Training, Philosophy, and Teaching Interests
Training and Experience
When I was a university student, I quickly recognized effective communicators from those who were not -- and my goal was to be a Professor with excellent communication skills. To prepare for teaching at the university level, I completed teacher education training at the University of British Columbia (UBC). UBC provided a year of intensive training on lesson plans, grading, controlling audiences, and practica, which proved to be highly beneficial. I am now a certified secondary science teacher, who has taught Biology to high school students for almost two years. At the University of California (Irvine), I taught several undergraduate courses (~30 students per course) as a Biology laboratory instructor. At University of California, University of South Carolina, and University of Washington, I have individually taught molecular biology techniques to undergraduate and graduate students (>20), and microarray technology and bioinformatics to post-doctoral fellows (>3). Several of my students now have Ph.D. degrees in molecular biology, and former post-doctoral fellows now hold university faculty positions. At the Ph.D. level, I have taught the following courses at Alabama State University: Microbial Physiology, Biochemistry, and Applied Microbiology. In terms of teaching general microbiologists, I have organized and taught four day long workshops at the American Society for Microbiology General Meetings (1995 to 1998) on topics ranging from 'pathogens in drinking water' to 'the use of artificial neural networks for analyzing microbiological data'.
I believe that teaching is a critical part of being a productive scientist. Specifically, teaching: (i) provides an opportunity for scientists to pass on knowledge and enthusiasm for science, (ii) forces scientists to present complex ideas in easy-to-understand ways, and in return, provides much-needed feed back for writing papers and grant proposals, and (iii) help scientists assess knowledge from the literature as well as underlying assumptions guiding research. In my opinion, the process of teaching is a reciprocal act of learning both for teacher and student. To date, graduate students (and post-doctoral fellows) have played a very important role in my academic development. I involve students in every aspect of my research, from testing hypotheses to polishing a manuscript for peer review. There have been many times students have given me essential critical feed back which has improved my work. Clearly, in my laboratory, there is no dividing line between teaching, learning, and research.
In the classroom, I see myself as a facilitator who is responsible for guiding students through curriculum by discussions, question and answer sessions, readings, and problem-solving exercises. My preferred way to teach is based on my best learning experiences as an undergraduate student in biophysics. The professors, who taught this course, inspired me because they made abstract concepts easy-to-understand and showed us the relevance of biophysics in our daily lives. How did they accomplish this? The professors wrote a paperback book containing 20 work modules. Each module contained a section on the fundamentals of a topic, a section with sample problems and answers, and a section with questions that might appear on a test. After completing a work module, a student was required to write a small test (at their convenience). One of the rules for the course was that the students were required to complete a test for a particular module before the scheduled lecture presentation. A passing test score was ≥ 85%. In the event of failure, the student was given two additional chances to pass a different version of the same test. Grading for the course was based on the module test scores (50%) and a final exam (50%). This modular approach was particularly effective in learning the course material because some of the responsibility for learning the course material was put squarely on the student. If the student had problems with a particular module topic, he/she could go to a Help Center. Moreover, it was the student (not the professor) who decided if he/she was adequately prepared to take a test. From my observation, most students finished all the modules in the fastest way possible, passing all tests on the first time within the first six weeks of the course. For me, the lectures turned out to be much more interesting than those of other courses because completion of all the modules beforehand forced me to be in tune with the contents of the lectures and the professors had time to relate the module topics to real life situations.
From this experience, I learned the keys for success in teaching are: (i) having well-prepared documentation (work modules), (ii) having a well thought-out curriculum and grading scheme, and, (iii) in order to stimulate critical thinking, provide the bridge between work modules and relevant real life situations. It is my desire to create a similar learning experience for all courses I teach. Lastly, given that most students will not remember most of the information discussed in the course once it is completed, an important objective of teaching for me is to help improve scientific literacy and encourage students to think critically, like a scientist.
My expertise allows me to teach: Biology, Environmental Microbiology, Microbiology, Molecular Biology, Microbial Ecology, Molecular biology, Advances in Biotechnology, Bioinformatics, Laboratory Course on Sequence Analysis of Microbial Genomes.