Maybe it would help to wear a "man" suit with an elbow-patch jacket or something...

Feb 10 2012 Published by under Uncategorized


I'm currently lecturing in introductory organic chemistry; the head of the course is a very experienced outstanding teacher who (literally) wrote the book, and has won many awards for his excellent teaching. He started the course for the first few weeks of lecture. I'm covering lecture for now, and he will pick it up again later in the course (about a month and a half from now).

I messed up carbocation rearrangement today, right at the beginning of lecture. I lost 'em; they were VERY restless and chattery and obviously like "This lady does not know what she is talking about!" It actually turned out that the mistake I made was a very instructive example of a common misconception about the topic that students have, and the ensuing discussion of where I had gone wrong cleared up a lot of questions they had and got everybody to a much better understanding of the topic than if I'd just gotten it right the first time through.

BUT I am pretty sure that it is still going to kill their perception of me as someone they can trust to teach them. Every time I get anything wrong it's like another nail in my "I'm a younger female who doesn't really 'look' like a professor" coffin. I don't have any room to make mistakes, because I'm already having to prove to them in the first place that I can teach them about chemistry.

It's like a Catch-22; I end up sacrificing my dignity in a way that helps them LEARN more, but it might end up adversely affecting their learning overall if it makes them think I can't help them understand things. And it also shows up in their memories as a huge looming perception, so when it comes to instructor evaluation time... what do YOU think happens?

7 responses so far

  • Scicurious says:

    You definitely need one of those tweed blazers with elbow patches, because in my opinion, every PhD needs one. I definitely do. 🙂

    I'm sorry for the problems, hopefully the students will end up realizing that it helped! Maybe doing it again intentionally will make them realize that you're pointing out common problems?

  • DJMH says:

    You lost me at "carbocation". Is that actually a word??

    Also, if it teaches the students that they should pay attention to these common errors in their own work, they will realize that they have benefited and you shouldn't sweat it.

  • Gerty-Z says:

    dude. that totally sucks. I'm gonna go buy my tweed jacket soon. I think I will wear it the first time that I have to stand up in front of the undergrads. Ugh.

  • Crystal Voodoo says:

    My quantitative analysis chemistry professor did look like a "professor" and constantly made mistakes. We had to correct him at least twice during every lecture because he refused to bring his own notes as to the correct way to do things. Students adapt to the presenter because their grade depends on it. They'll get over it.

  • Arlenna says:

    Things have gotten a lot better since that lecture; I decided to "fake it til you make it" and work on not LOOKING like I feel so stressed out about it. Remarkably, even if I actually get something wrong--if I act like it's no big deal, nobody responds in any particular way. And faking feeling more confident actually is making me more comfortable, weirdly enough.

    I'm a Minnesotan, with a natural tendency towards heart-on-sleeve self-deprecation. It's taking a conscious effort to prevent myself from responding to my instincts when I screw something up (because apologetic self-deprecation in front of 200 undergrads is like blood in the water to the sharks, man...). I'm also kinda type A... but giving up on expecting myself to be perfect is a lot more realistic than reaching perfection, and I can draw on my high school theater skillz to pretend I know what I am talking about (and my more recent learning and prep skillz to actually know it in the first place).

  • chemicalbilology says:

    Hah, yup--I got my teaching evaluations back and guess what was the most commented on thing? The mistake I made that is described in this post. Lol. Well, somehow I have to achieve lecture perfection next year if I want to improve things. I'll be going through and doing all of the problems in the book to practice this stuff.

  • […] and at least get myself looking respectable. Chemicalbilology addressed it in one of her blog entries, which took on an interesting angle of ornery undergrads not respecting her style of teaching. And […]

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