I have taught college-level courses at The University of Connecticut, Wesleyan University, Yale University, The Ohio State University, The University of Rhode Island, and Shizuoka University. I also designed an adult education curriculum for an educational 501c3 nonprofit.
Teaching gives me the opportunity to show students the value of problem-solving and critical thinking skills. I enjoy engaging and exciting students about the natural world around them, whether they are considering a biology career, a career in another related field such as medicine, or an entirely different path. I teach because I have a lifelong passion for learning— teaching puts me in a position where I must continuously learn, either to master the course material myself, or to learn about more effective ways to design and teach classes.
Writing to Learn
I have taught a number of different writing-intensive courses. The process of designing and teaching these courses has led me to a new appreciation of the links between writing, thinking, and learning. Before teaching writing courses, I did not fully appreciate that the way I learn about a new topic is to sit down and write about it; I did not fully appreciate how the processes of writing and thinking go hand in hand. As I’ve gained experience teaching writing, I’ve come to look at my own writing in new ways—and I’ve come to appreciate the importance of modeling the writing process, so that my students can write to learn and learn to write.
Getting out from behind the podium
With experience, I have gained a greater appreciation for the skills of my own teachers. The best combined humor, accessibility, and relevance in their courses. Humor helps reinforce the perspective that teaching and learning are ultimately positive experiences. Accessibility is an important part of bringing teaching out from behind the podium and recasting the role of professor into one of learning facilitator for actively-learning students. Relevance links students’ intellectual activities together instead of isolating them—while topics such as biomes or succession theory are interesting in an abstract sense, tying them down to relevant and familiar examples makes them more memorable.
Few, if any, works of scholarship are the products of single individuals. Collaboration is a fact of our daily lives, whether we have careers in business, STEM, or any other discipline. Collaboration improves with practice; thus, when possible, I design assignments in which students can collaborate with each other. Collaborative assignments have the benefits of providing experience, and they also reinforce learning, because students often learn best from their peers.
Science education is uniquely challenging; while science itself is exploratory and collaborative, learning foundational science skills requires at least some traditional instruction. I actively work to fine-tune the balance between instruction-by-example and student-centered inquiry in my courses. For example, many introductory biology students have difficulty understanding life tables. In my introductory biology courses, I walked through examples of life tables, showing that they are more straightforward than they look at first glance; then students worked through additional examples. This combined approach worked better than simply lecturing about life tables or just letting the students try to understand them on their own. More advanced large-lecture courses offer additional opportunities for combining traditional instruction and student-driven discussion. For example, in my Ecology course, I spent several minutes of each lecture soliciting examples and input from students, and as a class—all 200+ of us—we explored the ways in which those examples fit into the sequence of topics in the course syllabus.
My upper-level classes are much more student-centered, with students exploring and presenting information to each other about case- or problem-based exercises. In my “Introduction to Undergraduate Research” seminar, students built their own Wiki of summer undergraduate research opportunities. In my “Extinction” course, students explored the biological, political, cultural, and conservation aspects of bushmeat consumption and formed groups to discuss and share their findings. For “Methods in Field Ecology,” each student developed an individual research project, collected and analyzed data, and prepared a project presentation similar to presentations at scientific meetings; other students in the class conducted anonymous peer-reviews of each project and presentation.
Even for materials presented in a lecture format, learning need not be passive. I take pains to build into each lecture an arc—an arc that presents the observations needing explanation, the process of developing explanations, and ultimately, the explanations or theories that best explain the original observations. Building such an arc into the structure of a lecture is a method of taking a big question—one that might require students to make large conceptual leaps or draw conclusions beyond their skills or experiences—and converting it into a series of smaller problems and smaller conceptual leaps that allow students to make connections and draw conclusions in real time during the lecture.
I actively seek teaching development opportunities. I have participated in Case Method workshops, workshops on effective use of PowerPoint, and I was part of a pilot project to evaluate the use of handheld “clicker” devices in introductory biology courses, which convinced me to use such devices at UCONN and Ohio State. Clicker technology helped boost student interest and participation even in large-enrollment courses, and the data from these devices allowed me to continuously refine course content to match student need and comprehension.
