a national faculty committed to implementing and advancing effective teaching practices and thereby contribute to increasing the number and diversity of those working in STEM fields and the STEM literacy of the nation. CIRTL has developed, implemented, and evaluated strategies for preparing future faculty[1] for careers that integrate research, teaching, and learning based on three core ideas:

  • Teaching-as-Research (TAR) is the deliberate, systematic, and reflective use of research methods by STEM instructors to develop and implement teaching practices that advance the learning experiences and outcomes of all students;
  • Learning Communities (LC) bring together groups of people for shared learning, discovery, and generation of knowledge. To achieve common learning goals, a learning community nurtures functional relationships among its members;
  • Learning-through-Diversity (LtD) capitalizes on the rich array of experiences, backgrounds and skills among STEM undergraduates and graduates-through-faculty to enhance the learning of all. It recognizes that excellence and diversity are necessarily intertwined.

Building on these core ideas CIRTL has developed, implemented and evaluated institution-wide programs that demonstrably prepare future faculty to implement evidence-based, high-impact teaching. A study of CIRTL learning outcomes analyzed responses from 312 high-engagement (>15 contact hours) participants in 39 offerings and more than 90% expressed TAR ideas, discussed assessment/evaluation, and called out defining learning outcomes. 57% integrated the presence of diverse learners and nearly half included learning community ideas in their responses. 72% of the respondents noted the importance of understanding learners, and emphasized cognition, and learning and development (Pfund, 2012, ).

A longitudinal study of 83 CIRTL-trained future faculty begun in 2005 (currently 80% in higher ed; 50% in undergraduate education; 30% tenure-track) discovered that their current perceptions of learning gains from their CIRTL experiences include diversity of perspectives; importance of engaging students in active learning; connections between teaching and scientific research; and design and organization to meet specific learning goals (Benbow, Byrd & Connolly, 2011 ). 76% use CIRTL knowledge and skills in their current undergraduate teaching. Also, they reported that their participation contributed significantly to their early-career success—namely job satisfaction, time-to-first-grant, peer approbation, and seeking out membership in learning communities at their new campuses.

Participation in the CIRTL Network contributes to institutional change within the partner universities (Micomonaco, 2010). A 7-year study of Institutional Portraits shows that the Network contributes to the development of new institution-level programs for graduate student professional development; new departmental grad courses and seminars on improving undergraduate education; STEM discipline- and cross-discipline learning communities; expanded professional development opportunities for individual faculty members; and many course and classroom innovations developed and evaluated through collaborative TAR projects of future and current faculty.

The CIRTL Network expansion to 23 major research universities means we represent 22% of the national STEM PhD production. Our current goal is to graduate annually 2,200 potential future faculty with CIRTL preparation to be effective teachers. These future faculty are the foundation for long-term, sustained national transformation of all institutions of higher education toward substantial increase in use of evidence-based teaching and learning practices.


[1] “Faculty” includes all undergraduate instructors and “future faculty” are graduate students and post-docs, including those that may not follow careers into undergraduate teaching and research.

For more information on CIRTL, please click here.

GRS Teaching Fellow Orientation

This one-day fall orientation program, held the week before the fall semester starts, provides graduate teaching fellows with teaching-related University guidelines as well as instructional tips. GRS also sponsors a longer orientation program for new teaching fellows whose native language is one other than English.