29 August 2012

And so it begins.

My silence here over the last few weeks is attributed to a common source of consternation among academics: the beginning of the semester. I've taken on a new role for work this academic year. For the first time, NESCent has teamed up with Duke Biology to sponsor a postdoctoral position. The responsibilities are half-time teaching and half-time research (regular postdocs at NESCent spend are full-time researchers on their independently directed projects). I was fortunate enough to apply for and obtain this position, and August 1 marked the transition to these new responsibilities. Thus, I've spent time over the last few weeks preparing for the start of classes this last Monday.

Several other postdocs in my cohort expressed disbelief that I would choose to sacrifice a portion of my research time over the next year. NESCent is an idyllic place for postdocs. We choose our own research activities and have a great deal of freedom in balancing projects. I also have quite a bit of teaching experience. What was my impetus for pursuing teaching, then?

Well, I really like teaching. I'm also assisting in teaching a class I find very compelling for both intellectual and research purposes. There are two introductory biology classes here at Duke: cell/molecular and ecology/genetics. The latter class, which is a spot-on match for my own research pursuits, is the class with which I am involved. I'm teaching a lab section and helping with curriculum development for the lab and lecture. There are several facets of this experience I'm hoping will give me some perspective as I start applying for faculty positions, including interacting with a different demographic of student than I am accustomed to teaching, observing a variety of lecturers, and integrating on-line class components. That's even before I start helping modify any course content! I expect to teach genetics and evolution courses in the future, so I'm totally jazzed about thinking about setting up such courses right now.

Part of my job this year is observing class lectures three times a week. I've both taken and taught classes that have covered similar material in the past. It would be easy to settle into a mindless stupor instead of remaining engaged. Instead, I'm taking the opportunity to think about broad concepts of evolution and teaching, and think about connections in my contextual framework of scientific knowledge. It amuses me that I keep getting mini-epiphanies throughout the course of these lectures, reinforcing my belief that thinking about education is well worth my time.

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