PKAL Faculty for the 21st Century
What works: Observations from the field
Faculty for the 21st Century members reflect on their experience in making a difference for their students and for the communities of which they are a part.
If a visitor were to come intoyour classroom/lab—the environment in which you work with students—what impression would s/he leave with?
In the classroom they would encounter a “lecture” environment that tries to incorporate as much recent research as possible. I try to provide the historical basis for the particular subject at hand and show them how it is being applied to unanswered questions that will affect their life. I especially remind them of all of the unanswered questions that their generation will begin to answer. In the laboratory I have tried to blur the boundaries between my research lab and my teaching laboratory. I have students work on primary research that is ongoing in my lab as part of their course work. It gives them insight into how what they learn is applicable to the world of biomedical research as well as provides them with a lab experience in which the “answers” are unknown. I am hoping that this approach will help to “hook” some students early and get them excited about research.
What brought you to an interest in “advancing the frontiers of education” and to connecting your research to that work?
I was completely unexcited about putting together a standard lab course and if I am unenthusiastic about the course, how can I expect the students to be. I believe that the students appreciate the effort that is put in to a lab that incorporates a faculty members research lab. For so many of our students, we are just faces in the classroom and by incorporating our work into the classroom they get a feel for why we chose our path in science and what really excites us in the lab. Although it is more work for me to reinvent parts of the lab course as the project in my own laboratory makes progress, the positive outcomes are worth the effort.
What connections have been of most value in doing this? What kind of institutional culture needs to be in place to nurture careers of faculty actively seeking to integrate their research and teaching?
The most important part of my development as a young teacher/scholar (in my 4th year now) has been the wonderful network of established faculty found in the Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience. I came upon it by accident. I applied for a SOMAS grant, the outgrowth of Julio Ramirez’s distinguished teaching award from the NSF, and was lucky enough to receive one of the awards in the first year they were offered. My motivation was initially obtaining the research funds but it turned out to be the best experience I have had since joining the faculty ranks. The mentoring in grant writing, networking, and undergraduate mentoring really accelerated my development as a PI and a teacher. Through the SOMAS program and then FUN, I was introduced to PKAL and a whole network of like-minded teacher/scholars that were and continue to be a wonderful source of support, ideas, and inspiration. I credit the original grant to challenging me to make the connections I am trying to make between teaching and research. The experience has led to a whole host of wonderful experiences from becoming part of the FUN executive committee, attending the PKAL Neuroscience Education workshop at Macalester, Helping to design and implement a new Interdisciplinary Minor in Neuroscience, and becoming involved in the effort to revive a regional undergraduate neuroscience conference called SYNAPSE (Symposium for Young Neuroscientists And Professors of the SouthEast). For me the institutional culture needs to change to encourage more young faculty to “think globally and act locally” by getting them to reach out to networks of faculty in their specialties. Before my eyes were opened by the SOMAS program I failed to recognize the wealth of experience and ideas that were present outside of my home institution. It is these resources that have the biggest impact on my ability to affect change at my home institution. If these networks are not available in certain disciplines there should be a priority placed on creating them.