Skip to content Skip to navigation

Doctoral Student Socialization for Teaching Roles

Tomorrow's Graduate Students and Postdocs

Message Number: 

One of the developmental milestones of a doctoral student's graduate school career is to begin to develop an identity as a future member of the professoriate. Optimally, students will be given a series of increasingly more demanding teaching experiences that will help them "try on" the identity of a teaching faculty member. 



The posting below looks at four desired outcomes of graduate education for students aspiring to faculty careers. It is from Chapter 1, Doctoral Student Socialization for Teaching Roles, by Melissa McDaniels, in the book, ON BECOMING A SCHOLAR: Socialization and Development in Doctoral Education, edited by Susan K. Gardner and Pilar Mendoza. Published by Stylus Publishing, L, 22883 Quicksilver Drive, Sterling, Virginia 20166-2102.Copyright © 2010 by Stylus Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis

UP NEXT: The Astonishing Secret to Getting Jobs, Grants, Papers, and Happiness in Biomedical Research (and many other areas)



Tomorrow's Graduate Students and Postdocs

------------------------------------ 1,877 words -----------------------------------

Doctoral Student Socialization for Teaching Roles

Socialization for Teaching Roles: Outcomes


Literature on doctoral student socialization suggests that aspiring faculty members should develop a set of core competencies while in their doctoral programs to assist them in making the transition to successful careers as faculty members in 21st century postsecondary institutions. In 2006, Austin and McDaniels presented a framework in Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research that summarizes what the literature suggests are the desired outcomes of doctoral student socialization. After an extensive review of the theoretical and empirical literature on graduate student socialization, the authors concluded that graduate students aspiring to faculty roles would be well served if they developed sets of (a) conceptual understandings; (b) knowledge and skills in the core areas of faculty work; (c) interpersonal skills; and (d) professional attitudes and habits. I use this four-part framework as a guide to highlight what is known about the desired socialization outcomes related specifically to the teaching and instruction role.

Conceptual Understandings

A review of the doctoral student socialization literature reveals agreement that doctoral students, as a part of their socialization processes, would be well served to develop an understanding of (a) their professional identity as a teaching faculty member; (b) the discipline; (c) the wide array of institutional types in which they might find themselves working; and (d) the purposes and history of higher education (Austin & McDaniels, 2006).

Understanding themselves: development of a professional identity. One of the developmental milestones of a doctoral student's graduate school career is to begin to develop an identity as a future member of the professoriate. Optimally, students will be given a series of increasingly more demanding teaching experiences that will help them "try on" the identity of a teaching faculty member. Hopefully, such experiences will encourage students to contemplate answers to such questions as

1. To what degree do I want teaching to be a part of my academic career?

2. At what elements of teaching do I excel?

3. What are my developmental needs as a teacher?

Doctoral students can then begin to visualize what being a teaching faculty member will entail. Thus, if successful, socialization processes can result in a doctoral student embracing his or her professional identity as a faculty member with teaching responsibilities.

Understanding the discipline. In order for prospective faculty members to maximize their chances of being successful in their teaching roles, they must first develop a foundation of knowledge in their disciplinary content area (Chism, 1998; Ronkowski, 1998). This disciplinary knowledge must include the theoretical underpinnings of the discipline; the paradigms, traditional criteria for excellence in the field; and methodological approaches accepted by disciplinary members. In sum, good teachers are experts in their fields of study.

Understanding institutional types. Prior to accepting a position upon graduation from a doctoral program, all students will be well served if they have developed an awareness of the impact of institutional mission, student population (size, degree, level, preparation), and fiscal control on the amount and type of teaching expected by an institution's teaching faculty. Ideally, aspiring faculty should be able to make informed decision about what academic jobs to apply for and accept if they understand how institutional type can impact

1. a teaching and advising load;

2. the instructional level of students (e.g. undergraduate or graduate)

3. the variety of courses (content/level) a faculty member will teach;

4. forms of instruction a faculty member will be asked to provide (e.g. lecture, lab); and

5. the reward system vis-a-vis teaching.

