2011 Faculty Awards: Q&A with John Seater

April 27, 2011
By Bill Krueger

john-seaterThe Alumni Association will honor 18 NC State professors on May 5 for their outstanding work in the classroom, in the laboratory and in the field. We talked (via email) with some of the recipients about their work and the keys to being a successful professor.

Today we’re visiting with John Seater, a professor of economics in the Poole College of Management. Seater is one of two faculty members named this year as Alumni Association Distinguished Graduate Professors.

What is the key to being a successful teacher? There are two kinds of teaching at the graduate level, and they require different skills from the teacher.

First, there is teaching courses. Even those differ between first-year core courses and second-year field courses. But for both types, the main requirements are a willingness to commit adequate time to course preparation (and that is a lot of time), making an effort to connect the abstract technical material with the intuition of what it all means, and taking the time to point out the exciting possibilities for future research that the course material opens to the student.

Second, there is advising dissertations, which is completely different from teaching courses but is nonetheless a form of teaching. Advising is much more like coaching sports than teaching a classroom course. A student is mostly on his own when doing a dissertation. Indeed, part of what he must learn is how to identify a good topic and how to carry out the project.  However, the advisor should be there to help the student over difficulties and to guide the student in developing the parts of his skill set that still are incomplete. In doing that, the advisor must treat the student with a kind of respect that is not so necessary in the classroom, namely, as an emerging colleague capable of thinking on his own and of coming up with ideas and results that the advisor himself might not have seen and might even disagree with. At all times, the advisor should be trying to help the student become an independent contributor to his profession.

What gives you the greatest satisfaction as a professor?
Without a doubt, working with my dissertation advisees. A lot of  them are interesting people and fun to be with. Several have become colleagues with whom I collaborate on professional work. Even more rewarding, some have become personal friends, in some cases quite close friends, something I did not anticipate when I started teaching in the graduate program.

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