Current research is only one aspect of a scientist’s responsibility to society. Effectively communicating that science, both to laypeople and a younger generation of scientists is critical. I take pride in involving students at every stage of the scientific process, and strive to engender an understanding of the importance of experiential, exploratory, and hypothesis-driven research. Effective and engaging mentors were critical to my success in this field and I strive to continue this tradition in my own students. Teaching good practices regarding hypothesis development, data collection and analysis, as well as the urgent need for natural history knowledge form the foundation of my approach to mentoring students. Most importantly however, I demand that mentees are effective in their ability to communicate their ideas and findings within the context of the scientific method. One of the best ways to learn information is to be forced to teach it – and the proper communication of ideas between both peers and mentors-mentees is one of the best ways to translate, comprehend, and verbalize ideas, concepts, and opinions.
You just can't beat that Socratic method of asking your students questions either - they'll need to think of responses on the fly and articulate their answers in a way that will have to formalize concept in their own language.
BIOC99 is a special seminar and directed research course for undergraduates. Nate Lovejoy and I came up with a curriculum, centered around examples from the peer-reviewed literature to discuss classic and modern topics in comparative biomechanics, functional morphology, and trait evolution. We focus on the "big ideas" in biomechanics and morphological research - the mechanics of Solids, Fluids, and the consequences of scaling laws; the principles of geometric morphometrics and their application to comparative research, and understanding how muscle physiology affects our ability to model how anatomical structures work. Finally, almost half the course material deals with how to use phylogenetic methods to answer macroevolutionary questions about trait evolution: topics include interspecific vs. intraspecific scaling and morphological & functional redundancy. Our "Traits, Rates, & Dates" topics cover how to construct trees using molecular data, how to examine trait evolution at the tips and determine ancestral states, how to date nodes based on fossil data, as well as characterizing the patterns leading to accelerated rates of evolution along branches - and what these patterns might allow us to infer about evolutionary processes. Students incorporate these ideas into their own team research projects, with their final task of having to present their research at an international meeting with a poster presentation.
See the "People" section for more info on my students' research topics!
In BIOC51, Nate Lovejoy and I teach students about biogeography and biodiversity of the NeoTropics. Our students design and then execute a fish sampling plan that we implement from the Cano Palma Biological Research Station in Tortuguero, Costa Rica. Later, during directed study, some students learned how to use DNA barcoding to confirm morphological identification (using dichotomous keys). Students learn how to identify taxa, predict where animals might live based on body shape and other morphological characters (ecomorphology), and learn how geological events help shape genetic divergence through population divergence (vicariance). We also search for snakes and other reptiles by moonlight, survey caimans by finding their eyeshine at midnight, and help identify and mark sea turtle nests.
In BIOB33 practical (lab sections), I teach students about human anatomy, with special emphasis on histology, the evolution of the vertebrate skeleton, and muscle lever biomechanics. We study the human skeleton and fetal pigs in order to identify major muscle groups and characterize their function, organ systems, and endocrine function.
In ZOO3713C, Greg Erickson and I teach students about the evolution of the vertebrate body, starting from chordates and using a modern phylogenetic (cladistic) framework, with special emphasis on understanding the internal and external forces molding selection on phenotype. We discuss phylogenetic methods and systematics, histological classification of tissues, biomechanics of locomotion and feeding, skeletal biomaterials and development, muscle function, and the challenges of living in fluids, flying, and walking with certain postures - just to name the highlights. My favorite course to teach by far.
In Animal Biodiversity, I taught a laboratory section that introduces freshmen and sophomores to the myriad array of animal life on earth. We cover everything from cnidarians (corals, sea anemones, jellyfish & allies) to archosaurs (crocs, birds, and dinosaurs). Students learn how to dissect a broad array of animals and identify internal structures. We discuss a systematic (i.e. taxonomic) perspective on animal evolution, with special emphasis on diagnostic characters (synapomorphies) of certain clades
In Bio of Fishes, Dean Grubbs and I teach students about the evolutionary history and systematics of the fishes (excluding those uppity terrestrial sarcopterygians). I give lectures on the evolution of feeding in fishes as well as locomotion. Students learn modern sampling methods, such as long-lining, gillnetting, seining, trawling, and electrofishing. The material covered includes a modern phylogenetic treatment of all fishes, both living and extinct, as well as life history theory, ecomorphology, reproductive biology, general anatomy, physiology of osmoregulation, and other subjects, just to name a few.