I teach in a university to Masters students in Science. I have taught courses from Physics, Statistics, Mathematics and Computation, and every time I finish teaching a course, I find myself unsatisfied. It is difficult to articulate what exactly I feel unsatisfied with, but it is probably a combination of choice of topics, the order in which I taught them, the total amount of depth I covered each topic to, the way I explained the concept, the type of problems I assigned for practice, the way I gave my feedback to student submissions etc. One thing that I always seem to fear while teaching is that even if I explained something, students may not have understood it. This makes me extremely conscious during the class itself, and once I start thinking about it while I am talking, I seem to forget things, which in turn leads to fumbling, and that feeling is disturbing.

Over the years, I have made active efforts to improve. However as the courses that I teach seem to become more and more difficult as I progress in my career, the improvement seems to be lagging quite a lot. During my bachelor's degree, I had devoured Feynman Lectures on Physics, and that motivated me a lot to become a good teacher. Even now while reading these, I "hear" the sentences in Feynman's voice with all ups and downs of the tone. I have also read the book "The craft of scientific presentations" by Michael Ally, and several other articles. Perhaps it is needless to say that I have tried to implement various strategies learned from these resources into my teaching. However, I still feel that my teaching is not up to the mark. When I think of some of the scientists I personally know, their teaching seems flawless (I have attended their actual in-person courses). Here I am not saying that each one of them mesmerize the students in the class, but that given their styles, everything seems to fall in place when they are teaching. Let it be a difficult calculation, or a complex explanation of conceptually difficult concept, they seem to get it done as if it is a piece of cake.

Given this, I am looking for books or other resources that specifically talk about great teachers and their teaching methods, especially in advanced science. The books should not cover just some algorithms which should be followed but they should emphasize how teaching can be approached as an art that can be learned and excelled. Two good books (about different topics) which are of this type are "Writing Science" by Joshua Schimel, and "Craft of Scientific Presentations" by Michael Ally.

2 Answers 2


I would say that it isn't necessarily good to focus too much on whether you "get difficult calculations or complex explanations of conceptually difficult concepts done as if it is a piece of cake". Instead, look at how students learn. Some difficulties are actually desirable for increasing learning and a presentation that is too smooth can backfire by making things look too easy. Not that this is an excuse for poorly prepared or executed instruction, of course.

Since you ask for a book recommendation, you might want to consult "Teaching and Learning STEM: A Practical Guide" by Felder & Brent. It contains many tips on getting students more actively involved in the learning process.


A little different to what you are asking about, but you may also be interested in "The sense of style" by Steven Pinker, which tries to motivate how to write from a psycho-linguistic and cognative science point of view. He makes a comment that the core style guides tend to not follow their own advice (even when giving that advice) because the best writers tend to instinctively know how to write and can only guess as to what rules they are following. This has helped me understand the root reason why I'm such a terrible writer. (I have no internal monologue, instead experience the world through more of a visual or kinesthetic, which possibly explains why I have a habit of using nominalised verbs.) This could be useful for making any lecture notes or slides you write clearer. Though this also suggests you should also be careful from just following suggestions from great teachers since they may only know how to teach well, but misunderstand why their lectures are great.

I have also found "Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning" by peter brown useful to understand how people learn. It tries to explain what our current understanding is regarding how learning works and also has a section at the back which tries to explain best practices for teachers/students/self-study.

I have also very recently come across a quote: "Play is the act of manipulating something that doesn't dictate all of its capacity, but does limit them" which I feel has something in it (though I haven't worked out exactly what yet). It might help explain why I found it so easy to learn maths and physics compared to others in my year levels, since it was all just play to me. I've also been teaching myself some machine learning recently and so the phrase sounds like its related to finding the sweet spot in the bias-complexity tradeoff in machine learning. And ties together ideas I've heard from evolutionary biology/psychology where play is motivated by learning (which maybe can be modeled as machine learning). This last statement is fairly wishy-washy and could very well be wrong (I'm no psychologist), so feel free to ignore it if you don't trust it. Though I am somewhat curious if the idea appeared at all in Feynman's lecturing style.

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