Chemistry Blog

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Oct 22

Chem Coach Carnival

by azmanam | Categories: chemical education | (12011 Views)

Thanks to See Arr Oh for putting on this blog carnival. Hopefully this can help someone out there :)

Your current job.

I teach at a small, liberal arts university in the Midwest (Primarily Undergraduate Institution). I am a full-time, non-tenure track, teaching faculty and my position is officially Lecturer in Organic Chemistry.

What you do in a standard “work day.”

I teach one, 4-day-a-week, 1 hour organic chemistry lecture, and four, 1-day-a-week, 3 hour labs. Usually, they’re all OChem labs, but this semester, I’m teaching 3 OChem labs and 1 GenChem lab. That makes 16 contact hours per week. That’s a lot, but I have no formal research requirements as part of my contract. I conduct a bit of pedagogical research every now and then, and I did have a summer research student one summer.

What kind of schooling / training / experience helped you get there?

I have a BS in chemistry from Xavier University (Cincinnati) and a PhD in organic chemistry from UNC-Chapel Hill. I’m formally trained in total synthesis (focusing on spiroketals) (read my blog post on my PhD research), but the best training I had was tutoring 1-2 students every semester. The students I tutored would bring the most challenging concepts and topics, and paid me to get them through the hardest material. This forced me to come up with accessible ways for students to learn these concepts. I also received a Future Faculty Fellowship which teamed me up with a full professor mentor and allowed me teach a unit of their class during the semester. During my PhD, I discerned that a career in bench chemistry was not right for me, but a career teaching was perfect. So I applied for teaching jobs at non-R1 schools right out of my PhD. I received tenure-track offers at a community college and at a small, liberal arts university in North Carolina, but chose the lecturer position (my current position) for location/family reasons. I have not once regretted my decision in any capacity. I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing, exactly where I want to be doing it :)

How does chemistry inform your work?

Uh… gotta know it to teach it. But seriously, we do not have any graduate program in chemistry at my university. So I don’t get to wade through grad-level mechanisms much anymore. I’m not scouring the literature for alternative methods for constructing the bond I need to synthesize much anymore. So I have a large need to thoroughly understand the foundations, but I don’t breach the upper-echelons of organic chemistry too too often. :(

Finally, a unique, interesting, or funny anecdote about your career

Students say the darndest things. The one student who called them ‘disasteromers’ because this student was struggling with stereochemistry. The one student who couldn’t remember the name of the Buchner funnel in lab, so starting asking me about the ‘suctration’ setup. The one student who was too tall for the fume hood, so every week this student stood like Buddy the Elf trying to get on the escalator. The one time we postponed the start of class because Peyton Manning was practicing on our football field and we all got a picture with him… then went back and had the rest of class.

But seriously, just last week I had the most rewarding moment as a professor. I was holding a voluntary (read: sparsely attended) review session where they break into groups to work challenge problems and I wander and help if needed. And the one student finally grasped how to predict SN1 vs SN2. This student was so excited, but the others in the group still didn’t get it. So this student-on the fly-made up their own, spot on, analogy to explain it to the rest of the group, and then everyone got it! It was fantastic. I was beaming, the student was beaming, it was the coolest feeling a prof can get. It makes up for all the grading, and grumbling, and 8am lectures in the world.

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