The Benefits of Working as a Prefect: Words of Wisdom from Alumni

Results from the Prefect Program Alumni Research Project

Conducted Winter Term 2011
Data analyst:  Rachel Zucker ('11, Psychology)

Background: During winter term 2011, we surveyed Carleton alumni who had worked as prefects since fall 2004. We contacted 112 alumni and were thrilled with the response rates:

Total Respondents: 86
Email Response Rate: 76.11%
Total Complete: 75
Percent Complete: 87.21%

Rachel Zucker ('11, Psychology), herself a former prefect, conducted data analysis on the open-ended responses.  Her findings are below.

Q7. What are the most significant abilities, values, or skills that you developed in your work as a prefect?

(76 open-ended responses)

Communication: 28
Teaching/tutoring skills: 27
Appreciating/presenting multiple perspectives: 23
Public speaking: 19
Leadership: 10
Better personal understanding of subject matter: 9
Self-confidence: 8
Patience: 8
Organizational skills: 8
Developing group work skills: 7
Value of students working through problems: 7
Creating sample problems: 5
Ability to admit ignorance: 5
Time management: 5
Planning lessons: 3
Improved professor relations: 3
Responsibility: 1

Selected responses:

“I learned how to explain concepts to people who learned differently which helps in medical school when studying with different types of people and for explaining diagnoses and treatments to patients so they can understand. I also learned to accept that I do not always have an answer and be comfortable saying that I don't know an answer.”

“The importance of helping students figure out the correct answer, instead of simply telling them the correct answer.”

“If you are the prefect for a course, you already have a decent understanding of the material being taught in the intro courses you support. However, by sitting through those courses again, reabsorbing the material, and then teaching that material to others, I found that my understanding grew by many multiples. I was able to leverage my new, deeper understanding of introductory material in the prefect class to help my better understand new concepts in my upper-level courses.”

“Patience. Working with fellow students who were not grasping concepts that came naturally to me was difficult at first.  I put myself in their shoes knowing that there were other subjects that did not come naturally to me that I had to work hard at.”

Q9. Did these qualities seem to play a role in your application, interviewing, or acceptance into graduate or professional school?

(42 open-ended responses)

Theme: No. of responses involving theme:
Previous teaching experience was relevant 20
Strengthened resume/application 17
Improved interview skills 13
Helped in writing cover letter/essays 8
Helped in graduate program selection 1
Increased GRE scores 1
Name of “prefect” program was a problem 1

Selected responses:

“I currently teach a section of first year legal writing at the University of Minnesota, and am also a director for second year students in a moot court program - my prefect experience was one of the reasons I was selected for, and enjoy these positions so much. The prefect program also shows a level of leadership and responsibility that isn't often found in an undergraduate's job history, making this an important part of my law school resume.”

“An interest in teaching and working in problem solving groups led me pursue graduate school, and almost certainly helped me apply, interview, and happily settle on a graduate program. My experience as a prefect influenced what I wanted in a graduate program, and this helped me be a better candidate.”

“Interviewers were happy to learn that I had led discussion sessions without a professor present.  However, calling the program "prefect" instead of "teaching assistant" ALWAYS causes issues because no one outside Carleton knows what a prefect is.  I think therefore it is often overlooked.  I would suggest a more explanatory title that could still be different than teaching assistant.  For example, UT calls graduate students in similar roles ‘Assistant Instructors.’”

“In the interview process, they helped me explain my interests to scientists who were not experts in what I was interested.  Also, I was very comfortable during the interview process, I think because of my experience with one on one tutoring that helped me learn how to really understand the questions I am being asked and answer in the most honest way (admitting when I am not sure of something).  These skills, along with my found enjoyment with helping people learn and learning myself, would have never been so prominent without my experience as a prefect and I'm sure were instrumental to my acceptance into graduate school.”

Q10. In your occupation(s), have you used the qualities you developed as a prefect?

(65 open-ended responses)

Theme: No. of responses involving theme:
Teaching experience was valuable 31
Use communication skills 21
Employed as TA 18
Use group work skills 9
Use skills in organizing/presenting material 9
Use subject area skills 5
Use skills to improve written materials 3
Patience and understanding 2

Selected responses:

“Prefecting enhanced my understanding of economics, which is essential when working at an economic consulting firm. It also improved my abilities to communicate and collaborate with others--traits that are also essential to performing well in my firm.”

