Teaching is one of the reasons why I pursue an academic career. I decided to pursue an academic career studying insects and plants during college because I found them intriguing biologically and indispensable for the survival of human society. However, I realized that there is a general lack of connection to the natural world and a lack of understanding of nature's importance in our society. Recognizing this problem, I made it my long-term goal to engage in activities that increase awareness of the importance of all life forms on earth, especially using plants and insects as a model. I believe being a professor in university is one of the best ways to influence young minds and positively impact our society.
Persuading or conveying an idea to people can be difficult. Therefore, it is important to develop a set of effective communications and teaching skills. To find out the best teaching approach, I have been actively observing my teachers throughout all stages of my education, reflecting how each teaching method influenced me and learning from my own teaching experience. These observations yield two major principles that I believe to be fundamental for successful learning and teaching, which are interest and clarity. Interest motivates students to learn for themselves, whereas clarity gives both teachers and students a clear picture of what they aim to achieve in the class.
Self-motivated students usually perform the best. The motivation is usually based on the student’s interest in the topic. I use two approaches to boost students’ interest. First, I spent class time discussing their preferred topics in the course agenda, based on questions such as, why do you choose this course? Why do they think certain topics are important? These discussions help me connect and understand students’ perspectives. Second, based on this information, I rearranged each topic’s proportion and order accordingly and added adequate activities, such as field trips or experiments. Starting with important topics that fit students’ interests, such as topics that connect to their lives, students are more engaged, leading to better performances.
In addition to inciting interests, it is also crucial for the teacher to know what their goals are in the class and what they expect from the students. From experiences throughout my education, I realize that students often do not immediately see the importance of specific topics, especially topics that are very challenging and not immediately applicable. I used to dislike statistics as an undergraduate student because the instructor was vague about the purpose of each lecture and what he expected us to learn. He focused mainly on making sure all the materials were covered regardless of whether students understood it or not. I later find out during graduate school the essential and exciting part of statistics in biological sciences. Our current understanding of biological phenomena is primarily determined by statistical significance. I ended up taking four different statistics courses, and I am much more competent in statistics after this training. As a student, I didn't always know what was important when learning a new topic. Fortunately, I’ve met teachers who provided clear learning objectives and introduced each new topic's importance in coherent ways that connect old concepts with new ideas. I find these approaches helpful and have adopted them. I strive to be very clear about the goals of the course, each lecture, what I expect the students to learn from each activity, and what the bigger picture is of each activity. Clarity on expectations and goals in class will reduce confusion and provide a tangible path for students. Being clear about the bigger picture orient students toward the most important aspects of each topic without going astray and distracted by details; I want them to see the forest, not just the trees.
People learn in different ways; while the conventional lecture is efficient and essential in delivering knowledge, I think learning through interaction is one of the most effective ways to absorb knowledge. Especially in a discipline like biological sciences primarily built on discoveries via experiments. One of the fascinating parts of biology is the living organisms we studied. I realized over the years that hands-on experience for students to interact with the organisms or biological processes that they are learning in the classroom could incite interest leading to better learning results. And without these experiences, I think no matter how well a student can memorize theories and information from the class, students’ knowledge of biology is likely incomplete without these hands-on experiences. Owing to this, I strive to use methods in addition to lectures to teach, such as lab activity and field trips, to give students first-hand experience and a more comprehensive understanding of what they are learning in class.
I believe in the importance of discussion and conversation in learning. While lectures are essential to efficiently summarize knowledge into concentrated and accessible forms, it is crucial to be aware that knowledge is not constant. Knowledge is challenged and changed over time as we advance our understanding of the natural world. Student needs to recognize this very nature of modern science and to do so, the ability to challenge ideas and critically analyze knowledge is essential. Therefore, I strive to incorporate as much discussion or debate-based activities as possible in my classroom. This activity is crucial in building the ability to think critically and communicate ideas effectively with others, which are two of the most important skills in academia and our lives.
I am a person who strives to be inclusive and empathetic, especially after years of experience studying abroad. From a culturally Chinese family in Taiwan, I never felt out of place growing up because 95% of Taiwanese are Han Chinese. As an undergraduate student, I used to be unaware of the struggles and hurdles faced by students from marginalized groups, such as indigenous or from other countries. However, the years in the United States have transformed me. It was a challenging experience because of cultural differences, language barriers, and being introverted. I experienced many obstacles socially and academically. Going through these difficulties allows me to truly relate to marginalized students' struggles. This experience taught me how to be empathetic and inclusive. To help others with similar challenges, I became a member of the Departmental Diversity Committee, representing the international students in our department and trying to help them transition to new life in the USA. These experiences have made me more sympathetic and compassionate. I believe these experiences have given me the sensitivity to understand difficulties experienced by my students and the willingness and ability to help my students based on their individual needs and challenges.
In conclusion, I have obtained a collection of effective teaching techniques from my education. These experiences have shaped into two main principles: (1) inciting interest (2) providing clarity. I aim to be a teacher that guides my students to their interest/passions and provide a clear picture of what I expect them to learn. Using hands-on and conversation-based approaches, I want my students to have a more comprehensive understanding of the knowledge and learn to critically think and communicate with others. I strive to learn from my students and continuously adjust my teaching approaches to maximize my students’ education and be a better teacher myself.