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NICHD Connection Blog from April, 2012

The morning of Wednesday, May 30th at 10:30 is our annual event to showcase graduate student talent from programs across the institute, featuring research presentations by four students, followed by presentation of the Postbac Poster Awards and Mentor of the Year Awards in the Natcher Nobel Laureate space.

Register now for Monday, May 7th from 4:30 p.m. through end of the day on Tuesday, May 8th. Our speakers are lined up, including Dr. David Page of the Whitehead Institute. The online registration and abstract submission is OPEN for intramural fellows and graduate students at http://retreat.nichd.nih.gov.

On Monday evening in building 50, first floor, the poster session will be held, followed by a social outing. The Tuesday portion of our meeting will take place at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park!

We want as many of you to attend as possible, this is a fabulous networking opportunity and a chance to meet others from across our institute---encourage new people in yours labs to attend!

By Silviya Zustiak

What a title: a little provocative, a little scary, and what does it mean in first place? Within the course of a day workshop on teaching, Dr. Coppola from University of Michigan, Department of Chemistry, made himself abundantly clear: be interactive, teach the students how to think for themselves and excel, rather than just regurgitate facts. And the way to do that is by doing “real work”, i.e., using authentic texts and evidence, not just textbooks. Easier said than done, it turns out, and not just due to the difficulty and time required to implement inquiry-based learning objectives in your curriculum. The true culprit is the short-sighted notion still predominant in academia: if you care too much about teaching, you can’t be a serious researcher. But times are changing, he assured us. In the past, you could have “your legs chopped off” if you expressed an interest in teaching; now you can simply lose your toes.

Dr. Coppola himself discovered a passion for teaching, after receiving a Ph.D. degree in organic chemistry from University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1984. He had the unorthodox idea that teaching is an important part of academia even at research-oriented institutions and, therefore, he secretly attended teaching workshops (which weren’t even that common at the time). His desire to be an “Education Researcher,” led him along a rather unusual academic career path, one that in the end permitted him to become an innovator and an advocate for quality undergraduate education. He came to NIH to impart his wisdom to us - the future educators - the NICHD postdoctoral fellows who would like to pursue an academic career.

The first thing that strikes you when you hear Dr. Coppola talk is that he is a man of strong opinions and wouldn’t easily give them up. For example, he may be one of the few remaining professors who uses chalk instead of PowerPoint slides. And his rationale for that is rather intriguing: teaching is an improvisational act and, thus, less structure equals more of you. He proceeded with a very convincing example on “notes,” stating that people don’t go to a concert to see the notes on the paper but to hear the musician play them out. The same principle applies to teaching, he said. He also sees an inherent problem with answer keys because they simply teach students to perform the steps to get to the right answer. He believes that, instead, open-end questions foster critical thinking and encourage students to work together, which in turn promotes true learning. For example, he showed us an interesting statistic: students retain about 10% from a lecture and 90% of what they teach to others. The lesson for us, the future academics, is to involve the students actively in the process of learning. This could be done in multiple ways. Some examples include asking the students to create a podcast, a video, or a song about a scientific concept, to become wiki editors, to write their own syllabus, to generate mini textbooks, or to invent exercises, all of which are demanding but memorable experiences for young minds. Dr. Coppola shared his experience with media instructional materials and pointed out how amazed he was at the students’ potential when they were given a chance to express themselves and be creative. And I think you would agree with me, that science is an act of creativity.

Finally, Dr. Coppola deeply believes that most of us who are Ph.D. scientists will probably end up teaching rather doing research. Why? From the 4500 institutions of higher education in the US, only 600 offer a Ph.D. program and only 300 are research-intensive. It doesn’t require a Ph.D. to do the math. There you have it: education training for academics is important and there is a lot more to it than just putting up a PowerPoint presentation. And don’t be discouraged, everybody makes mistakes (such as over- or under-estimating what the students can do) but good educators learn from their mistakes and move on.

So, if you ask me if I would recommend this workshop to other aspiring educators, and I would add: “If you are looking for a practical, unorthodox, and inspirational workshop on teaching, then yes, I do recommend this one.”

