Category Archives: Career Development

Collaboration is the Key to Success in Publishing Your Work

As an Assistant Professor, you are under a lot of pressure to teach new classes, perform service and of course publish. Often times you do not have a mentor to guide you and you are off on your own pathway to tenure. While I had many good ideas about some teaching research I wanted to perform with my students I needed help in executing a study and publishing my work. While the goal was clear, the plan and the execution were not. Where to start was the biggest and most difficult hurdle.

I assumed incorrectly that the best way to be successful in publishing was to do it on my own. After all, I would only be accountable to myself and need not worry about collaborators who might be hard to reach and would take a long time to complete their portion of a manuscript. I tried this path initially and it was incredibly difficult as I could only work on one project at a time. The turning point came when I attended an Experimental Biology (EB) meeting Teaching Section symposium several years ago; I vividly recalled an excellent presentation where the speaker showed us an elegant study of how he used active learning and student grades improved. This talk inspired me and I got excited to try this with my class by performing a similar study. The excitement abruptly ended when he stated the two sections of students he used for his study had 250 and 300 students respectively. My own classes are between 12-20 students, quite small in comparison and I was completely disheartened thinking it would take years of study before I surveyed that many students. After the talk, I went up to him to ask a question, there was someone in front of me that asked the question that I had planned to ask. She said “I have small classes and for me to do a study of significance would take years”. I chimed in “I am in the same situation”. He answered us both with one word “Collaborate”. I walked away disheartened as I did not know anyone that I could collaborate with on a study.

After some time to reflect that this course of action was what I needed I developed an active plan to execute at the next EB meeting. At the Claude Bernard Lecture, I introduced myself to Barb Goodman. This was an excellent choice, as Barb knows everyone and she was kind enough to introduce me to everyone who approached her. From there my confidence grew. The next smart decision I made was to sit in the front during the lecture and all future Teaching Section Symposia. Do not hide in the back as people sometimes come in late and this can be distracting. In the front of the room are the friendly people who are very happy to talk with you and share ideas.

The next step was to follow the program and attend the Teaching Section luncheon. At this event, a small group of people dedicated to teaching and student success sit and talk about the different classes they teach and share ideas about teaching challenges. The tables are small and round so you can meet everyone at your table. Another key event to attend at EB is the Teaching Section Business meeting and dinner. At the dinner, you get a chance to meet more people in a relaxed setting. Some of the attendees have attended the other events and this is a great way to practice your recall and talk with them on a first name basis.

The final step in meeting people with whom to collaborate is to participate in an Institute on Teaching and Learning (ITL). There have been three of these meetings so far (2014, 2016 & 2018) and the meeting actively encourages you to meet new people at each meal and form new collaborations. Through this meeting, I met many of my collaborators and successfully published abstracts and papers (listed below), received one grant, was a symposium speaker, and chaired a symposium. The meeting is energizing as the program is packed with new ideas and teaching strategies to try in your classroom. It is easy to ask questions and be an active participant in the discussions.  Thus, taking advantage of a number of opportunities for physiology educators through the American Physiological Society can be just the push you need to get going on a successful promotion and tenure process.  Join the APS and its Teaching Section to keep up-to-date on what is going on in physiology education.

 

References

  1. Aprigia Monteferrante G,  Mariana Cruz M, Mogadouro G, de Oliveira Fantini V,  Oliveira Castro P, Halpin PA, and Lellis-Santos C (2018). Cardiac rhythm dance protocol: a smartphone-assisted hands-on activity to introduce concepts of cardiovascular physiology and scientific methodology. Advances in Physiology Education, 42: 516-520, doi:10.1152/advan.00028.2017.
  2. Blatch, SA, Cliff W., Beason-Abmayr, B. and Halpin PA. (2017).The Artificial Animal Project: A Tool for Helping Students Integrate Body Systems. Advances in Physiology Education. 41: 239-243 DOI: 10.1152/advan.00159.2016
  3. Gopalan C., Halpin PA and Johnson KMS (2018). Benefits and Logistics of Non-Presenting  Undergraduate Students Attending a Professional Scientific Meeting. Advances in Physiology Education. 42: 68-74. DOI.org/10.1152/advan.00091.2017
  4. Halpin PA, Golden L, Zane Hagins K, Waller S, and Chaya Gopalan C. (2018). SYMPOSIUM REPORT ON “Examining the Changing Landscape of Course Delivery and Student Learning;” Experimental Biology 2017. Advances in Physiology Education, 42: 610–614. doi:10.1152/advan.00096.2018.
  5. Lellis-Santos, C and Halpin PA (2018).”Workshop Report: “Using Social Media and Smartphone Applications in Practical Lessons to Enhance Student Learning” in Búzios, Brazil (Aug. 6-8, 2017). Advances in Physiology Education, 42: 340–342. https://doi.org/10.1152/advan.00011.2018.
Patricia A. Halpin is an Associate Professor in the Life Sciences Department at the University of New Hampshire at Manchester (UNHM). Patricia received her MS and Ph.D. in Physiology at the University of Connecticut. She completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Dartmouth Medical School. After completion of her postdoc she started a family and taught as an adjunct at several NH colleges. She then became a Lecturer at UNHM before becoming an Assistant Professor. She teaches Principles of Biology, Endocrinology, Cell Biology, Animal Physiology, Global Science Explorations and Senior Seminar to undergraduates. She has been a member of APS since 1994 and is currently on the APS Education committee and is active in the Teaching Section. She has participated in Physiology Understanding (PhUn) week at the elementary school level in the US and Australia. She has presented her work on PhUn week, Using Twitter for Science Discussions, and Embedding Professional Skills into Science curriculum at the Experimental Biology meeting and the APS Institute on Teaching and Learning.
Teaching for Learning: The Evolution of a Teaching Assistant

An average medical student, like myself, would agree that our first year in medical school is fundamentally different from our last, but not in the ways most of us would expect. Most of us find out that medical school not only teaches us about medicine but it also indirectly teaches us how to learn. But what did it take? What is different now that we didn’t do back in the first year? If it comes to choosing one step of the road, being a teaching assistant could be a turning point for the perception of medical education in the long run, as it offers a glimpse into teaching for someone who is still a student.

At first, tutoring a group of students might seem like a simple task if it is only understood as a role for giving advice about how to get good grades or how to not fail. However, having the opportunity to grade students’ activities and even listen to their questions provides a second chance at trying to solve one’s own obstacles as a medical student. A very interesting element is that most students refuse to utilize innovative ways of teaching or any method that doesn’t involve the passive transmission of content from speaker to audience. There could be many reasons, including insecurity, for this feeling of superficial review of content or laziness, as it happened for me.

There are, in fact, many educational models that attempt to objectively describe the effects of educating and being educated as active processes. Kirkpatrick’s model is a four-stage approach which proposes the evaluation of specific aspects in the general learning outcome instead of the process as a whole (1). It was initially developed for business training and each level addresses elements of the educational outcome, as follows:

  • Level 1- Reaction: How did learners feel about the learning experience? Did they enjoy it?
  • Level 2- Learning: Did learners improve their knowledge and skills?
  • Level 3- Behavior: Are learners doing anything different as a result of training?
  • Level 4- Results: What was the result of training on the business as a whole?

Later, subtypes for level 2 and 4 were added for inter-professional use, allowing its application in broader contexts like medicine, and different versions of it have been endorsed by the Best Evidence in Medical Education Group and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (1) (2).  A modified model for medical students who have become teachers has also been adapted (3), grading outcomes in phases that very closely reflect the experience of being a teaching assistant. The main difference is the inclusion of attitude changes towards the learning process and the effect on patients as a final outcome for medical education. The need for integration, association and good problem-solving skills are more likely to correspond to levels 3 and 4 of Kirkpatrick’s model because they overcome traditional study methods and call for better ways of approaching and organizing knowledge.

