Statement of Teaching

Statement of Teaching


I. Teaching Philosophy

I believe that individuals can learn in many different ways, and that there is more to success than just intelligence or hard work. I also recognize that a certain facility with learning is a variable character in the student population, and I approach teaching with this understanding. Students can excel in my classes if they are clever, or if they are hard working, although I try reserve the highest marks for those who exhibit both intelligence and diligence. In all of my classes I give a diversity of assignments to allow the particular skills of each student to be expressed, whether those skills are quantitative, expressive or creative. I believe that, in the academy, no subject is too esoteric or that any subject a waste of time. I have chosen to structure my own career around practical questions of disease transmission, but I recognize that advances in all fields often come from unexpected sources, and I strive to foster a general appreciation for learning in my students. I wish to instill in them the ability to think, not what to think.

II. Teaching Approaches

Undergraduate Education

I have had considerable experience teaching at the undergraduate level, and while I have never taught a semester without some unseen problems, I have confidence in my ability to instruct undergraduates in a variety of topics. In fact, the difficulties I have encountered while teaching (from the technical to the spiritual) have honed my abilities in the classroom. Engaging the classroom is the fundamental basis to my teaching approach, whether in a large lecture hall or intimate discussion group. Therefore, when I lecture, I constantly ask the students questions, and I don’t fear going a little off topic, if there is something to be gained from such a digression. I plan my lectures accordingly, with purposeful spaces for discussion and a certain degree of flexibility. I utilize short learning exercises, such as “pair-share”, where classroom neighbors share the answer to a question so every student if forced to think about it, even if they would never raise their hands. Naturally, I find the small classroom comfortable, although even in large rooms this approach can be effective and energizing.

I treat undergraduates as adults, which means that I expect them to be personally responsible for their behavior. For example, although I might have a participation grade as part of a discussion section, I never fault a student for missing lecture. I believe their grade on exams would reflect their fecklessness, and the resulting grade is their punishment.

As much as possible, I use primary sources as material. It is never too early for undergraduates to grapple with the literature, and in all of my classes I emphasize going to the library (or the computer) and using databases to find original material for writing research papers. I center discussion sections on the critical evaluation of a seminal article on the topic, and not on secondary text.

Writing is a difficult task in all disciplines, and I believe the best way to learn is through practice. Even in introductory classes, students should have at least two big writing assignments a semester, reflecting the two types of writing scientists have to do. First, students should have to write an original review-type paper, covering a specific topic in the subject. Second, students should have to write up a formal experiment in the format expected by scientific journals. Depending on the class, other writing assignments might also be in order, but I see two as the bare minimum in all of my classes. Several of my teaching assignments as a graduate student dealt specifically with improving the ability of students to write, and I have learned a number of approaches that are effective, depending of each particular student’s needs.

Graduate Education and Mentoring

I cannot claim experience in educating graduate students. However, I have experience being one, and I think I have learned some of the pitfalls advisors encounter. Again, even more so than for undergraduates, it is important for graduate students to recognize their own personal responsibility in their education. I would express this reality to my students. However, I would also understand that the process is not easy or always clear. I had a very laissez-faire advisor, and I think that approach is great for some people, sufficient for others, and disastrous for some. I would take a different approach. I would be very involved in the first two years of a PhD, or the first year of a master’s. If possible, I would try to publish with my students during this formative period, with authorship dependent upon the specific manuscript. After this point, I would become increasingly less involved, and encourage truly independent work (and independent publication). This may put a burden on the student to find funding later in their graduate tenure, but that is clearly an important part of our current academic system. I would also foster a sense of camaraderie in my laboratory, with at least bi-weekly lab meetings, ideally with a social component (e.g. coffee and tea, lunch, or potluck dinner). I feel that in my graduate career I learned as much, if not more, from my fellow graduate students as from my advisor, and I believe the interaction between lab mates is important in generating a productive lab ethos.

III. Courses

I am prepared to teach courses in introductory biology, entomology, and ecology. In addition to teaching in my areas of specialization, I look forward to teaching interdisciplinary courses described below. I would also enjoy teaching graduate seminars in more specific topics, such as medical entomology, disease ecology, or behavioral ecology. Below, I have listed the major courses I could teach and my philosophical approaches to each.

Introductory Biology

I would use a major text book for this course, primarily because of the need to prepare students for a variety of biology related careers, including medicine, environmental studies, or academic research. However, unlike most courses, I would start with the largest scale and work down. So we would start with macro-evolution (including the diversity of life), biogeography, and ecosystems. Then the class will make a brief stop at populations and then whole organism considerations, where we would cover Mendelian genetics. Finally, we would delve inside the skin and then inside the cell, and cover modern molecular biology. This approach provides the students with a global perspective on the study of life.


I would take an ecological and evolutionary approach to the study of insects. There would still be a large phylogenetic and collections based component, but instead of systematically going through each order, different orders would be discussed in the context of some evolutionary or ecological principle. For example, a section on odonates (dragonflies and their kin) would center on their role as predators. Likewise, when we study the coleopteran, I would use the diversity in that order to illustrate the evolutionary concept of speciation. Although there would be a text for the course, we would also use some primary literature to illustrate the connection between each order and their more general place in the world of biology.


I would take a traditional approach to the study of ecology, beginning with the ecology of single species (functional/physiological ecology, interactions with climate/abiotic factors, and intraspecific interactions) up through two species interactions (interspecific competition, predator/prey, disease ecology, and plant-animal interactions) to community and ecosystem ecology. I would focus on primary, classic papers in the field, in conjunction with one of the popular text books. I would insist on teaching ecology with a laboratory that included the opportunity for individual research. I would also include a strong modeling focus in the laboratory. In addition to smaller laboratory assignments there would be one major lab write up and one major review paper.

Other Courses

I would be interested in teaching a graduate level course entitled “Topics in Medical Entomology” that would be a general medical entomology course. This would include topics such as: virology in vectors, mathematical models and vector-borne pathogens, spatial ecology, and applying ecological principles to medical entomology. I would also be comfortable directing seminars in medical entomology, disease ecology, or epidemiology.