Teaching Philosophy

My philosophy about teaching is constantly evolving—as a scientist, I know how important it is to gather new observations and adjust based on evidence. It is rooted in my experiences, as a scientist attending a liberal arts college for women for my undergraduate degree and as an international student for my graduate degrees. It is informed by both formal and informal pedagogical training. While currently limited, my formal training consists of undertaking the SAGES Program, a specialized course at the University of Calgary entitled, “Theory and Practice of University Teaching and Learning in STEM.” Informally, my teaching philosophy has been shaped largely through conversations on Twitter, primarily from scholars who discuss decolonializing and desettling STEM. Finally, my teaching philosophy is centered on students; as a teacher, facilitator and guide, it is my job, and privilege, to support students.

My teaching style favors lab-based or seminar-based courses. I strive to incorporate active learning and peer-based learning structures in my courses, and my techniques are based off current SOTL, including Peer-Led Team Learning (PLTL)[1]. My goal as an educator, and specifically one in biomedical sciences, is to facilitate their learning the how of thinking, that is, how to engage in the inquisitiveness and questioning that is the foundation of science. As scientists and academics, we spend every day expanding the boundaries of knowledge, and we must train the next generation early on to engage in this practice. However, I know that this type of learning does not come without a strong foundation in fundamental concepts, illustrating the importance of being able to facilitate a large introductory lecture type course. Furthermore, we must also teach students the historical and ethical context of these fundamental concepts; not only the what, but who made these discoveries versus who gets credit for them, was it ethical, and whose land and bodies was this knowledge built upon. For example, I recently pushed back to a Nature editorial calling for the preservation of a statue of J. Marion Sims (the “father of gynecology,” who unethically experimented on unanaesthetized black women)[2]. Based on my experiences as a learner, I am a firm believer that scientists need grounding in other academic disciplines so that they can correctly contextualize their work and its consequences.

Building on this, with students at the core, my teaching philosophy is focused on 3 main tenets: inclusivity, access and empathy.

Inclusivity. The academy in the United States and Canada is largely white and largely male. It has been shown that implicit biases about the social constructs of gender and race limit opportunities for mentorship and hiring and increase isolation and service workload, for example[3],[4]. Furthermore, the intersection of these identities creates a “double jeopardy,” for women of color, who are the most under-represented in the STEM disciplines.[5] In addition to the biases and microaggressions under-represented minorities face in STEM, it is known that part of the factors that drive them away from academia are a lack of role models and mentors, particularly those that look like them. Therefore, it is an imperative to work to increase representation in the academy—especially as a white woman, I hold an immense amount of privilege, and I will utilize that to promote the voices of those students and faculty most marginalized by the academy and society. I am engaging in this work currently by encouraging my department to actively recruit women of color (both on the faculty and student levels), actively participating in the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Graduate Studies Decolonializing Your Dissertation workshops, through territorial acknowledgements in publications and presentations, and through guest lecturing in PSYC/NEUR 475 (Drugs and Behaviour), where I discuss the racialized contexts of cannabis criminalization and legalization. I will continue to do this by: 1.) designing syllabi that promote literature and research conducted by under-represented minorities; 2.) designing syllabi that promote indigenous ways of knowing; 3.) using a stacking pedagogy for classroom discussions; 4.) continuing to call for the hiring of and promotion of underrepresented minorities, but particularly women of color; and, 5.) working on not taking opportunities that should really go to others, particularly underrepresented minorities.

Access. As educators, we have a mandate, not only through legal requirements, but a moral imperative, to make sure that our classrooms and learning materials (whether traditional physical lecture halls, digital spaces, lab areas or field work), are accessible to all learners. Over 20 years ago, Cooke et al. wrote, “While the mandate to create accessible field exercises may seem like a great burden in order to accommodate a relatively small number of students, we have found that the redesign of the field exercises results in a better learning experience for all students[6]—in other words, all students do better when learning environments are accessible. Students come to us with a variety of accessibility issues, such as, mobility impairments, hearing or visual impairments, head injuries or chronic conditions, attention disorders, psychiatric disorders, and also issues such as language or financial accessibility. I will work proactively, in my course and lab design, to use an accessible education approach, as opposed to an accommodation approach[7]; and work towards developing a self-evaluation framework, modeled from ASSET[8], for assessing students’ needs for lab-based courses.

In wet lab-based sciences, there is often an expectation that students will volunteer their time in a research lab, in order to learn research skills, garner favor with the lab to be eligible for a summer or honours position, or for a letter of reference. This is a huge barrier for those who cannot afford to work for free; which is not only an accessibility issue, but an inclusivity and diversity one. However, the status quo maintains that because everyone who came before has done it, that is the way it should be. I work, and push against the status quo, to make sure that none of the students I mentor are put in a position where they must choose between opportunities to learn and fiscal well-being. I have successfully mentored 3 students into securing 6 studentships over the past 6 years. I hope that as I continue in my academic career, I can create cultures at my institutes that negate the requirement for free labour.

Empathy. I am a compassionate defender of and believer in students. As instructors, we are in such a position of power and authority over students, that it is our duty to protect them and believe them.

This comes into play in a variety of scenarios, from how we respond to emails, requests for extensions…to instances of sexual or racialized harassment. We must advocate for our students, especially when it means standing up to our peers when they target and victimize students. I engage in constant self-reflection to make sure that I am working on being a safe space for everyone, but in particular, marginalized members of society.

I am here to make sure that students feel respected, heard and appreciated.

[1] Snyder JJ, Sloane JD, Dunk RDP, Wiles JR. (2016). Peer-Led Team Learning Helps Minority Students Succeed. PLoS Biol 14(3): e1002398. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1002398

[2] http://www.nature.com/news/readers-respond-to-nature-s-editorial-on-historical-monuments-1.22584

[3] Ginther DK, Schaffer WT, Schnell J, et al. RACE, ETHNICITY, AND NIH RESEARCH AWARDS. Science (New York, NY). 2011;333(6045):1015-1019. doi:10.1126/science.1196783.

[4] Female grant applicants are equally successful when peer reviewers assess the science, but not when they assess the scientist. Holly O Witteman, Michael Hendricks, Sharon Straus, Cara Tannenbaum. bioRxiv 232868; doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/232868

[5] Clancy, K. B. H., K. M. N. Lee, E. M. Rodgers, and C. Richey (2017), Double jeopardy in astronomy and planetary science: Women of color face greater risks of gendered and racial harassment, J. Geophys. Res. Planets, 122, 1610–1623, doi:10.1002/2017JE005256.

[6] Cooke, M.I., Anderson, K.S. and Forrest, S.E. (1997) ‘Creating accessible introductory, geology fieldtrips’, Journal of Geoscience Education, 45, 4-9

[7] accessiblecampus.ca

[8] http://archaeologyuk.org/accessible/

Last updated: Mid 2019