Diagram 1- Modified Kirkpatrick’s model for grading educational outcomes of medical student teachers, adapted from (3)

These modifications at multiple levels allow for personal learning to become a tool for supporting another student’s process. By working as a teaching assistant, I have learned to use other ways of studying and understanding complex topics, as well as strategies to deal with a great amount of information. These methods include active and regular training in memorization, deep analysis of performance in exams and schematization for subjects like Pharmacology, for which I have received some training, too.

I am now aware of the complexity of education based on the little but valuable experience I have acquired until now as a teacher in progress. I have had the privilege to help teach other students based on my own experiences. Therefore, the role of a teaching assistant should be understood as a feedback process for both students and student-teachers with a high impact on educational outcomes, providing a new approach for training with student-teaching as a mainstay in medical curricula.

References

  1. Roland D. Proposal of a linear rather than hierarchical evaluation of educational initiatives: the 7Is framework. Journal of Educational Evaluation for Health Professions. 2015;12:35.
  2. Steinert Y, Mann K, Anderson B, Barnett B, Centeno A, Naismith L et al. A systematic review of faculty development initiatives designed to enhance teaching effectiveness: A 10-year update: BEME Guide No. 40. Medical Teacher. 2016;38(8):769-786.
  3. Hill A, Yu, Wilson, Hawken, Singh, Lemanu. Medical students-as-teachers: a systematic review of peer-assisted teaching during medical school. Advances in Medical Education and Practice. 2011;:157.

The idea for this blog was suggested by Ricardo A. Pena Silva M.D., Ph.D. who provided guidance to Maria Alejandra on the writing of this entry.

María Alejandra is a last year medical student at the Universidad de Los Andes, School of Medicine in Bogota, Colombia, where she is has been a teaching assistant for the physiology and pharmacology courses for second-year medical students. Her academic interests are in medical education, particularly in biomedical sciences.  She is interested in pursuing a medical residency in Anesthesiology. Outside medical school, she likes running and enjoys literature as well as writing on multiple topics of personal interest.
A Fork in the Road: Time to Re-think the Future of STEM Graduate Education

“Rather than squeeze everyone into preordained roles, my goal has always been to foster an environment where the players can grow as individuals and express themselves creatively within a team structure” –Phil Jackson (1)

Recently, I was reading the PECOP blog “Paradigm Shifts in Teaching Graduate Physiology” by Dr. Andrew Roberts.  His discussion focused on how we need to change the way physiology is taught to graduate students as technology has evolved.  But, one particular line caught my eyes as I was preparing my blog:  “if it was good enough for Galileo, it is good enough for me.”   Many university faculty members believe the “If it was good enough for Galileo, it is good enough for me” approach is the major issue with the current biomedical graduate student training system, which stands at a crossroad and is threatening its own future if appropriate corrections are not made (2, 3).

The document I read for this blog, Graduate STEM Education for the 21st Century (4) is an updated version of the report published in 1995 (5).  It is rather large (174 total pages) and contains information on various topics about the current status of STEM graduate education and a call for systematic change. I will limit my discussion to the current status of the PhD training system and recommendations for changes in the programs.

Issues at the heart: Gap between the Great Expectation and Hard Reality

Both the 1995 and the current documents list several issues associated with the STEM graduate training programs in the U.S.  However, the common thread that runs through both documents is associated with the gap between how our graduate students are trained and what has been happening in the job market.  The current STEM graduate program still is designed with the general expectation that students will pursue a career in academia as a tenure-track faculty member at a research institution.  However:

  1. The majority of growth in the academic job market has come from part-time positions, adjunct appointments, and full-time non-tenure-track positions (i.e. instructors, lecturers, research associates) rather than tenure-track positions in research-intensive institutions.
  2. The employment trend for STEM PhDs is shifting away from academia to non-academic positions.

The gap in the expectation of the training programs and the reality of job market creates several problems, including:

  1. Those who wish to pursue a career in academia often require a longer time to secure permanent employment and often work in positions that under-employ them (i.e. part-time, non-tenure track) and/or under-utilize their training (i.e. positions that do not require a PhD).
  2. Graduates who pursue non-academic positions, especially in the private sector, lack adequate preparation to enter their positions and become successful.

Many non-academic employers have voiced concerns that current STEM education is no longer acceptable for the current job market, as it does not provide sufficient training to make students more attractive and versatile to be employed outside of academia, which is becoming more international and diverse.  In particular, employers are concerned that current STEM graduates lack skills in areas such as:

  1. Communication
  2. Teaching and mentoring
  3. Problem solving
  4. Technology application
  5. Interdisciplinary teamwork
  6. Business decision making
  7. Leadership
  8. The ability to work with people from diverse backgrounds in a team setting

Changes needed for the system: Let students discover their destiny

The major change needed in the current STEM education system is that we need to let students figure out which career path is for them and provide appropriate training opportunities, rather than trying to force them to fit into one mold. Phil Jackson, whom I quoted earlier, writes: “Let each player discover his own destiny. One thing I’ve learned as a coach is that you can’t force your will on people.” (1). Jackson goes on to say: “On another level, I always tried to give each player the freedom to carve out a role for himself within the team structure.  I’ve seen dozens of players flame out and disappear not because they lacked talent but because they couldn’t figure out how to fit into the cookie-cutter model of basketball that pervades the NBA.”   We need to foster a graduate training environment that encourages each student to discover their role without any pressure, stigma, or discouragement.

Dr. Keith Yamamoto from the University of California San Francisco says that graduate training needs to be student-centered so that graduates can find their roles and meet the needs of the society (3). Faculty mentors have the responsibility of training students so that students become successful in what they choose to do.  Faculty mentors, academic departments, and institutions also need to make a concerted effort to provide opportunities for students to develop additional skills necessary to become successful in what they choose to do.  This includes teaching, especially if they want to work in a teaching-intensive institution (like the one in which I work). Faculty mentors may fear that allowing students to work on skills unrelated to the research area may hinder student success.  They may also fear that students serving as graduate teaching assistants may extend the time needed to complete their degree.  However, students need opportunities to develop these other skills, along with discipline-specific skills to become competitive in the job market and competent employees.  Again, the focus needs to be on the students and what they want to pursue, as well as what is needed for them to succeed after they walk out of the laboratory.  And, we need to trust students that they will find their paths on their own.  Dr. Yamamoto concludes his seminar by saying: “Inform/empower students to make appropriate career decision…. Students will get it right.” (3)

References and additional resources:

  1. Jackson P, Delehanty H (2013). Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success (Penguin, New York).
  2. Alberts B, Kirschner MW, Tilghman S, Vermus H (2014) Rescuing US biomedical research from its systemic flaw. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 111(16):5773-5777.
  3. Yamamoto K (2014) Time to rethink graduate and postdoc education. https://www.ibiology.org/biomedical-workforce/graduate-education/
  4. The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (2018) Graduate STEM Education for the 21st Century (The National Academics Press, Washington DC).
  5. The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (1995) Reshaping the Graduate Education of Scientists and Engineers (The National Academics Press, Washington DC).
Yass Kobayashi is an Associate Professor of Biological Sciences at Fort Hays State University in Hays, KS.   He teaches a human/mammalian physiology course and an upper-level cellular biology course to biology majors, along with a two-semester anatomy and physiology sequence to nursing and allied health students.   He received his BS in agriculture (animal science emphasis) with a minor in zoology from Southeast Missouri State University in 1991.  He received his MS in domestic animal reproductive physiology from Kansas State University in 1995.  After a brief stint at Oklahoma State University, he completed his Ph.D. at the University of Missouri-Columbia in domestic animal molecular endocrinology in 2000.  He was a post-doctoral research associate at the University of Arizona for 2 years and at Michigan State University for 4 years before taking an Assistant Professor of biology position at Delta State University in Cleveland, MS in 2006.  He moved to Fort Hays State in 2010 and has been with the institution ever since.
Medical Physiology for Undergraduate Students: A Galaxy No Longer Far, Far Away

The landscape of medical school basic science education has undergone a significant transformation in the past 15 years.  This transformation continues to grow as medical school basic science faculty are faced with the task of providing “systems based” learning of the fundamental concepts of the Big 3 P’s: Physiology, Pathology & Pharmacology, within the context of clinical medicine and case studies.  Student understanding of conceptual basic science is combined with the growing knowledge base of science that has been doubling exponentially for the past century.  Add macro and microanatomy to the mix and students entering their clinical years of medical education are now being deemed only “moderately prepared” to tackle the complexities of clinical diagnosis and treatment.  This has placed a new and daunting premium on the preparation of students for entry into medical school.  Perhaps medical education is no longer a straightforward task of 4 consecutive years of learning.  I portend that our highest quality students today, are significantly more prepared and in many ways more focused in the fundamentals of mathematics, science and logic than those of even 30 years ago.  However, we are presenting them with a near impossible task of deeply learning and integrating a volume of information that is simply far too vast for a mere 4 semesters of early medical education.

