Classroom teaching experiences have given me first-hand experience in, and a healthy respect for, the rigors and responsibilities involved with educating students. I view teaching as a serious commitment that requires a significant expenditure of time and energy, but it is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job. In the classroom, I strive for an interactive and experiential learning environment that includes a healthy mixture of core material and concepts, skill development, and active learning through discussion and participation by students. For course content, I use a mixture of material from texts and primary literature that highlights both fundamental concepts and recent advances. In the laboratory and field, I design activities that are meant to give students a hands-on and more in-depth understanding of course content, as well as experience with modern techniques, measurements, and data analysis. I also like to include independent projects, papers, and presentations on subjects of direct interest and relevance to course material and, ideally, a student’s chosen career. Helping students develop their communication skills is a very important aspect of my classes.
I have advised more than two dozen students on independent research, senior-year thesis projects, and graduate research projects. I have found the role of research mentor to be one that is immensely satisfying. Being a good mentor involves finding a healthy balance between providing enough guidance to make a project professional and feasible, and enough independence to challenge a student to think, be creative, and solve problems analytically. In my experience, an ideal student research project is often carried out within the umbrella of a larger project that provides a base of intellectual, logistic, and financial support. By being part of a larger project, students have the opportunity to interact in a way that is similar to the way modern science is done now, thereby broadening the learning experience and expanding future capacity to collaborate. As a faculty member, then, having a well-funded research program is very important! Some students, however, are advanced enough to identify interesting ecological questions and begin designing their own projects, and I always encourage this activity.