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Teaching Statement

Although I am an active research scientist I have a commitment to teaching, and the satisfaction that I derive from teaching is the fundamental reason I want to be an academic. I look forward to a variety of teaching experiences: 1) large classes at the introductory level or for non-majors, 2) smaller upper-level courses and seminars, 3) laboratories and fieldtrips that will encourage students to see the biological world outside of the classroom, and 4) one-on-one mentoring as an advisor to undergraduate and graduate research.

I have interest and experience in teaching introductory courses. In the fall of 2008, I taught two courses at the University of New Haven on the principles of ecology, one at the undergraduate level and one at the Masters level. I also co-taught a large (300 student) non-majors class at the University of Massachusetts. In 13 lectures for this class, I hoped to impress upon students how evolution impacts their daily lives, from the evolution vs. creationism ‘debate’, to new research on early hominoids, to the implications of evolution for medicine and psychology (see Biology 105 - Resources online). In the future, I am very interested in teaching both introductory courses within the biology major and non-major survey courses.

As for upper level courses, animal behavior / behavioral ecology will be my focus, but I would also like to teach some courses in community ecology and even landscape, ecosystem, and climate-change ecology (although I can in no way consider myself particularly experienced in these last fields, they interest me, and I find teaching is one of the most effective ways of learning). I am interested also in ‘skills’ classes: I have organized several workshops in writing for biological sciences and in statistics and experimental design (see my CV), and I would like to develop full courses in either of these subjects. Finally, I think there are a variety of seminar level courses that I could develop that might be useful for a wide variety of students inside and outside the biological sciences. For example, I would love to do a seminar course in opportunities and problems associated with doing graduate research internationally.

Although I will not discuss in depth here my teaching philosophy, out-of-classroom activities are essential in my view for students to understand the process of science and hone their problem-solving skills. I have a lot of experience planning workshops / fieldtrips and field laboratories in Sri Lanka over a ten year period (see my CV). Also, I expect students to do research and writing assignments that encourage them to explore in depth an aspect of the course material that is of particular interest to them. The ultimate goal is for the student to realize that, through reading, analysis and investigation, she/he can become ‘an expert’ on the subject of the writing project. Indeed, this is the objective that I am trying to realize in my current teaching assignment, acting as a mentor for undergraduates at the University of San Diego who present a seminar on a topic of their interest at the end of their senior year.

The last fundamental part of teaching that I would like to participate in is mentoring undergraduate and graduate students. I have been blessed to have had a host of wonderful advisors, who have given me many ideas about how an advisor can help a student find their own path, adjusting their role in the project to the student’s background, personality and ambitions. Undergraduate research is clearly a growing priority for universities of all classes, and I would encourage undergraduate students and involve them in some of my own projects; for example, students interested in both animals and technology could be incorporated into the cell-phone project. Undergraduate or graduate students in my laboratory would have opportunities to do research abroad, working with my collaborators in Asia and Melanesia. I have confidence that I will be able to attract the external funding to facilitate such opportunities, and the first day that my lab and I can have a lab-group meeting will be one of the most fulfilling days of my life.