 

To deal with this academic conundrum, I recommend here that the academic community quickly begin to address this complex set of problems in a number of new and different ways.  Our educators have addressed the learning of STEM in recent times by implementing a number of “student centered” pedagogical philosophies and practices that have been proven to be far more effective in the retention of knowledge and the overall understanding of problem solving.  The K-12 revolution of problem-based and student-centered education continues to grow and now these classroom structures have become well placed on many of our college and university campuses.  There is still much to be done in expanding and perfecting student-centered learning, but we are all keenly aware that these kinds of classroom teaching methods also come with a significant price in terms of basic science courses.

 

It is my contention that we must now expand our time frame and begin preparing our future scientists and physicians with robust undergraduate preprofessional education.  Many of our universities have already embarked upon this mission by developing undergraduate physiology majors that have placed them at the forefront of this movement.  Michigan State University, the University of Arizona and the University of Oregon have well established and long standing physiology majors.  Smaller liberal arts focused colleges and universities may not invest in a full majors program, but rather offer robust curricular courses in the basic medical sciences that appropriately prepare their students for professional medical and/or veterinary education.  Other research 1 universities with strong basic medical science programs housed in biology departments of their Colleges of Arts and Sciences may be encouraged to develop discipline focused “tracks” in the basic medical sciences.  These tracks may be focused on disciplines such as physiology, pharmacology, neuroscience, medical genetics & bioinformatics and microbiology & immunology.  These latter programs will allow students to continue learning with more broad degrees of undergraduate education in the arts, humanities and social sciences while gaining an early start on advanced in depth knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of medical bioscience.  Thus, a true undergraduate “major” in these disciplines would not be a requirement, but rather a basic offering of focused, core biomedical science courses that better prepare the future professional for the rigors of integrated organ-based medical education.

 

In the long term, it is important for leaders in undergraduate biomedical education to develop a common set of curriculum standards that provide a framework from which all institutions can determine how and when they choose to prepare their own students for their post-undergraduate education.  National guidelines for physiology programs should become the standard through which institutions can begin to prepare their students.  Core concepts in physiology are currently being developed.  We must carefully identify how student learning and understanding of basic science transcends future career development, and teach professional skills that improve future employability.  Lastly, we must develop clear and effective mechanisms to assess and evaluate programs to assure that what we believe is successful is supported by data which demonstrates specific program strengths and challenges for the future.  These kinds of challenges in biomedical education are currently being addressed in open forum discussions and meetings fostered by the newly developed Physiology Majors Interest Group (P-MIG) of the APS.  This growing group of interested physiology educators are now meeting each year to discuss, compare and share their thoughts on these and other issues related to the future success of our undergraduate physiology students.  The current year will meet June 28-29 at the University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ.  It is through these forums and discussions that we, as a discipline, will continue to grow and meet the needs and challenges of teaching physiology and other basic science disciplines of the future.

Jeffrey L. Osborn, PhD is a professor of biology at the University of Kentucky where he teaches undergraduate and graduate physiology. He currently serves as APS Education Committee chair and is a former medical physiology educator and K12 magnet school director. His research focuses on hypertension and renal function and scholarship of teaching and learning. This is his first blog.
Why Teaching? Why a Liberal Arts school?

Why Teaching? Why at a Liberal Arts school? These are two questions that I am often asked. I used to give the standard answers. “I enjoy working with the students.” “I didn’t want to have to apply for funding to keep my job.” “A small, liberal arts school allows me to get to know the students.” But more recently those answers have changed.

A year or so ago, I returned to my undergraduate alma mater to celebrate the retirement of a biology faculty member who had been with the school for almost 50 years. As I toured the science facilities—which had been updated and now rival the facilities of many larger research universities—I reflected on where I had come from and how I came to be a biology professor at a small liberal arts school in Iowa.

I was born and raised in the suburbs of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. In fact my parents still live in the house they purchased before I was born. My parents valued education and believed it was their job to provide their three children with the opportunity to go to college. Because there were three of us, it was expected that we would attend college in Pennsylvania. At that time, the way to learn about colleges was to go to the guidance counselor’s office or to sift through all of the mailings that came to the house. One of the schools I chose to visit was Lebanon Valley College (LVC),  a small, private, liberal arts institution in Annville, PA (central Pennsylvania). LVC had a strong biology program but my reasons for choosing LVC were I liked the campus, the school was neither too big nor too small, and it was far enough from home but not too far from home. That is how I ended up at LVC.

I was a biology major, pre-med my entire four years at LVC. The biology department at LVC was fantastic. The professors had high expectations, held students to these high expectations, and helped the students to reach those expectations. The professors gave me a solid background in the sciences and opportunities to work in a lab. Both the knowledge I gained and the lab experiences I had allowed me to succeed as a scientist. However, during my journey at LVC, I found that there was more to me than being a biology major or a Pre-Med student. From the beginning of my time at LVC, my professors saw something in me that I could not and chose not to see. My professors saw a person who loved to learn, a person who loved to explore, and a person who loved to share information. They saw an educator, a leader, and a communicator. But regardless of what they saw or what they said, I had to find these elements on my own and for myself.

 

During my time at LVC, I did not understand what the liberal arts meant or what the liberal arts represented. Back then if you had asked me if I valued the liberal arts, I probably would have said I have no idea. Even when I graduated from LVC, I did not realize the impact that my liberal arts education would have on me. It is only now when I reflect on my time at LVC that I can appreciate and value the impact that my liberal arts education had on the achievement of my goals. It was the courses that were required as a part of the liberal arts program and the professors who taught them that made me a better scientist. The writing and speech classes provided the foundation for my scientific communication skills that continued to develop after graduation. It was in these classes that the professors provided constructive feedback which I then incorporated into future assignments. The leadership, language, literature, philosophy, and art courses and professors provided opportunities to develop my ability to analyze, critique, and reflect. The religion courses taught me that without spirituality and God in my life, there was little joy or meaning to what I accomplished. The liberal arts program provided me with skills that were not discipline specific but skills utilized by many academic fields. These courses allowed the person who loved to learn, the person who loved to explore and ask questions, and the person who loved to share information to flourish. These courses taught me to value all experiences as opportunities to learn and to become a better person. Lebanon Valley College, through the people I met and the education I received, put me on the path to finding the elements that form my identity.

After graduation from LVC, I explored. I accepted a position as a research technician in a laboratory where I remained for three years. During that time, I improved my science skills, but I also had the opportunity to use and improve those other abilities I learned at LVC. After three years, I decided I wanted to go to graduate school. I loved asking new questions, performing experiments, and the feeling I had when an experiment worked and provided new information. I also liked working with students. I loved sharing information and guiding students through the process of learning. I applied to graduate school, was accepted, earned my Ph.D, and then completed two postdoctoral fellowships. My graduate advisor and postdoctoral advisors were supportive of me and allowed me to teach in addition to my research. After two successful postdoctoral fellowships, I had to decide where to go next. I chose teaching and I chose Clarke University. I chose teaching and specifically Clarke because I wanted to go back to my roots. I wanted to take the knowledge and skills I had attained and share them. I chose Clarke University because I saw similarities between it and LVC. I chose Clarke University because of its liberal arts heritage and its focus on the students.

