“The most erroneous stories are those we think we know best – and therefore never scrutinize or question.”
-Steven Jay Gould
My overall teaching philosophy is to instill students with the excitement for scientific discovery, a curiosity for understanding how systems work, and a dedication to learning. I believe learning how to think and read critically, and to clearly communicate ideas verbally, are important skillsets regardless of a student’s career path. To achieve this goal, I provide students with a stimulating learning environment through a multifaceted approach that combines interactive learning in field and laboratory courses with quantitative problem sets and discussions of contemporary advances in science. Lastly, I seek to facilitate the development of students’ intuition about complex problems, which instills confidence and encourages creativity.
Eearly in my time as an undergraduate I saw science as static, involving textbooks, equations, and fact memorization. I was unaware that science was actually a dynamic process, that the information in my textbooks was undergoing constant evolution through researchers pushing the edge of our knowledge, and that equations and computing are among the primary tools we use to explore the unknown. As a teacher I have recognized this same misconception in many undergraduate students when they first enter the classroom. I believe one of the greatest challenges we have is to overturn this general perspective of scientific stasis and awaken scientific curiosity. My goal is to present students with opportunities to appreciate that we have only begun to understand how systems work and that they too can become major contributors to exploring the unknown. Interspersing interactive learning exercises throughout my lectures and labs has been highly effective at engaging students. For example, in the classroom I often start class with popular news stories about scientific discoveries and offer video footage of miraculous and strange patterns and behaviors in biology. I have found my capacity to provoke excitement in students is even greater in field courses, where students learn concepts during morning lectures then go out to the field to touch and see the phenomena in person.
Northeastern University: Biology and Ecology of Fishes (2013)
Hamilton College: General Biology: Cells to Ecosystems (2004)
University of Florida: General Ecology (2007 – 2009), Integrative Principles (2011)
Northeastern University: Biology of Fishes (2007 – 2009)
To date, my mentoring experience includes serving as a co-advisor for four master’s students’ theses Northeastern University (through my teaching appointment associated with a field course in Moorea) and a mentor to 10 undergraduate students during my PhD. Collectively these activities have led to three student-led publications (Boyer et al. 2009, Heinlein et al. 2010, Shantz et al. 2010). My success with these undergraduate and masters-level students (as well as others) have taught me that each student often requires a unique mentoring strategy that encourages their strengths and supports their efforts to grow in aspects of science with which they are less familiar.
Student Led Publications
Shantz A.A., Stier A.C., and J.A. Idjadi Coral density and predation affect growth of a reef building coral. Online Early Coral Reefs.
Heinlein J.M., Stier A.C., and M.A. Steele. 2010. Predators reduce abundance and species richness of coral reef fish recruits via non-selective predation.Coral Reefs. 29 (2): 527 – 532.
Boyer SE, White JS, Stier A.C., and CW Osenberg. 2009. Effects of the fish anesthetic, clove oil (eugenol), on coral health and growth. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology 369:53-57.