Graduate students are asked to take on multiple roles and to learn many different skills throughout their education. For a variety of reasons, students need to prioritize what roles they can accept and what skills to develop-leaving some important skills underdeveloped.
For example, a student in a research intensive program may feel the need to place less emphasis on developing clinical skills, and a student from a clinically intensive program may feel they should deemphasize focusing on their research skills. One skill that is often not high on the priority lists of students is the development of teaching abilities. Many may simply believe, "I'm a researcher or a clinician and not an academic, so I don't need to develop teaching skills." Although I may be biased as an academic, I believe that all psychologists teach in one way or another and need to cultivate their skill in teaching in order to effectively communicate our messages and make psychology more accessible to the general public. Teaching is effectively conveying your message in creative and understandable terms so others can gain from the information. Here are some examples of how teaching skills are important to different psychology focus areas.
As a researcher, I understand how easy it can be for teaching to take a backseat to projects, grant deadlines and manuscript writing. However, to date I have yet to run into a psychologist who conducts research in isolation without the help of others including students. Those of you who have been research assistants can no doubt remember a time when something you were asked to do seemed unclear and you could have benefited from a bit of teaching on how to proceed. My most valuable research experiences have been when the principle investigator took the time to help me understand the project and process. I bet that my understanding of the project helped it move forward better than if I had wandered aimlessly. As researchers, we are often asked to explain our results, which also involves teaching.
Teaching is a very valuable skill for practitioners to develop. As clinicians we often need to teach our clients about the process of psychotherapy or how do to something, such as employ a coping skill. Many new psychologists have questions about how to start an outpatient practice. One method to help build your client load is to network through conducting trainings or doing topical presentations in your community. Although you gave presentations in your classes, these presentations will be different, and teaching skills will no doubt be an asset to communicating with the general public. As a clinician, you may be asked to supervise students. One major function of a good supervisor is teaching, and good teaching skills will be valuable in helping your trainees develop and succeed.
Psychology is recognizing the importance of legislative advocacy for the entire field, and increasingly more students and psychologists are becoming advocates. You need to modify your message to meet your audience's needs when you speak with local, state or national representatives. Presenting findings of a critical study involves communicating your message in a way that your audience can understand. In other words, you are teaching them about the issue and your position on that issue. Thus skills in understanding your audience and tailoring your message to meet the audience are essential in advocacy.
The examples above are just a few of the many ways in which psychologists use teaching skills. Teaching augments almost everything we do as psychologists and as future psychologists; it will behoove you to cultivate your teaching skills in addition to the other skills you develop. Teaching is not just for academics anymore!
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