Now, 10 years later, I am a guide for a new generation of students at Clarke University. While there are so many differences between my generation and this generation, I still see similarities. I see students eager to come to class so they can learn. I see students excited when they understand a difficult concept. I see students who want to make a difference in this world. I do not know what a student would say if I asked them if they valued their liberal arts education or me as their teacher. My guess is that many of them are just like I was and do not know what the liberal arts represent. Some might even say they do not value the liberal arts or the professors. I can only hope that one day, when the students I teach reflect on their undergraduate careers, they can recognize and appreciate the influence Clarke University, the liberal arts program, and their professors had on them. I know that without my professors and without my liberal arts experience at Lebanon Valley College, I would not be me—the educator, the scientist, the author, the leader, the life-long learner. Nor would I be me—the mother, the wife, the daughter, the sister, the friend, the colleague. Lebanon Valley College and my liberal arts education helped me become the person I am today.

Melissa DeMotta, PhD is currently an Associate Professor of Biology at Clarke University in Dubuque, IA. Melissa received her BS in biology from Lebanon Valley College. After working for three years at Penn State’s College of Medicine in Hershey, PA, she received her PhD in Physiology and Pharmacology from the University of Florida in Gainesville. Following postdoctoral fellowships at the University of Arizona and Saint Louis University, Melissa joined the Biology Department at Clarke University. Melissa currently teaches Human Physiology and Exercise Physiology to physical therapy graduate students and undergraduates. She also enjoys teaching non-majors life science courses as well.
Writing—Work in Progress

As a scientist and educator over the years, I have had the good fortune and pleasure to write and edit many manuscripts and documents, especially in collaborations with mentors, colleagues, and students. As most of us in the business know, writing doesn’t always come easy. It is often very challenging to convey information, thoughts, and ideas in a coherent and straightforward manner, and leave little room for misinterpretation, confusion, and ambiguity. In addition, it can be hard to convey excitement in writing. Writing is an art and deserves time and effort to create a masterpiece. Realistically though, time is rarely on our side for routinely creating works of art. However, we should still try!

 

Writing for me is work in progress, but very enjoyable. I know that I can always improve. Consequently, I seek better and more creative ways to express myself. I certainly wasn’t always enthusiastic about writing. Graduate students and postdoctoral fellows please take note! As a graduate student writing my early manuscripts, I would often string a few sentences together that seemed reasonable and whisper to myself, “This is close and good enough.” It rarely was. My doctoral mentor, Dr. Walter F. Boron (presently at Case Western Reserve University) almost always caught those good enough sentences when we sat together meticulously reviewing every sentence when editing a manuscript. This experience was humbling, yet highly educational, and certainly one of the high points of my graduate school years. I have continued this tradition in my own lab— enduring the occasional sighs of annoyance from my students.

 

The extra effort in writing can be a wonderful and rewarding experience. Many helpful resources are available. Don’t be afraid to pull out that composition/grammar book when needed. I am particularly fond of The Random House Handbook (1), which remains dust-free on my office bookshelf. Also, make use of that Thesaurus tab in Microsoft® Word! Finally, learn from the creativity of others in their writing prose, sentence structure, and expression usage.

I leave you with a list of some of my favorite writing points and guides from over the years.

I acquired most of these from my former advisor, Dr. Boron; I owe him a great deal of gratitude. I also used Ref. 1 to supplement my understanding. Write on and become my fellow artists!

1. Tell a story with the goal of exciting your readers (yes, even with a scientific manuscript).

2. Assemble outlines.

3. Write rather than stare at a blank screen/page for too long. You can always edit a mess later.

4. Edit exhaustively, but spaced out over time.

5. Get input from others.

6. Scrutinize every sentence.

7. Ask the following for every sentence:

“Does it say what I want it to say?”

“How can I make it clearer and/or shorter?”

8. Write active sentences. For example, “Compound X caused effect Y” is better than, “The effect Y was caused by compound X.”

Writing active sentences also holds when citing the work of others. For example, “Smith et al. showed that…” is stronger than, “It has been shown that… (Smith et al.).”

9. Use parallel construction in multi-part sentences. For example, “Compound X caused an increase in Y, and Compound A caused a decrease in B.”

Use parallel construction for multiple sentences that are clearly linked. For example, if you are making three points and you start the first sentence with, “First,…,” then you should have a “Second,…” and a “Third,…”

10. Give the direction of an effect whenever possible. Using the example above, “Compound X caused an increase in Y” is better than, “Compound X had an effect on Y.” Sentences should be as informative as possible.

11. Use present tense when discussing a universal truth.

12. Be consistent in using declarative or non-declarative statements in main headings, in-line headings, figure legends, etc. throughout a body of work.

13. Be careful assigning an action to an inanimate object such as an experimental result. For example, “Experiment X showed Y.” Did the experiment really perform an action?

14. Use caution when starting a sentence with This or These. The reference needs to be clear.

15. Use then in if/then statements. Many writers leave out the then. For example, “If you add media A, then the cells will die” flows better than, “If you add media A the cells will die.” If you use if in an if/then sentence, then hunt for the expected then.

16. Use more gerunds, which are refreshingly active. For example, “Applying X increased Y” is more appealing than, “Application of X increased Y.”

17. Experiment with less frequently used forms of punctuation, e.g., the semicolon and em dash. It’s fun!

18. Don’t confuse that and which clauses. That is used in a restrictive clause to understand sentence meaning. Which is used in a nonrestrictive clause to present additional information; which follows a comma.

19. Use because instead of since in many cases. Since refers to time.

20. Minimize split infinitives. Some will argue with me on this one. For example, “to argue incessantly” is better than, “to incessantly argue.” It is sometimes difficult to avoid splitting up to-base verb pairs because they then sound clumsy. Some will reason that a split is acceptable in those cases. My Father’s response: “No. Rewrite the sentence.”

21. Be careful with generic terms such as numerous, many, variety of, etc. Ask yourself, “Is the term accurate? How many exactly?” Consider giving an appropriate example to the reader.

22. Use respectively sparingly. For example, “The results from experiments A, B, and C were 5.6, 8.9, and 4.3, respectively” is hard to follow and tedious. A good general rule: Avoid sentences that require the reader to match up terms in different parts of the sentence.

23. Remember the neither…nor combination.

24. Know the difference between i.e. and e.g.

25. Consider abandoning the old-fashioned, two-space rule between sentences that was popular with typewriter use. We’re in the age of computers with line justification.

Mark O. Bevensee, PhD is an Associate Professor in the Department of Cell, Developmental & Integrative Biology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. His laboratory focuses on studying the cellular and molecular physiology of acid-base transporters involved in regulating intracellular pH in health and disease. Dr. Bevensee also teaches— primarily cell and renal physiology to graduate and professional students. He has served as the Director of the Renal Module for medical students since 2006, and currently serves as the Co-Director & Interim Director of the Master of Science in Biomedical and Health Sciences post-baccalaureate program. He is a member of many education committees, including the Medical Education Committee of the University of Alabama School of Medicine. He serves on the editorial board of Advances in Physiology Education (American Physiological Society, APS) and Medical Science Educator (International Association of Medical Science Educators, IAMSE), as well as the Membership committee of IAMSE. He has been a member of the APS for over 20 years, and is the newly elected Awards Councilor of the Cell and Molecular Physiology Section (CaMPS) Steering Committee of the APS.

Reference:

1. Crews, F. C. (1992). The Random House Handbook, 6th Ed. McGraw-Hill, Inc., New York.

Home is Where the Heart(h) is – My Reflections as an Educator

I think I always knew, deep down, that I wanted to be a teacher.