Becoming a student again
Perhaps the most valuable teaching training I have undertaken recently was to become a student myself, in UCONN’s School of Business. All of my biology teaching has been from the perspective of an expert, because I have had expertise in biology dating from the time that I started taking upper-level undergraduate courses. Taking courses in business, an area in which I had no particular expertise and absolutely no prior coursework, forced me to sit back and think about teaching design and effectiveness from a more abstract perspective. I’ve incorporated my experiences as a returning student into my own teaching.
Descriptions taken from course catalogues
The University of Connecticut (Assistant Professor in Residence, Instructional Specialist, Adjunct Professor)
- BIO 1102: Foundations of Biology (2005, 2006, 2016, 2018).
A laboratory course designed for non-science majors; surveys major biological principles with emphasis on their importance to humans and modern society.
- BIO 1108: Principles of Biology II (2004, 2005, 2006, 2019).
Designed to provide a foundation for more advanced courses in Biology and related sciences. Topics covered include ecology, evolution, genetics, and plant biology.
- BIO 1108: Laboratory for Introductory Biology (2012).
Laboratory course to accompany BIO 1108.
- BIO 1109: Topics in Modern Biology (2014).
Readings, lectures, seminars, films and field trips exploring current developments in biology and their social and scientific implications.
- BIO 2289: Introduction to Undergraduate Research (2014, 2015, 2018).
Introduction to the variety of research programs in the Life Sciences on the Storrs campus. Required of Sophomore Biology Honors students; also open to students interested in undergraduate research.
- EEB 2202: Evolution and Human Diversity (2016, 2018).
The biological bases of human diversity from genetic and evolutionary perspectives.
- EEB 2208: Introduction to Conservation Biology (2018, 2019).
Patterns of biodiversity and extinction; causes of extinction and population declines; ecological restoration; conservation planning; protection of ecosystem services; implementing conservation actions; conservation economics; conservation law; effects of global change.
- EEB 2214: Biology of the Vertebrates (2004-2005).
Evolutionary history and diversity of vertebrates with emphasis on classification, fossil history, feeding, locomotion, physiological ecology, reproduction, defense, and social behavior.
- EEB 2244: General Ecology (2011, 2013, 2016, 2018).
Fundamental ecological dynamics of communities, populations and ecosystems, with emphasis in discussion sections on reading primary literature, problem-solving, and exposure to ecological research techniques.
- EEB 2244W: Writing section for General Ecology (2014, 2015).
Content as in EEB 2244W but with additional major writing assignment.
- EEB 2245: Evolutionary Biology (2007, 2019).
Introduction to evolutionary mechanisms, biogeography, and the history of major groups of plants and animals.
- EEB 2245W: Writing section for Evolutionary Biology (2005-2007, 2014, 2015, 2019).
Content as in EEB 2245W but with additional major writing assignment.
- EEB 2293WC: Methods of Field Ecology (2005-2006).
An intensive introduction to field and laboratory methods in ecology. Emphasis placed on the use of quantitative and analytical techniques in physiological, population, community and ecosystem ecology. An introduction to sampling procedures, data collection and statistical analysis. Computers are used to model population and community dynamics and to analyze ecological data sets. Laboratory periods consist of field and laboratory problems; field trips required, including occasional weekend trips.
Wesleyan University (Visiting Assistant of Integrative Sciences)
- CIS 150: The Art of Scientific Writing (2016, 2017).
This course provides an example-driven approach to developing science writing skills. Students will be pressed to grasp the importance of the iterative revision process of successful expository writing. Students will complete a final project that ideally connects to independent research work.
- CIS 520: Academic Writing and Publishing (2016, 2017).
This graduate-level course is designed to help students’ master basic expository writing skills in order to successfully communicate their research in the published literature, to complete their theses, and to write grant proposals. Students will be encouraged to focus on their own independent research work as subject matter of writing exercises.
The Ohio State University (Visiting Assistant Professor)
- BIOL 114: Form, Function, Diversity and Ecology (2010).
Exploration of biology and biological principles; evolution and speciation, diversity in structure, function, behavior, and ecology among prokaryotes and eukaryotes. A broad introduction to biology.
- EEOB 370: Extinction (2010).
Exploration of the causes of, and possible solutions to, the present-day global extinction event.
- EEOB 405.01: Diversity and Systematics of Organisms (2009).
Survey of organismal diversity and the evolutionary relationships between and within major taxonomic groups.
Yale University (Lecturer)
- E&EB 115a: Conservation Biology (2008).
