I often joke that I am in the 20th grade. That line typically elicits a chuckle, but it signifies much more than a comical way to strike up a conversation. See, as someone who is only twenty-five years old, an overwhelming majority of my life has consisted of formal education. Over the years, I have had dozens of teachers across many different disciplines, and while most of the day-to-day events were commonplace and generally unmemorable, the things that resonate with me tend to sit at the extremes. There have been a plethora of moments that have remained dear to me for good reasons, but there have also been many that I resolve to never incorporate into my lessons. Regardless, these insights will ultimately shape how I conduct myself as a teacher, both inside and outside of the classroom. For example:
- I believe that physical props and live demonstrations are essential for learning. Not only do these items help students understand the material better, they also keep them engaged by evoking a greater interest in the subject-matter. When I have taught lessons on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) physics in the past with Duke Splash!, I created my own electromagnet to demonstrate how electrical current passing through a solenoid can generate a magnetic field through a non-magnetic bolt. More recently, I created 3D-printed knee models complete with a silicone anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) to enable students to interactively identify the primary function of the ACL and what positions might put the ligament at risk for rupture. These demonstrations help solidify difficult concepts in the students’ minds, making them more likely to remember the principles down the line.
- I believe that PowerPoint presentations can be incredible learning tools (if used properly). Students should have “bare bones” versions of the slides ahead of time so they can follow along and write out the most important points themselves. This helps conserve time, promote better organization, and reinforce key take-aways through muscle memory. It is not always practical for students to copy down intricate diagrams or long equations in a timely manner, so this approach offers the best compromise.
- I believe in practical learning. Mindlessly memorizing facts and formulas will not get you far in life. It is the ability to practically apply pre-existing knowledge that will help you succeed. I hated when teachers made me memorize complex equations for exams when I knew I could always look them up if I needed to use them for something. Assignments should not be focused on “plug and chug” techniques. Rather, they should challenge students to think outside the box and apply their acquired knowledge in new ways. Laboratory assignments can bridge the gap between theory and application when thoughtfully integrated into the curriculum. I designed a lab for the Pratt in Costa Rica study abroad program that challenged students to write a MATLAB program that could automatically identify bird species based on the unique frequency signatures of their calls. I also developed curriculum for the Duke Talent Identification Program (TIP) for academically gifted middle and high school students, that included hands-on activities related to bioinstrumentation, bioelectricity, biomechanics, biomaterials, transport phenomena, and medical imaging. Finally, I designed a MATLAB-based escape room as a review exercise for BME 303L: Modern Diagnostic Imaging Systems, which incorporated concepts from signals & systems, x-ray, CT, ultrasound, MRI, and nuclear medicine.
- I do not believe in traditional exams. While exams enable teachers to quantitatively measure students’ knowledge in a highly controlled environment, they often have little applicability to real-world scenarios. Student success and future outcomes should not be measured by a handful of exams sprinkled throughout the semester. Rather, it is important to get to know each student’s strengths and weaknesses and assess their intellectual development in other ways. I believe assignments such as course projects, oral presentations, and one-on-one personalized interviews are more applicable to the success and professional development of future engineers. I plan to continue investigating alternative methods of student assessment as I gain more teaching experience.
- I believe in assigning numerous low-risk tasks and providing fast feedback. Students should be constantly working on small formative assignments to test their understanding of course material. These assignments should be small enough so as not to be a significant burden, but frequent enough so as to limit the opportunity for procrastination. Further, rapid feedback is essential, as this enables students to quickly identify areas of confusion before they fall too far behind. These small assignments should test students’ critical thinking and their ability to apply the materials covered in class to complementary problems, while facilitating better learning overall. I helped implement these principles during the Pratt in Costa Rica program by grading and returning all assignments within 24 hours of submission and by developing a new online submission and grading system for MATLAB assignments on Sakai.
- I believe that no two classes (or students) are the same. My first TA role was for a graduate-level course, entitled BME 790L: Signal Processing & Applied Mathematics, which presented numerous unique challenges. First, I was the youngest person in the room, which forced me to constantly evaluate how I interacted with my students. Second, the graduate students all came from different academic backgrounds, and their MATLAB skills were generally lacking. It was difficult to address individual students’ needs, as they each required varying degrees of help. I have also had the privilege of tutoring 25 Duke varsity student- athletes across 14 sports in 8 different classes since joining the Duke athletics team in Fall 2017. Teaching student-athletes presents its own challenges, and it is important to leverage their desire to be coached and trained for success. These experiences opened my eyes to many new considerations moving forward, such as the importance of individualized student support, and the differences between teaching at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
- I believe that maintaining open lines of communication is the most important way to connect to students. As a TA, I would regularly check my email and our class Piazza page, and I would try to respond to messages as quickly as possible. In Costa Rica, constant communication between the students, the professor, and myself proved to be critical due to our intense schedule (an entire semester of classwork was condensed into just six weeks, making one day in our program equivalent to an entire week in a traditional Duke course). However, this was more challenging than I initially anticipated due to poor Wi-Fi signals and the fact that not all students had international cell phone plans. However, I did everything possible to overcome these obstacles, including being accessible via WhatsApp in the evenings. Constant communication is essential for the students to identify points of confusion as quickly as possible to ensure they stay on track, and it lets them know you are there to support them.
While Duke biomedical engineering PhD students must TA for two semesters, I have served as a TA five times in three different courses (BME 790L: Signal Processing & Applied Mathematics, BME 271A: Signals & Systems, and BME 303L: Modern Diagnostic Imaging Systems). Additionally, although I was the course grader, I held many of the responsibilities of a TA in a fourth class (BME 590: Magnetic Resonance Imaging Principles & Sequence Design). I am also actively involved with Duke athletics tutoring, Duke TIP, Duke Splash!, Duke Females Excelling More in Mathematics, Engineering, and Science (FEMMES), Duke-Durham School Days, the Perry Initiative, and the Scientific Research and Education Network (SciREN).
Furthermore, in order to supplement my TA requirements and to gain more practical classroom experience during my doctoral studies, I am enrolled in the Certificate in College Teaching (CCT) program. This program provides both pedagogical training and opportunities to engage in teaching experiences beyond those typically afforded through teaching assistantships. As of Spring 2019, I have completed all of the course and teaching requirements for the CCT.
Mentorship is something I am deeply grateful for. I am fortunate to have multiple mentors at Duke and beyond to whom I turn for academic and personal advice. These individuals have helped me excel on my current career path and have made me a better engineer and educator. I will continue seeking feedback and advice as I progress in my career. In return, I serve as a mentor for the for the next generation of engineers. Presently, I mentor first year biomedical engineering PhD students as well as engineering undergraduates from historically underrepresented groups through two of Duke’s mentorship programs. Mentorship should never be one-sided, and I am glad to have the opportunity to be both a mentor and a mentee.
After completing my PhD in biomedical engineering, I plan to seek a position in academia so I can continue teaching and conducting scientific research. Based on my prior academic and research experiences, I am qualified to teach introductory engineering courses related to signal and image processing, medical imaging physics, and biomechanics.