Psyc 1110: Introduction to Psychology I
Psyc 3190: Experimental Design & Quantitative Methods
Psyc 3560: Psychopharmacology
Psyc 3570: Physiology of Motivation & Emotion
Psyc 3580: Physiology of Learning & Memory
Psyc 4400: Directed Studies in Psychology
Psyc 4990: Honours Thesis in Psychology
As a neuroscientist and a liberal arts educator I have three primary teaching goals: (1) to cultivate an interest in the human brain that enables students to recognize the relevance of neuroscience in their daily lives; (2) to provide a strong foundation of neuroscientific knowledge that students can continue to build upon; (3) to foster an increasingly sophisticated intellect that supports a lifelong passion for learning and scientific engagement.
To achieve these goals, students must be able to develop a conceptual model of how the brain produces behaviour and continuously integrate new information into it. I facilitate this process by ensuring that the courses I develop are engaging and applicable. In particular, I specialize in teaching large introductory courses, senior seminars, and in supervising individual student research projects.
In introductory courses I challenge students to engage with a broad range of neuropsychological concepts on multiple cognitive levels, which I achieve by incorporating interesting news articles, video clips, and case studies into my lectures. For example, I teach my Brain & Behaviour students that the frontal lobes, which mediate self-regulatory behaviours, develop more quickly in girls than in boys. I then present a news article describing the criminal conviction of a 16-year-old boy as a dangerous sex offender. His crime? Having intercourse with his willing, but 13-year-old girlfriend. This challenges students to reflect on their initial reaction to the article and to deliberate… if the frontal lobes of a 16-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl are at a comparable stage of development, does this boy’s punishment really fit his crime? These exercises stimulate student dialogue, demonstrate that neuroscience can provide insight into people’s behaviour, and instill a sense of responsibility that we, as neuroscientists and engaged citizens, must ensure that our governing policies reflect this insight.
In advanced seminar courses, I emphasize another aspect of the learning experience: that students must actively apply the concepts they’ve learned in a manner that reflects the standards that they will encounter in the professional world. Students must select a research topic and 10 relevant journal articles. Over the semester they prepare ten 5-minute presentations, one for each article. I provide ongoing feedback to guide students in structuring their talks around the scientific method. Consequently, students learn to evaluate and succinctly communicate the five critical components of any scientific talk, paper, or grant proposal – Theory, Hypothesis, Methods, Results, and Conclusion. The process culminates with the writing of a research proposal suitable for submission to a tri-council funding agency for M.Sc. level support. Students are evaluated according to their ability to incorporate feedback into subsequent presentations and draft proposals – a critical skill for any profession. The structure of this course is amenable to almost any neuropsychological topic, and would be well suited for a capstone course in psychology more generally.
I also recognize that students need repeated exposure to important ideas in order to effectively integrate them into their conceptual model of how the brain produces behaviour. Thus, I have found creative ways to repeatedly expose students in 2nd and 3rd year courses to important information without boring them! I play music and summary slides that review important concepts as students enter the classroom; I integrate pop quiz questions into lectures that test students’ ability to apply important information; and I reserve a few percentage points for students that participate in departmental research or use a creative medium, such as a blog post or YouTube video, to demonstrate the real world applicability of a concept learned in class. My efforts to provide an engaging and personalized educational experience have been rewarded with consistently positive teaching reviews.
I also strongly believe that any undergraduate student can make a real contribution to scientific knowledge by actively engaging in research – a view that is founded in my own transformative experience as an undergraduate researcher. Thus, I incorporate my own research findings into my lectures so that students can see how the field of neuroscience is expanding and that they can potentially contribute! In supervising undergraduate research projects, I have found that providing frequent and insightful feedback while still encouraging students to establish ownership over their project helps them to develop confidence in their scientific skills and instills the motivation required to see the project through to completion. As a result, my former mentees have successfully presented their research findings at international scientific meetings like the Society for Neuroscience and in peer-reviewed journals such as Experimental Brain Research.