Sure, I considered myself ‘pre-med’ from the time in second grade when I told my best friend that I wanted to be a heart surgeon, until the last day to sign up for the MCAT my junior year in college.  If I’m being honest, I flirted with the idea of transferring into the MD/PhD program after my first year in graduate school.  In any case, after falling in love with my SLAC (small liberal arts college), I knew what I was going to do:

  • go to a medical school and earn a PhD,
  • do a post-doc, and
  • set up my own little corner in the best of both worlds – teaching at a SLAC, with a small, but productive lab, comprised of talented and driven undergraduates.

 

In fact, when I arrived at the Physiology department (at what is now known as the Lewis Katz School of Medicine) at Temple University for my PhD program, I emphatically announced my intent.  While I loved my time in the lab, and particularly my work in cardiovascular physiology and the heart transplant research program, I was meant first and foremost to be a teacher.  I took advantage of the few teaching opportunities in the medical school to hone my craft, I took adjunct work when available, and appropriate, at a local college, and I looked for a post-doc which presented me with the opportunity to study a model system which could be done relatively inexpensively at a small school.

 

Then “life” happened; in 2008 I got married, entered the job market, and found out I was pregnant.  If you recall, 2008 was not a good year for tenure-track candidates.  The words “hiring freeze” were pervasive and debilitating for those of us on the market.  As a result, I continued to hold an adjunct position, working part-time to try to stay relevant as an educator, while also being a part-time stay at home mother.  I questioned everything that led up to this moment – I had the blinders on from the time I was seven with regards to my career progression.  Now, in my new role as a mother and only partially employed, I wondered if the years of higher education and the student loans were worth it.  I was also keenly aware of the problem of watching my employability dwindle away with each passing month, and the competitiveness of the field.

 

The silver lining of this situation was that it forced me to do what I had refused to do pretty much my entire life – slow down, reflect, and figure out where I was headed.  I ended up applying for, and getting, a job as an Assistant Professor at a small liberal arts school, teaching pretty much whatever biology course I wanted, and coordinating the Anatomy and Physiology courses for the health professions.  The down side was that this position was teaching-heavy and while scholarship was not only strongly encouraged, but pretty much required for promotion, there were limited resources and very little time or space to set up a lab. This meant opportunities had to be made elsewhere and on my own time.

 

Then, about three years ago on a whim, I checked the job ads.  The first position that appeared was for a Physiology Educator at my graduate school alma mater.   The questions started.  Did I want to leave my job?  Was I qualified?  Did I really want to go back “home”?  Long story short, the answers were “for the right opportunity”, “apparently yes”, and “absolutely”.

 

This is where I come back to my title – Home is Where the Heart(h) Is.

 

As I came back to Temple, I noticed that some things had changed while others had stayed the same.  It is an incredible privilege to teach beside my own professors and mentors, and I truly feel like I came back home.  One of the changes, as seen both in the curriculum, as well as in the hallways, was the infusion of more humanities.  Student artwork is now found along the wall near the Medical Education offices.  I started thinking about what I, as an alumna, could contribute.

 

My interest and passion for art far exceeds my natural ability, although I have taught myself to quilt over the years.  My interest blends modern with traditional – couldn’t you just see an art quilt of the anatomical heart mounted on that wall with the photographs, oil paintings, and charcoal sketches? – but I am also interested in the history of quilting and the more traditional patterns.

 

One of my favorite patterns, and one of the most versatile yet symbolic, is the Log Cabin quilt.  The American version dates back to at least the 1800s, although there is evidence that a similar pattern has been traced back to Ancient Egypt1,2.  This pattern gained popularity in the United States around the time of the Civil War.  While the components are the same, the colors can vary and the blocks can be arranged in many different ways, conveying different feelings and even meanings.

 

The basic pattern is as follows:  Rectangles of fabric (“logs”) are arranged around a center square (“heart” or “hearth”).  The color of the center square is thought to provide symbolism; for example, red means “hearth”, yellow means “letting light in”, and, anecdotally and through oral history, black is thought to have been used to discreetly identify stops on the Underground Railroad1,2.

 

I have made several Log Cabin quilts over the past decade, but I find myself using red for my center.  Home is where the heart is.  A metaphor for my career progression thus far, as I started at LKSOM as a physiology student in the cardiovascular group almost 20 years ago, which makes Temple the heart.  Each subsequent stop on my journey – the colleges for which I taught as an adjunct, my role as a mother, my previous Visiting Assistant Professor and Assistant Professor positions, my mentors and role models – all serve as logs that make up my cabin.  My cabin looks different than those of my colleagues and my former classmates, who may have taken other paths, like careers in industry, scientific writing, or a traditional academic position, or as a physician.

 

Our cabins might all look different, but in the center is the fire that burns in the hearth, or the light; it is that which centers us and from where our passion comes.  For me, my passion is as an educator.

 

I am forever grateful for those who mentored me along the way, and who continue to serve as mentors and as inspiration.   What I learned (so far) on my journey:

 

  1. Apply for the job

Although it might be human nature that we are apprehensive to take a chance, surveys have shown that more women have the tendency to not apply for a position unless they feel 100% qualified, and more women cite the fear of failure and therefore wasting time as a reason why3.  However, you don’t get 100% of the jobs you don’t apply for.

 

  1. Keep an open mind

The career you think you want might not be the career you end up in for a number of reasons.  Don’t get so hyper-focused that you miss other interesting opportunities.

 

  1. Don’t be afraid to listen to your heart and follow your own path

I spent my undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral career preparing for a job I didn’t know if I would get, and as it turns out didn’t really exist at the time.  I took every biology course I could in undergrad, assuming I would need to be well rounded to teach in an undergraduate program.  I took time to work on my teaching skills during my graduate and post- doctoral studies, so that by the time I finished, I already had several semesters-worth of teaching and evaluations that made me more marketable for an undergraduate teaching position.

 

  1. Make your own opportunities

I attended an in-house conference a few years ago.  One of the panelists suggested that we take care to be more proactive in letting supervisors know if we are interested in a particular opportunity that becomes available.  He relayed a story in which he needed to fill a position, and his mind immediately went to colleagues who had expressed an interest, even if there were several people who were qualified.  I took this advice a few months later and subsequently found myself not only assigned to a new opportunity, but was also invited to participate in related working groups and committees.

 

  1. Don’t discount your previous experience

I was concerned when I left an undergraduate institution to go back to the graduate and professional level.  Would I remember the level of depth and nuance that wasn’t appropriate in the courses I had gotten used to teaching?  Not only did I find it easier in some ways (it’s easier to teach physiology when students have already had physics and chemistry!), I found that my experience working with undergraduates provided me with insight that is unique in that I had a better as to where the students were coming from.

 

  1. Keep in mind work-life balance

This is something I am continuously working on.  Does this even exist?  If anyone has any advice, I’m all ears.

 

Maybe it’s time I dust off my sewing machine.

Dr. Rebecca Petre Sullivan earned her Ph.D. in Physiology from the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University and completed a Post-Doctoral Fellowship in the Interdisciplinary Training Program in Muscle Biology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.  She taught undergraduate biology courses at Ursinus College and Neumann University.  As an Associate Professor of Physiology, she is currently a course director for two courses in the Pre-Clerkship curriculum at LKSOM; in addition to teaching medical students, she also teaches cell physiology and cardiovascular physiology in Temple’s dental and podiatry schools and in the physician assistant program.  She was the recipient of a Golden Apple Award from LKSOM in 2017 and the Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award from Neumann University in 2012.
  1. Log Cabin Quilts – A Short History. (AQSblog, May 15, 2012, http://www.aqsblog.com/log-cabin-quilts-a-short-history)
  2. Quilt Patterns Through Time: Log Cabin Quilts – Inspirations from the Past. (http://www.womenfolk.com/quilt_pattern_history/logcabin.htm)
  3. Are Women Too Timid When They Job Search? (Forbes, September 11, 2014, https://www.forbes.com/sites/nextavenue/2014/09/11/are-women-too-timid-when-they-job-search/#7fe6961a411d)
The Undergraduate Physiology Lab – A New Shine on a Classic Course

The evolution of the workplace in the twenty-first century has created the need for a workforce with a skill set that is  unlike that needed by previous generations.  The American Physiological Society recognized this need  over a decade ago and with the assistance of  Association of Chairs of Departments of Physiology created  a set of professional skills needed by physiologists in the workplace (1).  This effort was echoed by the AAMC, the  STEM Innovation Task Force, and professional organizations  as they composed a  set of core competency or workplace  skills (2, 3).  Subsequent surveys of US employers across multiple industrial sectors indicated that students entering the technical workforce lacked these  critical skills.  Higher education has since been  tasked to provide students with training experiences in workplace skills, as well as content knowledge.

