PhD Students

"This was Huge": Teaching Scholars Share Their Experiences

Paula Harper '19PhD, Historical Musicology

The GSAS Teaching Scholars Program, begun in 2012, is a professional and academic development initiative that allows advanced PhD students the opportunity to design and teach an undergraduate course in their area of expertise. In doing so, they sharpen their teaching skills, enhance the curriculum, and prepare for the job market. To date, more than 200 GSAS Teaching Scholars from 22 departments have participated in this program.

In this second installment of our three-part series, Teaching Scholars in the Department of Music share their experiences.

Paula Harper, ’19PhD, Historical Musicology  

Paula Harper is a Postdoctoral Fellow at Washington University in St. Louis. She will teach a version of her Teaching Scholars class, on women in music video, at Washington University.

I designed and taught my class “Divas, Monsters, Material Girls: Women in Music Video” in Fall 2017. I thought I was going to have a class composed of music majors, but actually the majority of my students were not. There were 15 students and two auditors. It was a diverse group of students in terms of which disciplines they were coming from. It was a total delight to have students with very different perspectives. 

I had been teaching Music Humanities in the Core Curriculum, and there is a decent amount of syllabus design with that class. But starting from scratch and having to make decisions about syllabus design, course objectives, and so on was new for me. Since it was a small class, I could think about course objectives not only for the entire class but even for each individual student. 

Because the course was related to material I was working on for my dissertation, teaching it gave me the opportunity to read things that I had not yet had the chance to, and I also got to reread key texts and refamiliarize myself with them. So it was an opportunity to reengage with material, which was useful for my scholarship.

The course was the superstar on my CV. It definitely set me apart in the job market. Even though I had a lot of pedagogical experience from teaching Music Hum, it was useful to be able to say, “I designed and taught my own course.” That was huge, especially because when you’re on the job market as an ABD or as a recent PhD, you are being looked at by committees as someone who would need to be ready to teach a bunch of courses that you’ve never taught before. So being able to show that you have put together a semester-long class was very valuable. I assume that it set me apart from other candidates. 

It was also useful that my advisor, Ellie Hisama, had to observe me because she was my recommender, and since she was in the classroom and had concrete examples of my best teaching work, she could fold that into the material she wrote about me. 

Stay tuned for the final installment of this three-part series.