Over the past two semesters at NYU, I have had the privilege of teaching within the Department of Chemistry and the Core Curriculum. As a graduate student, explaining and expanding upon the basics of chemistry has augmented my own understanding and appreciation for the field. As a pedagogue, it has been my goal to present foundational material in a logical manner that develops understanding and genuine interest in chemistry.
In my own experience, the most effective teachers teach a topic from first principles and present it in a variety of ways. For example, the facts are presented as grounding, followed by guidance through the topic, asking effective questions which allow the students to investigate the topic themselves, and finally through challenging them with practice problems to develop a problem-solving mindset that can be used outside of the chemical context. I have found that at the university level it is uncommon for material to be presented in such a manner, where high lecture capacity and minimal contact time hamper the development of meaningful relationships with students who are encountering the subject matter for the first time.
In order to effectively teach, I constantly review and critique the lecture material from the perspective of a student. As an educator, my own subject knowledge must be fresh and by anticipating questions, troublesome topics and foundational concepts for which students may need a reminder, the office hours and team times I hold with my students have been transformed from a mere recital of material, to a time of meaningful discussion and deep learning. Despite the challenge of finding creative means of explaining complex ideas in a manner which is easily digestible yet theoretically accurate, the use of analogies and anecdotes have been critical in helping my students link together concepts with application and see the bigger picture.
I have adopted the pedagogical approach of my own professors and mentors. I will often ask my students to approach a problem on the whiteboard and guide them through the problem by asking them why they suggested that particular mechanism, which potential side reactions could occur and questions about conformation, pKa or foundational concepts which underpin much of the problem-solving thought processes that a successful student develops. Encouraging my students to tackle problems in this manner, vocalise their thought process, make mistakes and ask for help has increased the confidence with which they independently approach their coursework and fosters an open, positive learning environment. I think that such an approach develops a mutual rapport and allows my enthusiasm for my subject and dedication to my students to become apparent. I feel that this is what students relate to the most, as enthusiasm is infectious even if the field itself is daunting.
I have found teaching to be a truly rewarding learning experience thus far and am sure that it will continue to be a core aspect of my graduate career and beyond.
Thank you for your consideration.