Puppies, plutonium, and other ways my professors have surprised me

My professor produced invisible objects from behind her back and pantomimed handing them to me, rapid fire.

“Plutonium, a puppy, an empty cardboard box, a decorative plate decorated with plates!”

Karen Brennan teaches Designing for Learning by Creating and is a brilliant innovator in the field of education, but today she was my partner in an improv class.

If you had asked me just a few short months ago what sort of relationship I imagined I would have with Harvard professors, improv class partners would not have made my list. I imagined Harvard as an intensely cerebral place with similarly intense professors who, while perhaps kind and well meaning, would not have time for an unfledged master’s candidate like myself. Improv class has been but one of the ways this expectation has delightfully subverted.

The author and some classmates
Selim Berker in the philosophy department stayed late one day to help me with some material I was struggling with in his Epistemology class, then stayed even later when we got to bantering about ways to make philosophy more accessible to groups typically underrepresented in the field. Catherine Elgin willingly answered my countless questions before I even started at Harvard and now serves as my always-helpful advisor. Jocelyn Vitnera in Sociology allowed me to join a PhD seminar intended for her department alone and has been ceaselessly encouraging to me as I’ve brought an educational perspective to the work. You’ve already met Karen Brennan of course, who, apart from our theater debut, has made time to meet with me about my specific interests. These are just the professors I’m registered in classes with. Perhaps the most stunning (and telling) display of the culture between professors and students at HGSE is highlighted by my part time research job, which often requires me to hunt down obscure papers or seek technical advice. I’ve emailed several HGSE professors asking questions or requesting meetings about their research expertise, and, not having a clue who I am, each time they have happily obliged.

Now, I don’t mean to say it’s a free for all here on Appian Way (lest the aforementioned professors fear this article will inspire further loss of their startlingly little free time they so graciously give). You have to be prepared, do your homework ahead of time, know what questions you want to ask, go to office hours early in the semester (a.k.a. before that big paper is due), and do your part to cultivate relationship. But when you do, I’ve found nothing but open doors, kind faces, and ready advisors, mentors, and colleagues. And, surprisingly, a great improv partner.

Blog written by Courtney Tee. Photo provided by Courtney Tee.

Author Courtney Tee My name is Courtney Tee and I am a master’s candidate in the Specialized Studies program from Houston, Texas. My interest lies in the formation of knowledge in nontraditional spaces, which places me at the intersection of educational research, social theory, epistemology, and creative and active ways of learning. I work part time for Design for Change: USA doing research on design learning.