Labels: event-recap

Contact: Brenda Hanning (301-451-7753)
Date: Initial Orientation – Friday, April 13 (noon); Building 31, Room 2A48 (conf. room)
Ongoing Opportunity, one hour of your time per week!

On Friday, April 13th at noon, we will host an orientation for individuals interested in recording scientific texts for individuals who have visual impairments or reading challenges. Access to these texts can transform a student’s educational experience, and NIH takes the lead on recording scientific books in our on-campus studio---you have to understand the terminology and be able to interpret the graphs and charts. At the orientation, you will hear from two scientists who have participated in this program for years, Drs. Henry Metzger and Catherine Cotter. The NIH studio is in Building 31 to record these texts digitally, and scientists at all levels are welcome.

In addition, Learning Ally will describe their other volunteer opportunity: recording less technical textbooks (includes a wide range of academic subject areas and difficulty levels) at their main office in Friendship Heights. Evening hours are possible.

Here is just one story of how our readers have helped a young scientist:

Hoby Wedler Henry “Hoby” Wedler, a 24-year-old graduate student from Davis, California who was born blind, is pursuing a career in science. Having completed his undergraduate work at UC Davis – double majoring in Chemistry and History and minoring in Mathematics, and achieving a 3.83 grade point average – Wedler is now in graduate school at the University, and has established himself as a role model and mentor for younger students. “Pursuing a career in science is both challenging and rewarding. But I would not have been able to pursue a career in college without the support I received from Learning Ally. As a college student, I was often required to read about 400 pages a week. Without the help of Learning Ally’s accessible audiobooks, it would have been impossible to keep up with the demanding workload.”

Watch for posters about NICHD READS: Reading to Engage All During the Summer

This spring, members of the NICHD community will be invited to donate used (or new) children’s books – from board books to young adult literature – to stimulate summer reading. We will target our donations to a school, literacy program, or day care center where there are identified needs.  Watch for future announcements about offices where you can make your donations, including Brenda Hanning’s office, 2A46 in building 31.

Speaking about Science: Long Talks
9:00 a.m. - 12 noon
Led by Scott Morgan

The core of the workshop is a working discussion on introductions to ensure that a presentation is relevant and engaging for a variety of audiences - this becomes critical for job talks or even formally presenting data to your lab group. Other topics will include theme, focus, amounts of data, and exit strategies.

Note there are 25 spots available for this workshop, so sign up soon, send an email to Yvette Pittman.

Scott Morgan is a well-known public speaking coach and has been teaching science communication for 18 years. His clients include a majority of the institutes at the NIH, Merck, NASA, EPA, and several universities (UNC Chapel Hill, Cornell, Maryland, Ohio State, Minnesota, Duke). In addition, he teaches media training and communication skills for many research think tanks in the Washington DC area. Scott has co-authored the book Speaking about Science published by Cambridge University Press.

Dr. Richard Greenwald
Title: Biomechanical Basis of Concussion: Monitoring Head Impacts in Sports
Speaker: Richard M. Greenwald, Ph.D., President, Simbex
Time: 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm
Location: Lipsett auditorium, Bldg. 10, the Clinical Center, NIH campus

If you would like to meet with Dr. Greenwald over a brown bag lunch, a session from 11:30 am - 12:30 pm on April 17th will be offered to fellows. This could be interesting for those of you with an interest in an entrepreneurial/private sector career. Fellows, please email Yvette Pittman if you would like to attend.

2012 Mentor of the Year Award: Share your great mentorship experience!

Last call for nominations of your fellow or PI for the 2012 Mentor of the Year awards. This is a great opportunity to recognize an individual whose mentoring has made a difference in your life here at NIH! The deadline was April 6, but a short extension may be possible if you want to check with Brenda Hanning. But write soon!

Our two annual Mentor of the Year awards go to an investigator (tenured, tenure-track, staff clinician, staff scientist) and a fellow (postdoctoral, clinical, visiting, or research fellows). For more information, go to http://fellows.nichd.nih.gov.

Postbac Poster Day: A showcase of their scientific contributions

The annual poster day for our postbac fellows will take place on Wednesday, April 25th, 11:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m., in tents adjacent to the South Entrance of Building 10. We are planning to have a competition again for 2012, judged by intramural postdoctoral fellows, to recognize the top three posters for NICHD.