What are these workplace or employability skills?  The APS Professional Skills are a diverse set of skills, however the generally accepted workplace skills are a subset of this group and can be distilled into the list below.

Students entering the workplace should be able to:

  1. Work in a team structure
  2. Solve problems and think critically
  3. Plan, organize, and prioritize time
  4. Manage projects and resources
  5. Work with technology and software
  6. Communicate in oral or written formats
  7. Obtain and process information
  8. Pursue lifelong learning

Many of these skills have been embedded in the program objectives of the bachelor’s  degree.  Educators have found it difficult to insert skill training experiences into the traditional lecture classroom but most can be readily embedded into a lab curriculum such as the undergraduate physiology lab.

Let us consider these skills individually and examine how they can be found in a physiology  lab.

 

Students entering the workplace should be able to work in a team structure.

This skill is easily adapted to the physiology lab curriculum because lab partners are essential in most physiology lab courses.  The workload, experimental design, or timing of the protocol demands collaboration to accomplish tasks and complete the experiment.  The question that arises is, “How can we  train students to be productive team members in the workplace?”

Let’s think about the characteristics of good team work.  First and foremost good teamwork means completing assigned tasks promptly and responsibly.  It is easy to address this on an individual level in any course through graded assignments but it can be a challenge on a team level.   In labs however individual responsibility to the team can be addressed by assigning each team member a job that is essential to completion of the experiment.

There are also a set of interpersonal skills that promote good teamwork and these translate into practices that are important in any workplace.

  • Respect your team members and their opinions.
  • Contribute feedback, criticism, or advice in a constructive manner.
  • Be sensitive to the perspectives of different
  • When a conflict arises approach the dialog with restraint and respect.

These ideas  aren’t novel but when an instructor reviews them in class they not only provide students with guidelines  but they also communicate the instructor’s expectations for team behavior.

Finally, by using the common direction “Now show your partner how to do it.” or the well-known adage “see one, do one, teach one” an instructor promotes a subtle suggestion of responsibility for one’s team members.

Students entering the workplace should be able to solve problems and think critically. 

This objective has been a long-standing cornerstone of undergraduate life science education (4, 5).  Many instructors think that a bachelor’s degree in science is de facto a degree in critical thinking causing some instructors neglect this objective in curricular planning.  After all, if you are ever going to understand physiology, you have to be able to solve problems.  However in the workplace a physiologist will encounter many kinds of problems, challenges, puzzles, etc., and the well-prepared student will need experience in a variety of problem solving techniques.

Let’s review some problem solving practices and look at  how they occur  in the lab.

  • Use troubleshooting skills: Labs are a perfect place to teach this aspect of problem solving because it shows up so many times.  Consider the situation where a student asks  “Why  can’t I see my pulse, ECG, EMG, ….  recording on the screen?”  A typical instructor response might be, “Have you checked the power switch, cable connections, gain settings, display time..?”  only to find that the students has not thought to check any of these.  Ideally we want students to progress to the point where they can begin to troubleshoot their own problems so that their questions evolve to, “I have checked the power switch, cable connections, gain settings, display time and still don’t see a  recording on the screen.  Can you help me?”
  • Identify  irregular results:  This practice is similar to troubleshooting and again,  labs are a good place to learn about it.   Consider the situation where a student asks “My Q wave amplitude is 30.55 volts.  Does it look right to you?”  Be the end of the course the instructor hopes that the student will be able to reframe the question and ask “My P wave amplitude is 25.55 volts and I know that that is 10 fold higher than it should be.  Can you recheck my calculations?”
  • Use appropriate qualitative approaches to research problems: In the workplace a physiologist may be using this skill to ask a questions like “How can our lab evaluate the effect of Compound X on escape rhythm?”  but in the physiology lab students will learn a variety of experimental techniques and on the final exam must be able answer a less complex question like “How could you identify  third degree heart block?”
  • Use quantitative approaches to express a problem or solution: While physiology labs are rich in sophisticated  quantitative analyses it seems that it is simple calculational mechanics can often perplex and confound, students.  For example, students can readily calculate heart rate from an R-R interval when given an equation but without the equation some students may struggle to remember whether to divide or multiply by 60 sec.  Instructors recognize that the key is not to remember how to calculate rates but rather to understand what they are and be able to transfer that knowledge to problems in other areas of physiology  and ultimately be able to create their own equation for any rate.  The ability to use qualitative skills for problem solving in the workplace relies on making this transition.
  • Supporting a hypothesis or viewpoint with logic and data; Critically evaluating hypotheses and data:    In many ways these two problem solving skills are mirror images of each other. Physiology lab students get a lot of experience in supporting a hypothesis with logic and data, particularly as they write the discussion section of their lab reports.  However, the typical student gets little opportunity to critically evaluate untested or flawed hypotheses or data, a practice they will use frequently in their careers as they review  grants, manuscripts, or project proposals.  One solution might be engage students in peer review in the lab.

Students entering the workplace should be able to plan, organize, and prioritize time.  Students entering the workplace should be able to manage projects and resources.

These two skills representing personal organization and project organization often go together.  They are fundamental to any workplace but a lab is a special environment that has its own organizational needs and while they are idiosyncratic they provide experience that can be transferred to any workplace environment.  For a lab scientist  these skills can be characterized as being able to prioritize project tasks, identify needed resources, plan a project timeline, and track a projects progress.

Let’s consider some organizational and planning practices and examine on how they are used  in the lab.

As students read an experimental protocol they may ask themselves “What should do I do first – collect my reagents or start the water bath?” ,  “What is Type II water and where can I get it?” or “Can I finish my part of the data analysis and get it to my lab partner by Friday?”  How can instructors teach this?  As we look for an answer, let’s consider the realities of teaching a lab course.  Often in an effort to facilitate a lab session and enable students to complete the experiment on time, an instructor will complete some of the protocol like preparing buffers, pre-processing tissue, doing preliminary stages of dissection in advance  of the lab.  How can this instructional altruism help students learn about prioritizing tasks, identifying needed resources, or planning a project timeline.  There is no clear  or obvious answer.  Lab instructors routinely juggle learning objectives with time and content restraints  but  recognizing  that these skills are a fundamental part of professional practice makes us pause and think about  when and if  we can fit them in.

Students entering the workplace should be able to work with technology

This is clearly where lab courses can provide experiences and training that lecture courses cannot but it can be difficult for undergraduate institutions to equip labs with the most recent iteration in technology.   This does not diminish the significance of the course because physiology labs support an additional programmatic goal.  They train students to work with and use technology in ways that complement and extend their knowledge of physiology.

Let’s look at how these ideas show up in the lab.  Consider the situation where a student raises their hand during the lab and says,  “I can’t see anything on my recording but a wavy line.”  The instructor goes over to their experiment, surveys it and shows the student how to adjust the gain or display time.  Voila their data returns!

