Garth Coombs has accumulated an impressively strong teaching record in the Department of Psychology, having served as a teaching fellow for several of the introductory and foundational courses in the department. But it is the depth and breadth of his teaching and mentoring and they success he has had in those roles that make Garth truly deserving of this award.
“Garth is one of the most accomplished and dedicated TFs our department has seen in recent years,” says Department Chair Mahzarin Banaji. “He has sought out every possible opportunity to build and broaden his teaching and mentorship skills as a graduate student, and he has demonstrated excellence across different categories of courses, TF roles, and classroom/lab-based instruction.”
In spring 2018, Garth served as tutor for the department’s sophomore tutorial “Contemporary Issues in Psychology: Intensive Cross-level Analyses for Cognitive Neuroscience and Evolutionary Psychology.” In this small weekly seminar, students are taught how to read, write, and think like psychological scientists. “This is an intensive course that involves tremendous investment on the part of the tutors, and thus only graduate students who are very serious about teaching and working closely with undergraduates apply,” says Banaji. “Garth was an absolute star as a tutor, beloved by his students and respected by other tutors for the clear advice on writing and lesson planning he offered in group meetings.”
The themes that arise in student comments reflect Garth’s strengths as an instructor. First is the quality of his feedback on written assignments. As one student put it, Garth provided “the best writing feedback I have ever received.” Second is the comfortable, respectful, and inclusive atmosphere he fosters in his classrooms, where students feel invited to participate and can easily express confusion and concerns. In his classroom, students feel heard: “He really listens,” one student commented. The connection that Garth builds with students fosters their learning and makes every class both fun and productive.
Outside of the classroom, Garth has worked with several undergraduates on research projects, including “In Depth Study of Real-World Behaviors & Brain States in College Students,” an honors thesis by a neurobiology concentrator, and “Individual Variability in Personality and Social Behaviors,” an independent study by a psychology concentrator. As in the classroom, Garth excels in his engagement. “Students gravitate toward working with Garth because of his encouraging and invested mentoring style,” says Banaji, “and his research interests naturally spark excitement in undergraduates.”
Garth, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences is pleased to present you with the Derek C. Bok Award for Excellence in Graduate Student Teaching of Undergraduates. Congratulations!