“The need to communicate information effectively and teach others really isn't confined to the classroom, in my experience; a lot of the time on the job you're either learning from another co-worker (often specialized firm-specific knowledge) or you're bringing a co-worker up to speed on what you've learned to do.  Less abstractly: presentations, on-the-job training, etc.”

“I am frequently asked to review corporate training materials related to underwriting, and my experience as a prefect has allowed me to review them for understanding, to know where coworkers will have trouble with the information presented, and to make better suggestions on how to improve the materials. It has also helped me on occasion when I am required to mentor new employees.”

“I'm a teaching assistant now and I have a whole lab section to myself. I definitely would have been more nervous to get up in front of a class if I hadn't already been a prefect. I also have a better idea of what works and what doesn't, how to structure class time, how to engage students who aren't participating.”

Q11. To what extent do you think your own academic work—at Carleton and/or in graduate school—was or has been influenced by your experience as a prefect?

(62 open-ended responses)

Theme: No. of responses involving theme:
Good review of old material 41
No change 11
Increased interest in academics 7
Improved writing/coursework 5
Improved verbal communication 3
Met with more professors 3
Learned value of multiple viewpoints 2
More likely to seek help 1
Helped in comps 1
Negative impact- took too much time 1

Selected responses:

“A side benefit of being a prefect is that it provides one with an opportunity to re-learn introductory material. I now have a very firm grasp of intro economics concepts that is applicable in business school. Additionally, working in groups is an essential skill in the workplace and in school, and the prefect program trains one for this.”

“Being a prefect made me take more initiative in my own learning. Once I was on the "other side" of the educational experience, I worked harder to be an active learner and to be engaged with the professor and the material.”

“Because I worked as a prefect for only one semester, I feel that it did not have a big influence. However, because I prefected biology during my senior year and had to take a graduate biochemistry course the following year in graduate school, the review of concepts when I was a prefect was very helpful!”

“Admittedly, I think the net impact in some sense might have been negative, it can really eat up a lot of time.  But taking the longer view, it was not only really and truly enjoyable but also gave me a great skill set.”

Q13. What have you learned from facilitating the learning of others? Please elaborate.

(61 open-ended responses)

Theme: No. of responses involving theme:
How to teach to different learning styles 29
That I love teaching 13
How people learn 12
How to communicate 10
How to be a role model 2
How to work with a group 2
Better study habits 2
How to admit “I don’t know” 1
How to motivate 1
That I shouldn’t be a teacher 1
That I like working one-on-one 1
That Carleton students are relatively easy to teach 1

Selected responses:

“I have learned that everyone brings something to the table, and it is my job as a teacher to understand what that is and incorporate it into my teaching. This is extremely important where I'm teaching now -- a large and very diverse university, where students have a heavy course load and many also work to pay for their education. There is such a broad spectrum of strengths and weaknesses, so working to understand what those are is a key piece to effective teaching.”

“It helped me decide that I wanted to become a teacher.”

“So much... I've learned the value of being able to say things in many different ways to reach many audiences; incorporating my students into the learning process (active); staying excited about the material to convey it to others; learning enough about my students that I can use a mixture of learning styles (visual, auditory, demos) to reach out to more people simultaneously; repeating the message at the beginning and end of class or having the students pick out key points of what we talked about... and so much more.”

“I learned how to listen to fellow students.”

Q14. How would you rate the importance of your prefect training and experience as you developed as college student?

(58 open-ended responses)

Theme: No. of responses involving theme:
General positive experience in college 13
Made me more confident 13
Little/no effect 13
Helped my academic work 12
Gave me teaching and mentoring skills 7
Made me a leader 5
Helped me build relationships 4
Defined my career interests 4
Improved communication skills 4
Gave me broader perspective 3
Taught me professionalism 2
Improved my writing 1

Selected responses:

“One of the best things about prefecting was that it enabled me to learn for someone other than myself.  Having the mindset of "I'm going to learn this material so I can help others learn this material" that piles on top of "I'm going to learn this material because I think it's fun and important" really forced me to be a less discriminant learner and, in doing so, made me realize that things I at first might not have found fun nor important can really turn out to be both.  This helped me be more open to learning material that I didn't find immediately relevant, but has actually turned out to be very relevant.”