Or, consider the situation where a student raises their hand and says, “I know I am  recording something but it doesn’t look like my  ECG, pulse, etch”.  The instructor goes over to the experiment, surveys it and shows the student how to apply a digital filter.   Voila their data recording returns! Instructors recognize these situations as ‘aha!” moments where the lab has a tremendous impact on the student learning  but these experiences also provide students with  a long-term value – an appreciation  for knowing how to manage the technology they use.

Students entering the workplace should be able to communicate in an oral and written format

Many of the writing skills that are valued in the workplace are fundamental pieces of the physiology lab, particularly the physiology lab report.  Students are expected to organize their ideas, use graphics effectively, write clear and logical instructions in their methods, and support their position(s) with quantitative or qualitative data.

Let’s consider how writing skills are taught  in the lab report.  Instructors encourage and reinforce these skills by inserting marginal comments like “make the hypothesis more specific”,  “discuss and explain your graph”,  “discuss  how your results can be explained by homeostasis, cardiac output, etc.….” in the lab report.  Students, in the interest of  in getting a better grade on that next lab report, will ask their instructor “How can I make my hypothesis clearer?”, “I thought that I discussed that graph – what more do I need?”, or “  “I thought that I wrote about how the baroreceptor reflex explained my results – what should I have done instead?”  The typical instructor then gives their best explanation and grades the next lab report accordingly.

Some communication skills are embedded in the a lab course in a less transparent manner.  For example, one of the valued professional skills is the ability to convey complex information to an audience.  Instructors observe this in practice regularly as a student asks their lab partner “Show me how you did that?”

Finally there are some communication skills that are not so readily inserted into the lab curriculum and require a special effort on the part of the instructor.  One example of this is the ability to write/ present a persuasive argument which is a part of every  physiologists career in the preparation of  project proposals, contract bids, or project pitches.

Students entering the workplace should be able to obtain and process information

As physiologists we understand how critical it is to have these skills because much of our career is spent pursuing information or processing it.  There are however, multiple steps to becoming proficient.  One needs to be able to recognize  the what they need to know, identify resources to find it, be able to converse with experts to gain it, and finally be able to compile and process it in order to create learning or new knowledge.

The first step of this process, “knowing what you don’t know”, is the hardest for students because they often pursue and learn all the information available rather than focusing on what they don’t know or need to know.  This dilemma is faced by all undergraduate students at some point in their education and a lab course like many other courses tests them on this skill at least once or twice during the term.   The second step to proficiency is  identifying the resources needed to find information.   College libraries in collaboration with faculty inform students about institutional resources available for information gathering however they key to learning this skill is practice.  The physiology lab provides opportunities for practice each time an instructor asks a student to  “include 3 relevant  references in your lab report”, or asks a student to “describe clinical condition X in the discussion and explain how it relates to this lab, these results, etc.”.

Finally one of the objectives of most physiology labs is to teach students how to collect and process physiological information (data)  in a way that allows it to be compiled  into useable physiological information  (inferential statistics).   Students get plenty of practice with this in lab and even though it is discipline specific the general process can be applies to many other fields.

Students entering the workplace should be able to pursue lifelong learning.

Many of us teach or have taught physiology labs at one time or another  and found that not only is this an opportunity to reinforce concepts in physiology and dispel misconceptions  but also to impart to students a true appreciation for physiology and how it makes living organisms work.  Is there better way to promote lifelong learning?

This blog was not meant to be a complete presentation of professional or workplace skills nor was it intended to suggest that these skills  are the  most important in a physiologist’s career.   It was meant to reveal that fundamental professional skills are central components of most physiology lab courses and that sometimes we teach them without realizing it.

REFERENCES

  1. APS/ACDP List of Professional Skills for Physiologists and Trainees. The American Physiological Society.   http://www.the-aps.org/skillslist.aspx  accessed 10/24/2017.
  2. AAMC Core competencies for entering medical students. American Association of Medical Colleges.   accessed 10/20/2017.  https://www.careercenter.illinois.edu/sites/default/files/Core%20Competencies%20forEntering%20Medical%20Students.pdf accessed 10/25/2017.
  3. Focus on employability skills for STEM points to experiential learning. STEM Innovation Task Force.  https://www.stemconnector.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Focus-on-Employability-Skills-Paper-1.pdf   accessed 10/21/2017.
  4. Vision and Change in undergraduate biology education:  A call to action.    http://visionandchange.org/files/2011/03/Revised-Vision-and-Change-Final-Report.pdf
  5. Bio 2010 Transforming undergraduate education for future research biologists. The National Academies Press.   https://www.nap.edu/login.php?record_id=10497&page=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.nap.edu%2Fdownload%2F10497
Jodie Krontiris-Litowitz is a Professor of Biological Sciences in the STEM College of Youngstown State University.  She currently teaches Human Physiology Lab, Advanced Systems Physiology and Principles of Neurobiology and has taught Human Physiology and Anatomy and Physiology.  In her classroom research Jodie investigates using active learning to engage students in the lecture classroom.  She is a long-standing member of the Teaching Section of the American Physiological Society and has served on the APS Education Committee.  Jodie is a Biology Scholars Research Fellow and a recipient of the YSU Distinguished Professor of Teaching award.
A reflection of my first three months as new teaching faculty

I got the job offer over a phone call at 9 pm on a Tuesday evening at the end of May. I wasn’t really expecting it and I sent the call to my voicemail because I didn’t recognize the number. It took a total of about 10 seconds before I fully processed that the area code was from the D.C. area and that I probably should have answered it. By that point the voicemail had already buzzed in and after listening to a vague message, I called back and got the news that they wanted me to become a professor. After I hung up I stood there in my living room (I had been pacing while on the call) for about 5 minutes before the reality started to sink in.

In all honesty, I shouldn’t have felt scared because, over the three months that I’ve been here, I’ve gotten to know my fellow faculty and started to really find a groove in the work. There is definitely a learning curve. You do your best as a postdoc to prepare for moving up to a professorship, but there comes the moment when you’re the one left holding the ball for some of these things… problems with exam questions, creating course syllabi, student questions about lectures, and all other manner of things that go with the territory.

There are moments that have left me feeling overwhelmed (my first student with a serious mental health issue), more than a few moments where I felt a little exasperated (how did you miss that question on the test???), the occasional bits of confusion (where is that building on campus…), but overall, it has been a lot of fun and one of the best learning experiences I’ve had up to this point in my academic career.

As I reflect back on the past few months, these are the things that have really made a difference in making sure that my transition has gone more-or-less smoothly. And really, I think these are tips that would work well for any transition.

  1. Identify your mentor(s).

I think I’m lucky that I’ve never felt alone during this period of transition to being new teaching faculty. The other members of my department have been supportive and welcoming. What has truly made a difference, though, is when I really started developing a closer working relationship with one of the senior faculty. Learning can take place one of two ways. You can bang your head against the wall and figure it out for yourself, or you can learn from someone else and figure out how to improve on what they’ve already done the hard work on. Having a mentor gives you place to go when things get tough, when things are just a little bit too overwhelming, and when you really have no idea w

hat is going on. More importantly, that mentor is a great source of backup when the really tricky situations come up.

  1. Ask questions.

There’s no way that anyone could have expected me to know everything the day I walked in. After a rigorous process of doing a Google search, checking the department and program websites, reading the faculty handbook, and tossing the Magic 8-Ball around (Reply hazy try again), sometimes I just had to find someone that already knew the answer to some of my questions. I would say the most important part of the process is attempting to find the answer on your own first. It may be cliché to say this now that I’m faculty, but did you read the course syllabus before coming to ask me a question?

  1. Stay organized.

The start of any sort of transition like this is going to get busy and a little bit crazy. New employee orientation, setting up benefits with your HR representative, creating slides for your first lectures, remembering to eat dinner… it all adds up. This is the time to be meticulous with your schedule keeping and time management. You also want to stay on top of all the paperwork that is coming and going right now as you don’t want to miss out on having one of your benefits because a box didn’t get checked or a detail that you had discussed verbally with your department chair didn’t get added to the final version of your offer letter and contract. Details matter all the time, but especially right now.

