FIELD ECOLOGY LABORATORY
From 2008-2010 I was the teaching assistant for Dr. Larry Gilbert for Field Ecology Laboratory (BIO 373L). One important goal of this course is to provide students with hands-on experience with important sub-disciplines of ecology through group and individual projects and observations conducted primarily on the 90 acres of Brackenridge Field Laboratory (“BFL”). Because familiarity with organisms and their habitats is fundamental to making astute observations, asking non-trivial questions and developing ecological hypotheses, we spend considerable time doing collecting and identifications of common species and observations of habits and habitats of the biota.
Six field problems (labs) acquaint students with approaches to studying distribution and abundance of sedentary and mobile organisms, behavioral ecology, community ecology and diversity, and ecosystem processes. In the early part of the course we incorporate some of the most basic and useful tools for mapping, measuring and monitoring ecological phenomena and cover basic methods of analysis. Students later apply some of these approaches to their independent projects.
The four semesters that I helped with this course were by far the most fun I had as a teaching assistant at the University of Texas. I had the opportunity to work closely with small groups of students in the field and had a great time co-instructing this course with BFL director Dr. Larry Gilbert. My job in this course was to set up and evaluate weekly field labs, give lectures on literature research, peer review and statistical analysis, aide students in the field with natural history and identification of plants and animals, prepare logistics for field trips to Chaparral Wildlife Management Area and Stengl Lost Pines Biological Field Station. I also had the opportunity to supervise and evaluate over 50 independent field research projects on a variety of ecological and organismal topics.
During the fall semesters of 2005, 2006 and 2007 I was a teaching assistant with Dr. Camille Parmesan for a really exciting upper-level course in Conservation Biology (BIO 375) at the University of Texas at Austin. Camille approaches this course by emphasizing the importance of a solid understanding of ecological and evolutionary theory in conservation. For example, understanding the population genetics and demographics of small populations may be critical to conserving rare and endangered species. I led the small group discussion section of this course for undergraduates and designed practical exercises to accompany Camille’s lecture material. I also had the opportunity to guest lecture in the course on one of my favorite topics – restoration ecology!
Perhaps my favorite part of the course was working closely with the undergraduates on an independent writing project about endangered species. I trained students in searching peer-reviewed literature and government reports and evaluated their reports about an endangered species or ecosystem of their choice. These reports outlined the basic ecology, environmental laws and conservation measures in only two pages, and were intended to serve as a summary for policymakers. While students often found the two-page limit on this assignment challenging, writing this real-world deliverable for policymakers provided them with experience condensing critical information in plain language for a broad audience which will serve them well in many careers.
INTRODUCTORY BIOLOGY FOR MAJORS
I had the good fortune to serve as a teaching assistant for this course for six semesters at the University of Texas at Austin. One of the reasons I love teaching introductory biology is because it gives me the opportunity to cover a broad variety of topics and develop new and interactive ways to get students involved in learning.
For example, as a TA for Dr. Sharon Jasper (BIO 213) I helped develop a board game that simulates measuring biological diversity and species distributions. As a TA for Dr. Donald Levin and Dr. Raymond Neubauer, I hosted biology Jeopardy tournaments before exams. I truly enjoy observing first-year students discover what really excites them about biology, and then watching as they hone their interests and skills throughout their college career.