Teaching is my passion, and I have always – in one form or another – been a teacher. I often take a leadership role in groups, offering assistance to group members; I tutored throughout high school, undergraduate, and graduate school; and I have always sought out opportunities to share my skills and expertise with others. I have thus steered my career toward academia and post-secondary teaching, in addition to my research interests, because I love the work and the rewards (and challenges) it brings.
I have cultivated extensive experience teaching at the post-secondary level, having served as a session instructor and guest lecturer, as well as teaching assistant for numerous courses at all levels. I have taught in a variety of academic and non-academic settings, ranging from one-on-one tutoring sessions; small- and medium-sized tutorials, labs, and seminars; and large lectures of over 100 students. As a senior PhD student, and seasoned TA, I frequently worked with new TAs to help them develop and deliver instructional content and offer pedagogical advice. Additionally, I have delivered numerous scientific presentations to various audiences, and have proven my ability to deliver excellent talks and lectures, as shown by my consistently excellent student reviews and “Best PhD Student Presentation” award at the Entomological Society of BC meeting in 2009.
Engaging My Students
My primary goals when teaching are to engage and motivate my students while helping them develop their knowledge and skills. Every student engages differently, and with varied interest, therefore I adapt my methods based on students’ responses and reviews, utilizing various teaching methods and approaches depending on the class, the individual students, and the situation. For example, while some students are capable of discussing problems abstractly, many require specific worked-through examples. Additionally, students vary in their abilities to adapt to traditional lecture format (which is primarily audio-visual and non-interactive) and thus will benefit greatly from more hands-on, interactive lesson plans in labs and tutorials. Because students come from a wide range of educational and linguistic backgrounds, I always encourage students seek out additional help early in the course and to pay extra attention to struggling students – to find ways to motivate and engage with the material, which ultimately reduces frustration and improves academic performance.
Active engagement and learning consists of much more than simply getting students excited about the course material; and I view my role as an educator as both a teacher and a mentor for students. In addition to helping them develop the skills to succeed, I work with students outside of the classroom by sharing my experiences and helping them seek out additional educational opportunities (such as field schools and workshops); work and volunteer experience in research and community outreach; and offering career advice and suggestions.
I use a variety of course delivery methods and draw on multiple information sources. While I use the textbook as a guide for structuring the course, I do not rely solely on the text for lecture content. Rather, I prefer to draw examples from current scientific literature, as well as popular culture and current events, as a means to engage students and to connect the course content to the “real world”. I aim to incorporate multimedia and interactive applets where feasible to enhance the student experience and to deliver course content in exciting ways. In addition to utilizing technological tools, I also seek to maximize the effectiveness of my teaching assistants and use them to their full potential (and help TAs develop their teaching skills).
The most important skills I encourage students to develop are critical thinking and problem solving. With the world’s information readily accessible on the internet, students can, relatively easily, look up facts and details for almost any system. However, without a solid conceptual foundation, much of these “fast facts” can be difficult for students to make sense of. Thus, I emphasize understanding and promote critical examination of concepts and teach techniques for solving problems, rather than having students focus solely on memorization of details. This approach enables students to tackle any problem they encounter and to work through its solution, be it on an exam or a real-world problem.
Additionally, I emphasize using multiple problem-solving approaches to develop a deeper understanding or core concepts and ideas. In particular, while many biologists emphasize experimental design and empirical observations, I go further by also exposing students to more quantitative mathematical approaches, such as modelling. Although some students are initially turned off by the mere mention of mathematics, or fear the worst when presented with an equation, I always encourage students to overcome this initial reluctance and develop an appreciation and understanding of the importance of various mathematical modelling approaches in biology.
I structure all of my assessments to emphasize concepts rather than force students to merely recite details and facts. My exams, in particular, are focused on assessing students’ conceptual understanding of the material as applied to specific real world and abstract systems. I take a more balanced approach with other assessments, such as assignments and quizzes. I structure these in a way that develops students’ understanding of core concepts while also requiring students to fill in appropriate details as needed.
In addition to providing graded assessments, I also provide students with additional exercises and questions for their own self-assessment and practice.