Blog 9

The Future of Academia



Natasha May, Teaching Commons

Hello. My name is Natasha May and I am an Educational Developer in the Teaching Commons. I have been a member of the Teaching Commons since they opened their doors. I was a graduate student when the Teaching Commons first started and had the opportunity to be a Teaching Commons Tutor and a Senior Teaching Assistant.   I was lucky enough to become a Research Assistant with the Teaching Commons after completing my PhD at York and was suddenly involved in organizing the very programs that I had participated in a short time before.

Now as an Educational Developer I still have the privilege of organizing all of the programs for graduate students. Whenever I address graduate students at an event organized by the Teaching Commons, I always introduce myself and let them know that I am the luckiest Educational Developer in the Teaching Commons because I have this privilege of working with graduate students.

Why is this a privilege?

Graduate students at York are so keen to learn and to obtain as many credentials and experiences that they can. They take the time to not only develop themselves personally and professionally, but also truly care about improving the classroom experience for their students. It is a pleasure to be a part of their interactions during workshops and to learn from their experiences as well.

I would like to take a moment to share with you what I have witnessed over the past two years. It has truly been inspiring and very rewarding for me to see the level of engagement I have witnessed through facilitating or simply setting up the TA Orientations, courses and workshops offered by the Teaching Commons. Groups of graduate students who initially met at TA Orientation consistently participate in the same workshops and courses together. They catch up before the start of the session, sharing their teaching experiences since the last time they met and then engage in the session together. They will often meet outside of the formal sessions as well to provide support and learn from one another. This has been a growing trend that was almost nonexistent when I was a graduate student only a few years ago.

I have been witnessing the development of various Communities of Practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991). This is a concept we introduce in the Senior Teaching Assistant Program, which is a SEDA accredited course that introduces experienced graduate students to educational development. A Community of Practice (CoP) is characterized as a group of people who share a concern or passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly. CoPs form spontaneously with voluntary membership from individuals of all experience levels working together to develop a shared repertoire of communal resources, experiences, stories, tools, and ways of addressing recurring problems (Lave & Wenger, 1991).

We can all learn a lot from these graduate students. It is important to take time out of our busy lives to interact with our colleagues, learn from one another and reach out for support. I don’t know about you, but I often waste so much time fretting about a problem I need to solve, which could easily be solved by simply talking to a colleague about it for an hour and brainstorming different strategies and solutions together.

Don’t forget, graduate students, just like you, are researchers and teachers. In addition, graduate students are students that have classes and exams to prepare and study for. On top of all of this, they take the time to develop themselves professionally, reflect on their teaching experience and work toward continually improving the education experience for their undergraduate students.

Part of my role is to recognize and honour the amazing work that graduate students do and I never get tired of spreading this message. I am excited for the future of academia because I can see this trend continuing. More academics will be researchers, teachers and educational developers all in one!


Lave, J. & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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