PLTL Leadership

The Role and its Benefits

A PLTL leader is: a mentor, not a traditional tutor; an advanced peer, not a subject matter expert; an academic role model, not a professor. Rather than instructing, the job of a PLTL leader is to guide students toward a better grasp of their course material, and help them to develop their own independence in problem-solving. A PLTL leader plants seeds of group discussion that will lead the students to have a deeper, more enriched understanding of their course concepts.

When a great leader leads, people say,“we did it ourselves.”
Lao Tzu, China, circa 450 BCE

The PLTL leader’s expected area of “expertise” is academic success, not physics. As such, the leader’s job is to help students develop effective study habits, rather than to lecture them about the course content. However, it is necessary that leaders understand the material that will be covered in the PLTL sessions, as this will allow them to Socratically respond to student questions in a way that will guide the group discussion appropriately.

Research indicates that not only does PLTL benefit students in the study groups, but the leaders, as well! PLTL leaders demonstrate greater proficiency in subject content, and report having increased confidence in entering science-related careers after graduation as well as interest and appreciation for teaching. This paid position provides skills in communication, leadership, presentation, and pedagogy—strengths which are invaluable to any workplace, regardless of career path! Once in the workforce, some former leaders have even reported PLTL leadership as their most productive learning experience.

For more information about the physics PLTL program, please visit our webpage:

Responsibilities and Expectations for a Physics PLTL Leader

  • In addition to the weekly PLTL sessions, leaders are required to register for two separate training courses.
    • The first course is “Seminar in Academic Mentoring” (SAM), which is a one-credit course that meets once weekly for an hour. The purpose of this course is to prepare first-semester leaders for their new roles by providing them with the knowledge and skills necessary for effective academic mentorship, including: leadership, group learning facilitation and dynamics, active listening, and promoting a growth mindset. This course will also teach new leaders about the philosophy of PLTL, which teaches students to become more confident problem-solvers, and about how to foster an inclusive, student-centered study group which encourages participation from everyone. Enrollment in this course is only required in the first semester of employment as a PLTL leader.
    • The second course is “Practical Applications of Academic Mentoring” (PAM), which is a two-credit course that meets once weekly for two hours. The purpose of this course is to allow leaders to work through the packets of PLTL problems that will be covered in the sessions that week, practice their group-facilitation strategies, and develop relevant probing questions which can be used to guide discussion in their sessions. Enrollment in this course is required each semester.
  • Leaders are expected to maintain familiarity with the material taught in Physics 191/192 (formerly 197/198 or 117/118). While PAM exists to provide leaders with practice, leaders are encouraged to review their old lecture notes, read through an intro physics text, or sit in on current course lectures in order to brush up on material that they may have forgotten.
  • Leaders are required to participate in evaluative surveys, as well as group management functions including maintaining session attendance and contacting students.


The ideal candidate for the physics PLTL leader position is a student who actively participated in the Physics PLTL program, received a grade no less than an A- in their Physics 191/192 courses or in Physics 193/194 courses (formally 197/198 or 117/118) or an upper divisional physics course, and is motivated to help other students succeed. An ideal PLTL leader must be responsible, flexible, patient, and work well in groups. As this is a new program for our department, applicants who did not participate in Physics PLTL but who meet the remaining criteria will still be considered.

Applicants must obtain one letter of reference from a Washington University employee, to be submitted electronically. Suggestions for character references include your TA, RPM, RA, or another professional who has observed the aforementioned qualities/characteristics. You’ll find more information about this in the leader application.

If you have questions or concerns regarding the position or the application process, please do not hesitate to contact the Physics PLTL Coordinator

The application for Physics PLTL leaders for the 2022-2023 academic year will be open until February 11 at 1pm.