This page is geared especially for the prospective student,
whether you are considering taking one of my classes,
or working with me at the undergraduate or graduate level.
For undergraduate or graduate research opportunities please click here.
My philosophy of education
Education for me is the guided exercise and development of the mind in all of its aspects: intellectual, emotional, moral, social, imaginative. I seek as an educator to develop each of these in harmony with each other. I treat my students as whole people and relatively independent thinkers; but I do not assume that they know what is most valuable to learn, in life or in the particular area I happen to be teaching at the moment. I also treat my students as mature adults with a potential interest in any matter of knowledge; but I do not assume that this interest will be realized for any given subject in any particular individual. Thus I respect my students' intellect and potential but I feel a crucial duty to inspire, lead, and instruct my students.
Of inspiration, leadership, and instruction, my experience has been that the role of a professor as an inspirer is most valuable for undergraduate student education. As essential as leadership and instruction are, I find that students are more likely to accept an educator's leadership and assimilate the instruction if they are first (and continually) inspired to do so. I find this concept to be central in my mind as I educate, whether I am stepping up to a podium in a large lecture hall, or sitting across from a student in a coffee shop for an independent study session. Graduate students need inspiration too, of course, but I find that they can be better trusted to maintain their own inspiration as long as they continue to grow in confidence in their academic ability, develop a commitment to science and their project, and participate in the intellectual community of fellow students and faculty. Thus I think that leadership is the primary value of the graduate advisor.
Partly because of my own educational experiences, I consider personal interaction with students to be the best inducer of enthusiasm. I achieve this in class settings via lecture style and discussion, but I especially look for ways to accomplish this on an individual level. For instance, I have found the independent study or tutorial format to be an effective way for bright students to develop interests, encounter the literature, and convey ideas verbally and in writing. I also encourage students to engage intellectually in research, regardless of their official level of involvement in the project. Collaboration between student and advisor can be a fruitful experience for both, and I look forward to advisees collaborating with me when they wish to do so. However, I encourage advanced students to develop their own research interests and projects regardless of whether they relate closely to my own, and I guide them in that endeavor.
How I teach biology
I have three main objectives in biology teaching, according to the levels of advancement and commitment of my students:
(1) to introduce students, whatever their chosen field, to the study of life and cultivate in them a fascination and respect for the natural world and its processes
(2) to attract students to the field of biology and to help them become excited, well-informed, and cogent thinkers on the subject
(3) to inspire budding academics to become ambitious thinkers and doers who have a balanced and independent perspective, who recognize and test assumptions, and who push at the boundaries of knowledge
Among the more specific themes in my approach to teaching biology are: a presentation of ecology, evolution, and behavior as an integrated explanatory framework; emphasis on interacting with primary literature and on the value of experimental studies; and encouragement of students to employ theory to produce testable predictions. I also stress the importance of quality writing, and I assign writing projects or essays in all the courses I teach except for large survey courses. The philosophy portion of my educational background influences my biology teaching in several ways. I stress critical thinking skills and encourage my students to understand the nature of science and its difference from other modes of inquiry. I challenge my students to deepen their understanding of the concepts we use in biology, especially those that have a complex history or are difficult to define. I often present problems in evolutionary biology in the context of the field’s rich history. I also enjoy raising issues at the interface of biological science and society, such as environmental concern, the recognition of humans as a product of evolution, and the importance of evolution in science education. I find that students are increasingly interested in exploring ethical implications of biology, especially in the areas of conservation and biotechnology. I encourage these interests while maintaining the rigor of courses, often by providing appropriate readings and inviting the exchange of ideas in a discussion format.
What I teach
What I am teaching now
In spring 2010 I am teaching a Monday afternoon (1:40-5:30pm) laboratory section of BIO345W, Animal Behavior. This is paired with the lecture course taught by Prof. Paul Mundinger.
In the fall semesters I teach BIO724.6, Behavior & Evolution, a three-credit graduate course where students and I cooperate to address questions about how behavioral traits evolve. There is a bit of lecture and some writing, but much more central are our topical discussions at our weekly meetings, and our exploration of the primary literature. Here is the Fall 2010 syllabus for this course. I teach this course every fall, alternating between the City University of New York Graduate Center on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan in even-numbered years, and the Queens College campus in Flushing on odd-numbered years. In Fall 2010 this course will be offered at the Graduate Center and will meet on Wednesdays between 6:30 and 9:20 pm.
I also guide tutorials and independent studies at the undergraduate or graduate level in any of the general areas of interest to me (see my research pages for examples). Please feel free to contact me by email or phone.
What I have taught recently
Aside from introductory and interdisciplinary courses, I have taught five courses related to ecology, evolution, or behavior as a postdoctoral fellow or a visiting assistant professor, and four as a graduate student instructor. I have also designed and taught eleven semesters of independent study or tutorial courses for undergraduates. I have led graduate seminars on various topics, including behavioral ecology, experimental studies of adaptation, and animal communication (co-led with Jeff Podos). I have been particularly eager to teach, lecture, and lead seminars on topics in evolutionary biology, animal behavior, vertebrate biology, ornithology, and philosophical or social issues in biology.
The Darwin Fellowship at UMass, which I held from 2003-2005, is specifically designed to provide graduate students with a “near peer” mentor. I was able to pursue independent research, but I was also actively involved in 2-3 seminars per term and the advising of students.
University of Massachusetts, Postdoctoral Fellow, 2005, 2008, 2009
University of Massachusetts, Darwin Fellow, 2003-2005
Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies, Visiting Assistant Professor, Summers 2003-2004
University of Michigan, Graduate Student Instructor, 1998-2002
Sample recent course materials
Research opportunities for students
Research for me is not only a way to advance scientific knowledge among the professional community and the public, but also a way to teach students and induct them into the practice of science. I encourage students to engage intellectually in my research, and also to conceive and pursue research projects of their own. Nearly all of my current and future research projects involve or would benefit from undergraduate or graduate involvement. Following are just a few examples of short-term projects (ones that could be accomplished within a year) students could pursue in collaboration with me or under my supervision with only moderate training. These include both lab- and field-based projects.