Personal statement on Teaching Philosophy, Objectives, and Independent Research
Teaching and mentoring philosophy and course objectives:
Environmental Studies is a highly interdisciplinary field, which poses several challenges to both instructor and student. Large amounts of foundational knowledge from seemingly distinct subject areas must be acquired and conceptually and systemically linked, such that distant causes and effects, forcings and feedbacks, may be elucidated. Additionally, rigorous study demands an open mind and critical thinking predicated on the quality and validity of existing evidence. One must be suspicious of pre-existing mental models, and wary of information sources, that may foster misconceptions of how complex systems work and respond to change. This is particularly salient in ES, where many key issues have urgent and impactful implications, and are also highly politicized.
In light of these challenges, I adopt an inquiry-based learning philosophy in my courses, with two major objectives: 1) to emphasize the importance of formulating thoughtful, evidenced-based questions with a systems-perspective, and 2) to create a deeply informative, supportive, and non-judgmental environment in which students feel equipped and comfortable to pose bold questions and develop appropriate strategies to explore them. For example, I might task my students with using course readings and materials, and their prerequisite knowledge, to interrogate the validity of and evidence for major assumptions and findings in relevant peer-reviewed articles. They are then encouraged to develop a set of related questions for improved or future work.
I am also particularly sensitive to the quality and nature of feedback that students receive. It is critical that students understand not just what they need to improve, but how to improve it (i.e. where and how to seek appropriate information for themselves). In my own experience, I have learned that no goal is accomplished in isolation. My own career successes are due to mentors and colleagues who have supported and encouraged my questions while also steering me toward research autonomy. I hope to replicate this as a mentor for my students. Additionally, successful interdisciplinary inquiry in ES demands humility and keen sense of wonder – a respect and desire to learn more about varying perspectives, approaches, disciplines, domains, and ideas. These are attributes I strive to both improve in myself and convey to students across all my courses.
Support of independent research and honors theses:
My above-described teaching philosophy also applies to advising independent student researchers. I have now served as a mentor to two masters students from different disciplines – biology and international relations – and two undergraduate students who have worked on components of my own research. Particularly for these students, I emphasize practice in how to conduct research, inclusive of best practices in identifying, managing, and interpreting resources ranging from peer-reviewed articles to technical help documents. In my own research career, I felt that comparatively little formal instruction was provided on research methods and conduct relative to the actual research itself. However, developing strong management skills is critical to a successful and productive research career. I strive to ensure my independent student researchers receive such dedicated training that is relevant to their field.