Saturday, September 6, 2008

Notes, Lectures, and Students! Oh my!

I have to give a lecture and I'm ridiculously worried about it. Well, worry may not be the correct word. What's actually going through my mind is: How am I going to fill up 45 mins?

Since my epiphany about wanting a family and not necessarily wanting to work 70+ hour weeks for forever, I've been looking into alternative careers in Science and variations on the R1-institution-professorship thing (like maybe SLAC or something?) that's pushed at Public U. I (and probably you) already know that writing is not my thing. Words don't flow, grammar is a mystery, and it's, well, not my thing. That means that I'm leaning away from a career in science writing. I like the idea of a position like Mad Hatter's position. I also like the idea of teaching and doing research at a smaller-scale institution (as Public U. is huge). So, what does this have to do with anything? Well, I've never given a lecture... ever.

In my particular program we don't have a lot of teaching opportunities. There's TAing the undergrad biochem course and some med/dental school biochem/lab courses. However, we don't lecture in those courses. TAing consists of office hours and proctoring exams. All I've gotten experience in is tutoring, sitting and watching for cheaters, and supervising undergrads. Still, no real teaching per se.

I was discussing this with Advisor (not the whole what-am-I-doing-with-my-life thing, but the interest in teaching thing) and he offered to let me give a lecture in his course (and do the review session that's a part of the class and a test question). The lecture should be fairly easy. It's a technique lecture and it's a technique that I use a lot. It's an easy technique and relatively short. Hence, the time-filling problem. Plus, I'm trying to pitch it to the right level (it's a course for first-year masters students). As in PCR should be a known concept, but do I explain what makes a good primer? Do I go over the history of the technique? And can I use my own (published) data to explain the technique or is that just arrogant (I do have the figures already made)?

Ok, I'll get back to work now. I'm sure I'm making a big deal out of nothing... right?


Geekgirl said...

(forgive any typos, there's a cat on my lap and she refuses to leave so I can type without assistance)

I'm a lurker on your journal, but this post really seemed like something for which I should de-lurk.

When I was teaching, I used examples from my lab's experiments/research fairly often. I tend to think of lectures as a story of something...and illustrations make stories better. Look at every kid's book ever. :)

Think about the things that confused you about PCR when you were first learning it. If they confused you, they probably confused others. GC-content is sometimes a good thing to mention because it's useful not only in primers but also in annealing temps and such. A short history of the technique might add a little levity to the lecture...Kary Mullis was kind of a weirdo, after all. :)

As for alternative careers, there are tons. I left academia after much the same realization (except I prefer cats to kids) and am now happily emplyed in Industry. I get to do everything I liked about academia (learning, scientific interaction, teaching) without all the politics and grant-writing!

Unbalanced Reaction said...

I think that it's great to bring in "real-world" stuff whenever possible. So bring on your data!

Also, isn't PCR used pretty heavily in forensics? One easy way to fill time (while teaching them stuff!) would be to talk about how it works, show your data, etc. and then show a clip from NCIS or CSI or something and then ask the class what was wrong with what they just saw (usually the technique is mentioned and then in like 5 seconds the magic answer (!!!) pops out). Video clips are a great way to get students engaged without them (often) even realizing it.

Unbalanced Reaction said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dr. Bad Ass said...

Since I'm not a scientist, I can't offer much advise with your lecture content. However, in terms of your presentation, the advice I always give myself is . . . slow down. When giving a lecture, I find myself speeding through it, from nerves, I think. I go so fast, I forget to breathe sometimes! So, I purposefully slow down, lower the tone of my voice, and pause.
Wishing you the best!

Jenn said...

Haven't yet read the other comments, so forgive me if this is a repeat....

I had a techniques based seminar during my MSc program and the way we ran it was to have the first half of the lecture as a background and theory session (how/who invented it? Why was it important as an advance to science (i.e. what can we do more easily now that we have this technique compared to before it was invented?)? How was is originally (sans kit) done, and what kind of commercial improvements have come up (no water bath with oil overlay...) Also maybe something about varations on PCR, like real time PCR, or advances in using single cell capture to check gene expression from a tissue sample... something like that.

The second half was always a journal club style section where we looked at a paper whose results relied heavily on using the technique at hand... so in the case of PCR, not a paper that just using it to clone a GFP tagged construct, but one that looks at quantitative changes in gene expression with Q-PCR over treatment time, or something like that... (where the main conclusions of the paper use the technique)

As for using your own results, I think it's ok (at least here it's very common for the prof lecturing to speak almost exclusively about his/her own data), but personally, as a student, I always found it a bit lame.

Good luck with the lecture!

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

Would it be possible to show some failed experiments, followed by detailed troubleshooting? I had a prof who used to do things like that and it was fascinating (not to mention good preparation for my own failed experiments).

Albatross said...

What a great opportunity- I hope it wasn't today and I missed it! I taught an upper level, required course for bio majors last year and you will be surprised how quickly the minutes go!

Using real data is a good idea- especially if the students are thesis based MS students. The other thing in addition to going slow is repetition. If you can use multiple examples (some good, some bad as Cath suggested) it will be better. My students always did better when they heard different interpretations of the same idea.

Good luck!

Amanda said...

Geekgirl: you were dead on with thinking about what confused me and explaining those parts in greater detail. I was told by a student afterward that it was very helpful. It turns out that I'm not the only one who gets confused!

Unbalanced Reaction: Using a video clips and "real world" examples went over very well. At the very least everyone was awake through out the entire presentation.

Dr. Bad Ass: You are indeed a Bad Ass as lowering the tone of my voice was probably the best advice I had. That definitely made me slow down. Even Advisor was surprised that I was able to slow down that much!

Jenn: You're right, theory helped fill out the time and also give things some perspective. Also, how can a blurb about Kary Mullis be anything but fun?

Cath@VWXYNot? and Albatross: You all had a great idea with the troubleshooting. It even helped the students ask questions about things they didn't understand. So, that was good.

Thanks everyone!