An introduction to ecological and evolutionary principles underpinning efforts to conserve Earth’s biodiversity. Efforts to halt the rapid increase in disappearance of both plants and animals. Discussion of sociological and economic issues.
- E&EB 220a: General Ecology (2008).
The theory and practice of ecology, including the ecology of individuals, population dynamics and regulation, community structure, ecosystem function, and ecological interactions at broad spatial and temporal scales. Topics such as climate change, fisheries management, and infectious diseases are placed in an ecological context.
- E&EB 230a: Field Ecology (2008).
A field-based introduction to ecological research. Experimental and descriptive approaches, comparative analysis, and modeling are explored through field and small-group projects.
- E&EB 255b: Biology of the Invertebrates (2009).
A systematic treatment of the invertebrate phyla, with emphasis on anatomy, functional organization, and evolutionary history.
- E&EB 256Lb: Laboratory for Biology of the Invertebrates (2009).
Study of the anatomy of representative living invertebrates accompanied by examination of museum specimens of living and fossil invertebrates.
The University of Rhode Island (Adjunct Professor)
- Bio 272: General Evolution (2011).
Introduction to evolution as the unifying thread in the biosphere. Processes and patterns discussed, including microevolution and macroevolution. Social impact of evolution discussed from a biological perspective.
Shizuoka University, Hamamatsu, Japan (Visiting Professor)
- Seminar in Field Ecology Research (2010).
English-language seminar on ecological field research and data analysis.
Corinthian Colleges (Adjunct Online Instructor)
- EVS 1001: Environmental Science (2011-2012).
This non-laboratory course introduces students to environmental issues through an understanding of the interrelationships of humans and their planet. Attention is focused on ecosystems, pollution, energy, and improvement or prevention of problems. Environmental concerns are explored through readings, research, and discussion.
The University of Michigan (Graduate Student Teaching Assistant)
- BIO 154: Introduction to Biology.
Second term of a two-term introductory sequence intended for concentrators in biology, other science programs or preprofessional studies. Other suitably prepared students wishing detailed coverage of biology are also welcome. The aims of Biology 152/154 are: (1) to provide factual and conceptual knowledge, (2) to afford experience in obtaining and interpreting biological hypotheses, (3) to give an integrated overview of modern biology and (4) to develop thinking and writing skills. Topics in Biology 154 include: (a) plant biology; (b) development; (c) animal structure and function; and (d) animal behavior.
- BIO 195: Introduction to Biology.
Biology 195 is a one-term alternative to the Biology 152-154 sequence. It differs from 152-154 in the accelerated pace of study and emphasis on the laboratory. Biology 195 is divided into four units (Biology of Cells, Genetics and Development, Biology of Organisms, and Biology of Populations). Unit examinations test both factual recall and analytical and integrative abilities. Lectures in Biology 195 reinforce key topics from the reading assignments and laboratory work and provide in-depth perspectives in several subdisciplines of biology. The laboratory, which is central to the course, provides the opportunity to make observations and perform experiments; these are discussed weekly in recitations.
- BIO 305: Genetics.
This course is designed for students who are concentrating in the natural sciences, or who intend to apply for graduate or professional study in basic or applied biological sciences. This introduction to genetics is divided into three segments: nature and properties of genetic material, transmission of genetic material, and function and regulation of genetic material. There are three hours of lecture a week and one discussion section directed by teaching assistants. The discussion sections are used to introduce relevant new material, to expand on and review the lecture material, and to discuss problem assignments. Grading is based on examinations covering the lecture material, discussion material, reading assignments in the text, and problem sets covered in the discussion sections.
- BIO 494: Evolution and Human Behavior.
This course explores the sense in which human behavior can appropriately be viewed as an outcome of the process of organic evolution, and the consequences of this proposition. The principles of modern evolutionary theory are discussed with special reference to their significance for topics like sexuality, mate choice and pair bonds, parental care, nepotism, social reciprocity, and senescence and the life pattern. Emphasis is on evolutionary process rather than pattern, thus on natural selection and how it works; but the course begins with lectures on the pattern of evolution of hominids and the historical geography of humans. Theories of cultural change and learning are discussed, and efforts are made to relate cultural patterns and findings of the social sciences to the human background in biological evolution. A special effort is made to consider difficult topics such as music, art, humor, ethics, and morality. Discussion sections are oriented toward animal behavior to complement the lectures and broad the course.