In preparation for starting at my new position and university in a few months, the Chair was kind enough to pass along the specs for my new lab space and asked about my desired modifications. Additionally, I’ve agreed to teach the first year and take my free semester during year two. The first class I am teaching is a senior level laboratory class. I know Profs during my UG used to bitch about laboratory classes and the amount of workload. I’m not too worried (right now) because this University (BTW, I need a cool, recurring nickname…) is a lot smaller than my UG and by the time they are seniors, most of the weeding should be done. Also, as an experimentalist, laboratory classes are something that I should promote because I hated learning from people proclaiming their greatness in front of powerpoint. For instance, in Controls, we always started knowing the frequency response (or transfer function) of the plant. That’s a helluva lot harder to get in real life, and IMHO way more difficult than actually designing the control loop.
There is a point to all of this; I’m just taking my sweet time today. So in the spring, I have to teach another course, but this time a course of my choosing. Currently, I have two courses in mind. Course1 is a lecture-based course with some in-class demonstrations on a topic that I am very familiar with. During my PhD (and now in my short PD) I’ve taught at least 3 MS students and 4 UGs on this topic. Sure, I would need to make formal lectures and plan, etc etc, but it shouldn’t be any more different than a normal course.
Course2 is a laboratory-based course encompassing all of the Shit I Wish They Taught Me (SIWTTM). SIWTTM would be significantly more difficult to set up. I would need some financial support from the department(s) and I would probably have to beg companies for software/hardware donations. Also, it would require some teaching lab space and significantly more time from me to debug labs, write lab procedures, etc etc. I’ve pitched this idea to a few colleagues (not at the new University) and they have said this course is a good idea and it’s something they wish they had in the late UG or early MS.
So I’m in the process of writing a proposed syllabus for both classes, as well as descriptions for the labs. The Familiar Lecture syllabus was fairly simple to write because it’s a topic that I’d like to write a book on someday so I already have an outline of topics I want to cover. SIWTTM is a little more difficult but the more I think about, I think it’s a class that would be very rewarding to teach if successful. Plus, it resonates with my experimentalist side and will really test my skills as a teacher.
If you were a senior UG or an early MS student, would you rather take an elective lecture from a n00b prof or would you rather take an elective laboratory class? If you were Chair, and your newest prof hands you two proposals, one for a standard lecture and another for a laboratory class, which would you assign? Would the workload for the laboratory class (second lab class in a year) plus the startup inertia combined with all the trappings of a tenure track position mean this is career suicide from your newest prof? Or would you, as Chair, see this as a chance to add something to your curriculum that you probably have desired but cannot find anyone to champion?