Tracy Taylor‑Helmick, professor

A day in the life

Tracy Taylor‑Helmick, professor


I remember being back in their shoes and feeling invisible, so I try hard to make sure I can see everyone and to let them know I care.

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For Nikola Hartling, it was a gesture that made an immeasurable difference in her life. Back when the graduating student was in second year and struggling with university, she found herself in Tracy Taylor-Helmick’s large cognitive psychology class of 200-plus students. 

Prior to the second midterm, Nikola says Dr. Taylor-Helmick suggested applying the cognitive theories taught in class to her study habits and seeing if that would help. It did, says Nikola,  “and for the first time I got an A+.”

Not only that. The psychology professor sent out congratulatory emails to the students who received an A or an A+ grade, Nikola among them. But she also received a second email, this one telling her that of all the students in the class, she had made the most improvement.

“For the first time at Dalhousie, I no longer felt like ‘just a number,’ I felt as though someone cared about my success; and at that moment, I realized I wanted that success,” says Nikola, who treasures that message and reads it over whenever she needs a boost.

No stranger to large classes, Dr. Taylor-Helmick says she makes it her mission to reach out to students—she notices them and she knows their names. It’s that extra effort, not to mention her enthusiasm for the subject matter and engaging style, that has led to her being awarded Dalhousie’s top teaching award, the Alumni Award for Excellence for Teaching.

“I remember being back in their shoes and feeling invisible,” says Dr. Taylor-Helmick, who tries to make herself less anonymous too, by using examples from her own life in her teaching instead of from the textbook. “So I try hard to make sure I can see everyone and to let them know I care.”

But teaching has never been easy. Even after 10 years on faculty at Dalhousie, she still finds her nerves are frayed before the start of class and compares the feeling to mounting the crest of a steep incline in a rollercoaster.

“But it’s manageable anxiety,” she reassures with a smile. “It actually feels like fun. A three-hour class will fly by.”