Training future professors with teaching and leadership skills

The McCall MacBain Postdoctoral Fellows Teaching and Leadership Program equips postdocs with the tools they will need as professors to complement their academic expertise.

“This was one of the best things for me as a postdoc. The program built a community. At times postdocs feel isolated, however, I looked forward to Wednesdays.”

— McCall MacBain Cohort 4 Postdoctoral Fellow

Have you ever wondered how much training a professor has received to teach classes, direct a research lab and lead the campus programs that form the fabric of the university, and its strong sense of community?

Let’s consider the critical role of professors who help build this thriving environment of lifelong learning.

While all professors receive years of specialized training in their area of academic expertise, the reality is that most have little to no training in teaching and leadership skills. And yet, newly hired professors are asked to hit the ground running with teaching, research and service responsibilities.

Postdocs today, leaders tomorrow

A critical inflection point for scholars is at the postdoctoral fellowship level – the stage right before one becomes a professor.

A postdoctoral fellowship is a transitional position that can be crucial to informing the next steps in one’s professional career. During these years, the pressure to publish research papers is staggering, with the clock counting down to the end of their fellowship.

With limited time, many postdocs are reluctant to engage in social events or professional development. In a world where skill development and socialization can be viewed as simply “another thing to do,” many programs and social offerings can be missed opportunities for these elite researchers.

How can Canadian institutions better engage these seemingly unreachable researchers?

A unique cohort of future leaders
A headshot of Joseph Kim
Joseph Kim

As a psychology professor I have taught a seminar course for years called “Science of Teaching and Learning,” which prepares new teaching assistants for the McMaster Introductory Psychology program. My students often remarked at how the skills they were learning in teaching and leadership would have universal benefit to others.

Launched in 2018, McMaster University’s McCall MacBain Postdoctoral Fellows Teaching and Leadership Program is a home-grown program that offers a creative solution to engage postdocs, offering programming and helping them enrich their professional, teaching and leadership skills. Postdocs from all faculties are welcomed to apply to the program.

Once accepted, they are seconded to the program for 20 per cent of their time. That means postdocs are committed to the program for one full day a week, so it isn’t just “another thing to do.”

Once a week, this unique, interdisciplinary cohort connects in person. They share experiences, knowledge and skills with their peers, and they grow their network, expand their mindset and learn together.

Click here for highlights from the 2021-22 program.

A headshot of Katie George
Katie George

Creating a cohort community of postdoctoral fellows through an engaging and active postdoc association or a specialized program hinges upon supervisor support, as well as the fellows’ commitment.

Successful programs allow individuals to expand their network beyond their silo and collaborate with postdocs from faculties across the institution. It is not only beneficial for the individual researchers, but it creates an environment in which innovation and creativity can thrive.

When great minds can escape the confines of their research labs and actively devote time to their personal and professional development, the possibilities are endless.

Joseph Kim is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour.

Katie George is the program manager for McCall MacBain Postdoctoral Fellows Teaching and Leadership Program

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