One major goal of a liberal arts education is for students to learn how to learn. While the majority of memorized information fades with time, the fundamental ability of how to acquire new knowledge is lifelong. I believe that the primary role of a teacher is to promote this ability to think critically. Teachers in the life sciences are particularly well positioned to help students develop the ability to acquire, synthesize, and apply new knowledge. The nature of scientific inquiry relies on the ability to learn and then apply that understanding in a new context. Guiding students through the process of problem solving, for example by discussing classic or current experiments in biology, is an ideal way to introduce new scientific language and concepts. Encouraging students to apply those concepts to a different problem provides reinforcement and challenges them to identify and fill-in gaps in their knowledge. Promoting independent learning in this manner is an ideal way to help students learn how to learn—an essential quality for all students and especially future scientists.
A small college is an optimal environment for another major goal of undergraduate education: students should learn how to question. Again, teachers in the biological sciences are uniquely positioned to provide students with this ability. As seen in classic, seminal papers, the most profound findings, and discovery in general, arrises by asking the right questions. Indeed, often the most elegant results stem from the genius of clear and simple questions. To solve a problem one must understand the question(s), how they might be answered, and what logical conclusions can be drawn from those answers. Thus, in teaching science, one should not only convey scientific information but also foster an understanding of how that information relates to the underlying questions.
In teaching, I seek to expose students to the hypothesis-based reasoning that generated our current knowledge of the world around us. Like a good hypothesis, I believe that teaching should be clear and straightforward. If information is not conveyed with clarity, then students will be lost, no matter how exciting and interesting the topic. The best teachers are those that convey the right amount of relevant information, that is, those that understand the importance of knowing what to leave out. One goal of my classes is for students to clearly grasp the fundamental concepts of the course. To meet this goal, I work to tune the pace, delivery, and content of lectures and discussions and seek out subjective feedback from students to assess the progress of these goals.
Making science approachable to students who have other academic interests or who have not had limited previous exposure to science is critical. It is clear that scientific literacy is essential in today's society. In order for this to occur, I believe that a teacher must actively work to engage all students. Students come from a variety of backgrounds, in education and in life, and their reasons for attending class may be equally as varied. I feel that teaching to this type of audience should not rely on a single style; what works for one student will certainly not work for all of them. By using primary literature, anecdotes, appropriate examples, and demonstrations, my goal is to earn and maintain each student's enthusiasm for learning.