This is the second blog piece I’ve written, although it may be the first one you’ll read. Dr. Clay Clark asked me to blog about my experiences teaching BIO 414 (Cell Biology) for the first time. I wrote one piece half-way through the semester about one particularly interesting teaching experience. Then Clay asked me for the backstory but I never felt introspective enough to get into it. Now it’s the day before graduation and I’m feeling introspective, so here goes…
For the last ten years or so, I’ve spent my life mostly as a protein x-ray crystallographer, doing structural & biochemical studies primarily on a small GTPase protein called Ras, which acts as a ‘molecular switch’, regulating a number of signal transduction pathways important in cell growth and differentiation. The protein is found mutated in a number of cancers and was one of the first human oncogenes discovered, so it’s a pretty big deal in the cancer biology and signal transduction fields and our research was going very well. Then my boss & mentor, Dr. Carla Mattos, decided to move to Boston and I decided to stay in North Carolina.
At first, that was a big shock, because I love my life and wasn’t planning on changing anything. But since change looked unavoidable, I thought that since I’ve always wanted to try teaching, I would give that a shot, if I could. Last fall I started teaching an evening introductory biology course as an adjunct at Campbell University, a small, rural college near my home. I spent the day finishing up experiments and packing up the lab and taught at Campbell two nights a week. It meant less time with the family, but it was a great first experience teaching, because I only had seven students.
This semester was a big transition, going from a freshman biology class of seven to a senior cell biology class of almost ninety. It was a great opportunity. Too good to pass up, even though by the time I found out about the job I had already agreed to teach two evening labs at Campbell & was lucky enough to find a part-time research job in Dr. Bob Rose’s lab, the other protein crystallographer at NCSU. Looking back, it was a great experience and I learned a lot. Most of all, I learned that I love teaching. I had a lot of help and got a lot of great and timely advice from a lot of people.
One of the best things I learned was how bright my students are. Some were questioning, outspoken and challenging, which was fun. Some were quiet as door mice in class, but wrote brilliant essays or had great questions and discussions during office hours. To teach properly, I had to learn to communicate with them all. The ironic thing is, I think I did, but now it’s the end of the class and since a lot of them are graduating there’s no chance of even seeing them around on campus. So… good luck graduating class of BIO414!
And now with the backstory, maybe Clay will post my first blog…..