Field of Science

My Course

While exceedingly time consuming, I truly enjoy teaching. I currently teach a course called Eukaryotic Microbiology that is in its second iteration. In other words, this is the second time Im teaching it and is the second time this course has been offered. Last year, I taught this course with a colleague, but he has moved on leaving the course in my hands.

This series of events has been particularly stressful because the course is still in its infancy and I had to essentially double the content of the course. I say essentially, because I can draw on some of the things done by my colleague last year. Regardless, this is, in my opinion, a great course. (Obviously, the students may disagree...I am interested in this year's evalutions). The course is geared for advanced undergraduates and some beginning graduate students. Further, there are no good textbooks that cover eukaryotic microbiology (mycology, parasitology, plant biology are just some areas that need to be included)....You know maybe this could be a sabbatical project, but I digress....

So how do I deal with the lack of a textbook? While I may be an expert in some areas of mycology, I am not an expert in eukaryotic microbiology. Further, it would be impossible to cover eukaryotic microbiology in any depth over the span of time we have. Thus, this course was designed to discuss important areas of biology and important eukaryotic microbes. We use review articles and primary peer reviewed articles as the focus of our discussion. We dedicate one week to each topic/organism. For example, this week we focused on the parabasalids, a deeply rooted branch of the eukaryotic lineage which is best known for harboring the sexually transmitted pathogen Trichomonas vaginalis and a variety of termite gut protists that are required for termites to be able to digest wood. First, I give a lecture introducing the organism(s) being addressed and the topic we are focusing on. The students, presumably, have read several reviews to get them up to speed. During the second class, two students present an assigned research article (one article per student) focusing on one aspect of their paper. Finally, the third class is a discussion, led by me, based on questions/issues that arise from the lecture or papers. We use the awesome power of the internet to post questions on the course website, an advantage being students can respond to each other and a dialog can begin before this third class.

What I appreciate most about this class is that I realize these students are generally not going to remember jack about these organisms or topics. However, I do believe they get a better appreciation for how science and the scientific process actually works. We spend time talking about why a given paper is better than another, how papers are peer reviewed, what are the limitations to a given experiment, etc. Further, some of my students make extremely insightful comments on specific issues I had not considered, so I find I learn as much if not more than my students.

It will be nice to have this course completely under my belt at the end of the semester, so I can begin to refine those topics that did not work as I had hoped or completely change those topics that I believe failed. Sadly, one of the papers I chose for this weeks student presentation was a bust. While the paper had many limitations, I thought that the novelty of it would be appreciated (I primarily pick papers with a heavy duty molecular genetic focus, so I figured I would throw the students a bone). Alas the novelty could not outweigh the limitations. So I have already identified an aspect to be adjusted for next year.

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