“Prefecting reinvigorated my love of Economics.  The quality of my work went way up after I began prefecting.”

“It made me feel more a part of Carleton. Like I was coming full circle after I had started out a little bit of a shell shocked freshman who was surprised by how much higher the academic bar was at Carleton than in high school.”

“I took immense pride in my work as a prefect, and even though it is not particularly relevant to my current job, I still keep it on my resume, as I know how important it was to my development and what an accomplishment it was to have helped out others at a place with so many gifted students as Carleton.”

Q16. Do you have any additional comments or suggestions?

(18 open-ended responses)

All relevant responses:

“I would be more than happy to talk to anyone who is interested in teaching or Teach for America.”

“Thanks for a great experience!”

“The prefect program is great, and Carleton is the perfect place to get a taste of teaching.”

“It was stressful to be a prefect, but I wish I'd done it more than once since I think I would have felt better about it after the first term. Maybe as a way to keep students involved in the prefect program it would be useful for new prefects to meet with Kathy once or twice during their first term just to discuss how things are going and what they could change (maybe we did this and I just forgot?). Also, not very many students came to my sessions once they discovered that the class wasn't very difficult. I didn't have anything to offer that the students couldn't get in the professor's office hours, and it was disheartening when no one came after I spent time preparing problems for them. It was more rewarding to be a tutor or TA because then I was actually allowed to provide useful homework help (tutor sessions were better attended) and in lab I got to help them with hands on activities. After my one term as a prefect I went back to being a tutor and lab TA instead, although I was asked by professors to prefect every term for the rest of my time at Carleton.”

“I support the prefect program 100%, and encourage everyone to be involved (from both sides - going to prefect sessions if their courses offer it, and becoming prefects if they have the opportunity). I am particularly fond of the practice of providing cookies at prefect sessions—please keep this going! Also, I think it's very valuable to talk to and interact with the professor that one is prefecting for.  Both professors and prefects are often busy, but communication is really important—if mandatory pizza sessions is what it takes, keep the pizza coming. As a personal side note, I met my (now) fiancé while prefecting (we were both chemistry prefects), so I have especially fond memories of the prefect program.”

“The prefect program was one of the most valuable experiences I had at Carleton, and I'll always look back on it fondly. My one disappointment was how few students showed up to prefect sessions. If more students see the value of the prefect program, it would be a big improvement for everyone involved.”

“The prefect program is great. I really appreciated it when I was at Carleton.

I think the prefect program is a great experience and of important benefit to both students who are not themselves prefects as well as prefects themselves. I would advise most Carleton students to try to make such an experience a part of their work-study program while at Carleton.”

“The prefect program is a great opportunity for students, both prefects and class members. I think more training and support could have helped me at times, for example, let inexperienced prefects shadow experienced prefects or have a repository or worksheets for standard classes, e.g. intro chem etc.”

“Thanks, Kathy. Hope everything is going well.”

“Great program! Please keep it going.”

“Keep up the good work, Kathy and Russ!”

“I think it's a great program, but aspects of it could be improved somewhat for computer science.  For example, I tried to combine conceptual review with more problem/homework-oriented help, but it was somewhat complicated by the fact in order to work through problems, students need to be seated at computers and in the computer labs there was a limit to the group help/review I could do just because we weren't the only people in the lab.”


“I found that my experience at the time seemed very different than the other prefects, largely because the class I was prefecting was very different than most. Because of the route I followed post-Carleton, that experience has been immensely valuable to me. However, my position at the Federal Home Loan Bank also required that I be able to complete quantitative analysis and explain it clearly to management—skills I developed while serving as a Prefect for the Methods of Political Science class. I should also say that Greg Marfleet was an excellent Professor to be a Prefect for—his mentorship helped me develop skills that have served me well in grad school (and helped lead me there).”