As a wide-eyed freshman battling my way through Bio 14, I was quick to find fault in nearly every aspect of the course. The lecture slides were confusing and poorly organized. The clicker questions required logical leaps that I wasn’t comfortable taking. And the exams. Oh, those Bio 14 exams.
My frustration deepened over the next few years as I stumbled through the classes required for my biochemistry major — physics, organic chemistry, genetics. Science was supposed to be about creativity, discovery, elegant logic and beautiful explosions of color — not squished, grainy diagrams slapped onto PowerPoint slides or an alphabet soup of confusing acronyms and jargon.
Despite my vexation with the structure of many of my science courses, I have realized over the past four years that my professors at Tufts are all brilliant, talented, well-meaning people. But I have also discovered that communication is a major stumbling block in the scientific community. When I taught lab sections of general chemistry and organic chemistry, I faced the challenge of filling the role of the professors I once scrutinized. I realized that it is easy to twist and muddle scientific concepts into something frighteningly complex, but it requires deep understanding to distill them to their simple essence. Sharpening that skill — the power to convey complex information in a simple, effective way – has become a central goal for me.
It saddens me to hear people refer to science as “beyond” or “above” them, something they’re not capable of understanding or contributing to. I believe that everyone has a place in the scientific community. In fact, we desperately need diverse, well-equipped people to address many urgent scientific challenges, such as developing an HIV vaccine, treating cancer and combating antibiotic resistance. Rather than selecting a small scientific elite or “weeding out” unfit students, I think educators should harness the energy and enthusiasm of each individual student and direct this force towards the scientific problems that we face as a society.
This thought process fueled my decision to work as a Teach for America corps member in San Diego after graduation. I can’t wait to be the teacher who has her students model cellular processes with interpretive dance and sing about glycolysis and build molecules out of marshmallows and toothpicks. But more importantly, I aspire to be the teacher that coaxes the students who normally shy away from science into discovering their talent and potential.
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