Understanding the purposes and history of higher education. Finally, a fourth conceptual understanding that the literature suggests doctoral students develop while in graduate school is an understanding of and appreciation for the purposes and history of higher education. As was noted earlier, in order to be successful at one's role as a teacher, a faculty member needs to be an expert in his or her discipline. However, that disciplinary expertise is not enough. A faculty member also needs to understand the role that colleges and universities play in the development of individuals who are critical thinkers and full participants (as professional and citizens). Understanding this history will enable future teaching faculty to think about how they contextualize the disciplinary content knowledge they deliver in the classroom, and how to encourage higher-order thinking among students they teach and advise.

Knowledge and Skills in the Core Areas of Faculty Work

As mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, pedagogical activity is one of the four areas of faculty work, each of which demands the development of knowledge and skills to carry out responsibilities in each of these domains. Thus, a second outcome of doctoral student socialization for teaching roles can be a thorough understanding of teaching and learning processes (Austin & McDaniels, 2006). The literature suggests that prospective faculty should understand

1. the different ways students learn;

2. the usefulness of different teaching strategies to facilitate learning in a discipline;

3. how disciplinary differences impact methods and modes of inquiry, criteria for determining validity, as well as how  problems

   are identified and solved in the field (Donald, 2002); and

4. the conceptual roadblocks that novices face in learning disciplinary topics.

There is also a growing need for teaching faculty to understand how instructional technologies can be integrated in to a faculty member's disciplinarily informed pedagogical approaches (Mishra & Koehler, 2006).

Interpersonal Skills

A third desired outcome (or category of outcomes) of doctoral student socialization for teaching roles is the development of a set of interpersonal abilities that will allow them to use a variety of channels to communicate with a diverse set of students and colleagues (Austin & McDaniels, 2006). These interpersonal abilities include (a) written and oral communication; (b) collaboration; and (c) the ability to interact successfully with diverse students and colleagues.

Written and oral communication. Successful teaching faculty will need to be able to successfully communicate with students and faculty colleagues in both written and oral form. Good oral and written communication skills will enable teaching faculty to not just deliver content but to also differentiate important concepts from the less important, as well as frame topics for students in such a way that they start to make sense of the subject matter for themselves. The increasing number of online courses-and increased use of technology by students and colleagues-will require that aspiring teaching faculty learn how to most effectively use written and oral communication strategies in an online context, recognizing the influence that online tools (e.g., wikis, video, podcasts, blogs) will have on how, and to what extent, they make use of oral and written communication strategies.

Collaboration. In order to excel in the multiple dimensions of teaching practice, aspiring teaching faculty will need to cultivate their ability to collaborate with others. The increasingly interdisciplinary nature of knowledge has demanded more collaboration among faculty members in instruction, curriculum design, and assessment. In addition, future faculty who are interested in working at an institution with graduate programs will need to be able to collaborate with graduate students who work with them via teaching assistantships. Furthermore, faculty often find themselves working with colleagues on pedagogical projects such as curriculum redesign and program development.

Ability to interact successfully with diverse students and faculty colleagues. The college student population continues to grow increasingly socially diverse, as is evident in the following trends:

  • An increase in the number of students ages 25 and older;
  • An increase in the number of first-generation college attendees;
  • An increase in the racial/ethnic diversity of student populations; and
  • A change in educational expectations on the part of students and parents, including an increasing consumer orientation (Gappa, Austin & Trice, 2007; Schuster & Finkelstein, 2006)

Doctoral students interested in pursuing teaching opportunities need to understand the impact of an increasingly diverse student population on both curricular and instructional implications activity. In addition, the professoriate in the 21st century is also becoming more diverse, as more women, racial and ethnic minorities, and foreign-born faculty (Schuster & Finkelstein, 2006) join the faculty ranks. The trend toward an increasingly diverse faculty population suggests that an important goal of doctoral student socialization should be to make prospective faculty aware of the impact of gender and cultural diversity on faculty collaboration in instruction and/or curriculum design (see Sallee, chapter 7, and Winkle-Wagner, Johnson, Morelon-Quanoo, & Santiague, chapter 9, for more discussion on gender and race among graduate students).