  1. Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize.

As a grad student and postdoc, I’ve joked around that the best way to make sure I wasn’t bored was to go talk with my PI because my to-do list was guaranteed to get longer. At this point, my to-do list seems to be mostly self-driven, but there are at least a dozen things that need my attention at any moment. From answering emails to completing that online training module that HR forg

ot to add to my new employee checklist, to the student at my door right now to ask a question about this morning’s lecture — hold on a minute, I’ll be right back — there are always tasks competing for your attention. I’m constantly finding myself looking at my list of things to do and asking, what is the next thing that has the highest priority for being completed. It definitely plays back into the previous point of staying organized.

  1. Say no (when you can).

Part of the prioritizing above comes with the responsibility of saying no. Time has long been my most precious commodity, but it feels like it has gotten more valuable lately. Of course I can review something when the associate editor of the journal emails me specifically about an article sitting in their queue. And when my department chair needs a thing done, absolutely. But there are things that I just have to say no to. Sometimes it is work related things like the 3 other journal article reviews that showed up in my inbox today that I had to decline, sometimes it is personal things like the dinner last night with some other new faculty because I still had work to do on my lectures for today.

  1. Focus on one thing at a time.

Humans are really bad at multitasking. No matter how hard we try, there is a bottleneck in our brain processing capabilities(1) that keeps us from effectively multitasking. There are limits to the cognitive load that we can handle (4) and studies have shown that learning and performance decrease with increased load handling (2, 3). So what can we take away from the science? Put away the phones and close the web browser window with your insta-snappy-chat social media account on it and focus on the highest priority item on your to-do list. You’ll finish you better and faster than if you let yourself be distracted.

  1. Remember that there is life outside the office.

At the end of the day, it’s time to shut down your computer and go home. Read a book for fun, get some exercise (at least a minimum of 3 times per week for at least 30 minutes per bout of exercise). Go have dinner with friends. The work will be there tomorrow.

On that note…

 

Seven tips feels like a good number. It’s a nice odd number. No matter if you’re a brand-new grad student in your first semester or a new faculty, I hope these tips will serve you well. And is there something that I missed? Comment below and let us know what you recommend for making sure that your transition to a new position easier.

 

References:

  1. Gladstones WH, Regan MA, Lee RB. Division of attention: The single-channel hypothesis revisited. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology Section A 41: 1–17, 1989.
  2. Junco R, Cotten SR. Perceived academic effects of instant messaging use. Computers & Education 56: 370–378, 2011.
  3. Junco R, Cotten SR. No A 4 U: The relationship between multitasking and academic performance. Computers & Education 59: 505–514, 2012.
  4. Mayer RE, Moreno R. Nine Ways to Reduce Cognitive Load in Multimedia Learning. Educational Psychologist 38: 43–52, 2010.
Ryan Downey is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pharmacology & Physiology at Georgetown University. As part of those duties, he is the Associate Program Director for the Master of Science in Physiology and a Team Leader for the Special Master’s Program in Physiology. He teaches the cardiovascular and neuroscience blocks in the graduate physiology courses. He received his Ph.D. in Integrative Biology from UT Southwestern Medical Center. His research interests are in the sympathetic control of cardiovascular function during exercise and in improving science pedagogy. When he’s not working, he is a certified scuba instructor and participates in triathlons.
Who’s Teaching Tomorrow’s Teachers?

Have you ever had a colleague say to you:

 “They want me to teach in this new integrated physiology course, but no one has ever taught me how to be an effective teacher!  I’ll be so nervous and probably make embarrassing mistakes, like saying the “love hormone”, oxytocin, is synthesized from cholesterol in the adrenal medulla.”

Being asked to teach first year medical students can certainly be intimidating, but that assignment is not actually akin to being thrown to the wolves. It is true that medical students are often over-achievers, but it’s been my experience over many years that these students are respectful and anxious to learn.

 

Maybe I can offer you a few tips that will help you avoid or prevent these first time  ‘teaching jitters’:

  • Know your subject and relevant scientific facts inside and out
  • Take advantage of teaching skills, workshops, and faculty development programs at your institution or through professional organizations
  • Ask your colleagues for constructive criticism of your first presentations
  • Remember that practice makes perfect, at least most of the time
  • Remember that a good sense of humor goes a long way, but bad jokes rarely help the situation
  • Don’t be afraid that you will make a couple of mistakes- we all make them but not all of us learn from them
  • Work to create effective visuals which may include human interest stories, physiology in the news, and even masterpieces by your favorite artist

Another more proactive approach is to offer programs that will encourage students to pursue their interests in teaching and help them develop the communication skills and understanding of different learning styles and pedagogies that are so essential to becoming an enthusiastic and dedicated educator. Many medical students want to ultimately incorporate teaching into their future careers as clinicians, either by formally teaching in an academic medical center or more informally through their communication with patients and with the community at large.

Here at the Carver College of Medicine at The University of Iowa we encourage our students to pursue one of our specific distinction tracks, which include research, teaching, global health, service, humanities and healthcare delivery science and management, while they are pursuing their medical degree. Although the whole concept of “teaching medical students to teach” is certainly not unique to my institution (ref 1), I do believe that our Teaching Distinction track is unique and has succeeded in terms of achieving the desired outcomes.  I’ve been very fortunate, not to mention honored, to serve as the faculty mentor for several of our previous and current students who have selected to pursue their MD with a Distinction in Teaching. It has been very exciting for me to have the opportunity to impact a student’s learning, not only in the classroom, but also in terms of their own experiences and development as educators. It has also been very gratifying when a former mentee tells me that they learned so much from me- not just endocrinology and cell biology, but also how to convey passion and enthusiasm as a teacher.  Certainly this has been a win-win experience because I’ve learned so much from these students!  Maybe Henry Adams was right when he concluded that “A teacher affects eternity; he/she can never tell where his/her influence stops.”

In order to graduate with a Distinction in Teaching our students must meet a number of requirements that include a minimum of 60 hours of relevant teaching experiences that may include: tutoring and didactic teaching; creating new educational materials; serving as a small-group facilitator; and participation on medical education committees (ref 2).  These students are also required to develop a teaching portfolio and to successfully complete a 4-week teaching elective with a capstone project (ref 2).  Since this distinction track was fully implemented in 2010, approximately 60 students, or 7-8% of all graduates, have graduated with a Distinction in Teaching.  We’ve also heard anecdotally that some students have decided to attend medical school here at the University of Iowa because they specifically wanted to pursue this track, and that having this distinction track on their resume gave them a competitive advantage during their interviews for residency positions.

Great teachers are not always born with that potential, but frequently discover their passion at some point in their careers.   I hope that through this Teaching Distinction track we’ve trained and inspired some excellent teachers who will have major impacts on all of their future students.

References

  1. Soriano RP, Blatt B, Coplit L, CichoskiKelly E, Kosowicz L, Newman L, Pasquale SJ, Pretorius R, Rosen JM, Saks NS and Greenberg L. Teaching medical students to teach: a national survey of students-as-teachers programs in U.S. medical schools. Acad Med. 2010;85:1725-31.
  2. Schmidt TJ, Ferguson KJ, Hansen HB and Pettit JE. Teaching distinction track for future medical educators. Med. Sci. Educ. 2015;25:303-06.
Thomas Schmidt is a Professor in the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics at the Carver College of Medicine, The University of Iowa. He is a Fellow of the American Physiological Society and has served on the Education Committee and the Career Opportunities in Physiology Committee.  He has been the recipient of numerous teaching awards including: The President and Provost Award for Teaching Excellence (The University of Iowa); Master Teacher Award (International Association of Medical Science Educators); and most recently the Arthur C. Guyton Educator of the Year Award (American Physiological Society).  He has served as a mentor for a number of medical students who have graduated with a Teaching Distinction.