Teaching Statement

I firmly believe that students learn science best by doing science. Unfortunately, most undergraduate majors in science leave universities without ever having done science from beginning to end. Most have completed labs and followed methodological directions and interpreted the results, but few have completed the initial, critical stages of science that are its essence and, to most, its attraction – making observations, and thinking about these observations in novel and creative ways that then lead to generation and testing of original ideas and hypotheses. The reason for this glaring irony – that most science majors don’t know how to do science when they graduate – is clear. It takes tremendous one-on-one time to mentor students if they are to learn how to do science properly from the beginning to the end, but time is in short supply. For biology students to overcome this gap, they must not only be able to spend extended time with their mentors, but be immersed in the system they study – nature. To address this need for field-based ecology classes and teach students science through doing science, a primary goal of my teaching effort at UF and Duke has been to establish multiple, field-based courses and thereby empower students by providing them with the intellectual tools necessary to independently develop, test and interpret hypotheses.

Marine Biology and Ecology: Fantastic Sea Creatures and Where to Find Them

Duke University, Durham Campus (Fall)

BIOLOGY 271 / MARSCI 202: Broad foundational knowledge of marine biology with an emphasis on ecology and evolution of marine organisms. Core areas include biodiversity, adaptations to marine environments, population & community ecology, ecosystem processes and services, and human forcing in marine systems. Survey of biodiversity in marine systems spanning microbes to marine mammals, emphasizing taxonomy, habitats and evolutionary history. Explore how marine communities interact with the physical environment to generate ecosystems and accompanying services spanning coastal/estuarine, blue water, and the deep sea. Examine population dynamics, population interactions and the consequences of those interactions.

Field Course in Marine Ecology

St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands (Spring, Duke University Marine Lab, Block A)

This course will introduce students to the plants and animals found in the marine and terrestrial environments of the Caribbean and focus on studying their adaptations and interactions in the context of community ecology. Fishes, invertebrates, reptiles and marine algae will be the major groups encountered and snorkeling will be used for observation and collection (SCUBA certification is not required.) Field work will be the main activity and attention will be given to collection methodology, identification, sampling techniques, research design and other useful field skills.

A typical day’s in this course may involve visits to two or three field locations (e.g., 3-5 hours snorkeling on reefs, seagrass beds and in mangrove creeks), a few lectures and laboratory time in the evening to observe organisms and interactions and conduct experiments. A weekly, 2-hour lecture period at the Duke Marine Lab just prior to departure will be used for lectures, discussions and to introduce the observation, collection and identification techniques to be employed in the course. During the first 5 days spent on St. John, the educational emphasis will be focused on visiting all of the 12 or more ecological habitats (e.g. seagrass, mangroves, coral reefs) on the island and to observe the organisms in situ. Following the site visits, there will be discussions about adaptations seen in the field and the significance of these adaptations in the context of morphology, anatomy, physiology, behavior, development and ecology.

Another major focus of the course is on the variety of biological interactions that occur on the reefs and their ecological/ evolutionary implications. During the second half of the course, students will work in pairs to conduct an independent research project that is closely supervised by 2 faculty (4 faculty and 4 TA’s instruct the course). This work will then presented as a 10 minute talk at a formal symposium on the last day of class and also written-up and handed in as a mock, scientific journal submission. Thus, by the end of this course, undergraduates will have completed scientific research from the beginning to the end, a rare experience for undergraduate majors and a key event to talk about in essays for admission into graduate school.

Howard Hughes Medical Institute BioInteractive

Teaming with Howard Hughes Medical Institute to teach high school students across America about how to form and test scientific questions.

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