Professional attitudes and Habits

Finally, emerging from the literature is a fourth category of desired outcomes for doctoral student socialization. Austin and McDaniels (2006) found that students would be well served if they started to develop a set of attitudes and habits, while in graduate school, that will provide a foundation for ethical conduct in all faculty roles, an appreciation for life-long learning, and an awareness of the importance of balancing one's passions and one's own life outside of work. In the next several paragraphs I will focus on those attitudes and habits as they relate to the faculty teaching role.

Ethics and integrity. A key component of the socialization of doctoral students for teaching roles needs to include at least an introductory understanding of the ethical issues related to teaching such as appropriate student-faculty relationships and academic honesty. Of course, each institution has its own set of codes of student conduct, and new faculty members will be well served to familiarize themselves with these guidelines upon arrival in their new campuses. In addition to teaching students about the content of the discipline, aspiring faculty will most likely have the opportunity to introduce students of all levels to research and scholarship in the discipline. In order to have the ability to teach students how to become ethical researchers, doctoral students will have to have a comprehensive grasp of issues related to the ethical conduct of research in their discipline, including the protection of human subjects and animal rights, and strategies for avoiding conflicts of interest vis-a-vis research projects (see Weidman, chapter 2, for more discussion on research socialization).

Ongoing professional development and cultivation of teaching network. The one thing that is certain about faculty careers in the 21st century is change! The existence of rapidly changing institutional and disciplinary environments almost guarantees that the roles and activities of teaching faculty will not remain the same throughout their professional careers. Therefore, it will be imperative for aspiring faculty to understand and commit to ongoing professional development in support of their teaching roles.

Nurture teaching passion while maintaining life balance. Research has shown that doctoral students name a love of teaching as one of the primary reasons for pursuing faculty careers (Golde & Dore, 2001). Therefore, doctoral students who teach are often deeply committed to the quality of their teaching and to their students. What doctoral students (and faculty at all career stages) need to learn is how to nurture their teaching passion (and other professional responsibilities), while maintaining balance in their lives. The challenge of setting boundaries between one's teaching (e.g., students) and one's life and other responsibilities has become increasingly more challenging in an era of instant messaging and 24-hour-a-day "access" that students have to their faculty members. Doctoral students will be well served be learning to set clear expectations with students about how quickly messages and assignments will be responded to or returned.


Austin, A. E., & McDaniels, M. (2006). Preparing the professoriate of the future: Graduate student socialization for faculty roles. In J. C. Smart (Ed.), Higher Education: Handbook of theory and research (Vol. XXI, pp. 397-486). New York: Agathon Press.

Chism, N. (1998). Preparing graduate students to teach: Past, present, future. In M. Marincovich, J. Prostko, & F. Stout (Eds.), The professional development of graduate teaching assistants (pp. 1-17). Bolton, MA: Anker.

Donald, J. G. (2002). Learning to think: Disciplinary perspectives. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Gappa, J. M., Austin, A. E., & Trice, A. G. (2007). Rethinking faculty work: Higher education's strategic imperative. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Golde, C. M., & Dore, T.M. (2001). At cross purposes: What the experiences of today's doctoral students reveal about doctoral education; A survey initiated by the Pew Charitable Trusts ( Philadelphia: A report prepared for The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2006). Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A new framework for teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record, 108, 1017-1054.

Ronkowski, S. A. (1998). The disciplinary/departmental context of TA training. In M. Marincovich, J. Prostko, & F. Stout (Eds.), The professional development of graduate teaching assistants (pp. 41-60). Bolton, MA: Anker.

Schuster, J. H. & Finkelstein, M. J. (2006). The American faculty: The restructuring of academic work and careers. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Weidman, J. C., Twale, D. J., & Stein, E. L. (2001). Socialization of graduate and professional students in higher education. ASHE-ERIC Reader Report (Vol. 28, No. 3). New York: John Wiley & Sons.