I've just accepted a job, and the schedule has me teaching a grad seminar my first semester. I'm excited, but also a little terrified. So, I'm wondering what advice others have for selecting the topic, prepping for class, or anything else they wish you wish you had known before teaching your first grad seminar!
jdk brown made the following suggestions:
There are a few strategies you can adopt. The first is to teach a class on the topic of your dissertation research. You know this material backwards and forwards already, so you won't have to put in as much prep--both for the planning of the course, and day-to-day--as you otherwise might have to. (This, I think, is one reason departments often give new hires seminars right away--they see it as a way of lightening the workload for you. It's also gives the grad students an early chance to get to know you, and you a chance to know them.)
The second strategy is to pick a bit of the literature that you'd like to be more familiar with, and build your seminar around that. For example, I taught my first grad seminar right as Sider et al.'s Metaontolgy collection was coming out. So after a few introductory readings, we simply worked our way through it. This strategy is a great way to have your teaching feed into your research.
While I've never taught a grad seminar--and so am not the most well-placed to offer general advice here--jdk brown's advice seems reasonable to me. I would just add that I think it's probably a really good idea to design such a course bearing in mind the tenure requirements at one's institution. Allow me to explain.
Here's why I think this matters. I know someone who recently started a TT job at an R1. This person is a classic "high achiever", and not surprisingly, reports putting a lot of early effort into her teaching (including, yes, her first grad seminar). The problem is (or so I've been told), this person already feels a bit overwhelmed with their teaching load. This, in itself, is not surprising. In my experience (and I did spend one year in a R1 VAP), one of the biggest difficulties in transitioning to faculty jobs is coping with how much more work it is than grad school. Although I cannot speak for everyone, my general sense--from having been in a couple of jobs, and having known many faculty--is that the transition is tough for everyone...and tenure review comes fast. You think writing a dissertation is tough? Try teaching 2 or 3 classes per semester, with advisees, committee work, and an expectation to publish at least one article in a good journal per year with a tenure clock! It's very, very hard...
It's critical, then, to get off on the right foot, especially with regard to research if you are hired by an R1. Although Lauren didn't mention specifically if she was hired at an R1, it seems likely given that she will be teaching a grad seminar. If that's the case, I would suggest thinking carefully about priorities with respect to tenure. Although I would never advise someone to be a bad teacher (I care very much about teaching, both for its own sake and instrumentally), someone hired in a TT position should, I think, be very sensitive to what they will be primarily evaluated on for tenure. If the job is at a place where research matters far more than teaching, I would suggest that perhaps jdk brown's advice should be taken as an imperative: teach what you know best, so you can do it well while leaving as much time possible for research.
Things are different, I think, for teaching schools--but those don't tend to be ones with grad seminars!