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When I was a teenager, the idea that life was comprised of coordinated chemical reactions blew my mind. As a result, I decided to study biochemistry at university.
I first attended Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, where I majored in biochemistry for my undergraduate degree. I was (am) a first-generation student from a working-class immigrant family and had no understanding of how things were done in university, both socially and academically. I naïvely cold-called the department head of my major in first year to see if I could work in a research lab. Fortunately, he was very kind and pointed me in the right direction. As a result, I had the opportunity to work with several supportive faculty members in a number of different research labs starting from my first year of university.
The logical progression for an aimless student after graduation was to get a Ph.D., so I decided to go to graduate school at the University of British Columbia. I dropped out of my first lab, and my second advisor was a new faculty member interested in RNA biology and translational control. I owe the bulk of my true disciplinary education to him.
Eventually, I graduated with a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology. It took about 5 years. My research was on the mechanisms certain viruses use to hijack the cells they infect. My work shines a pinprick of light on the myriad of strategies viruses use to take over the machinery of their hosts.
It was during my graduate training that I realized that teaching biology was something I loved to do. I believe the mechanisms that drive biological processes are beautiful to see and understand. It was gratifying to help others not only understand these complexities but also to have them see the beauty that I do, even if just for a moment.
I won the departmental award for best graduate research seminar. I (usually) did well presenting my work at scientific conferences. I took over a portion of a large summer undergraduate biology course. I realized that teaching was something that I wanted to pursue professionally.
Being in academia, everyone I knew told me I needed to do a postdoc to teach at the post-secondary level. So, I joined a lab where I could apply my new skills and expertise to study sleep and circadian rhythms at the University of Pennsylvania. During my postdoc job interview, I stated that I needed the time and flexibility to start teaching seriously at the undergraduate level while conducting my postdoctoral research. Despite this, I was still hired. I was very fortunate to have a mentor who supported my professional goals.
The first serious course I designed and taught from the beginning to end was at the University of Pennsylvania. CHEM 251: General Biochemistry. I quickly realized that I needed to formally learn ideas about theoretical and practical pedagogy if I wanted to teach well consistently.
To this end, I was accepted to become an American Society for Microbiology Science Teaching Fellow. I started to read the science education research literature and learn basic concepts in pedagogy: things like learning taxonomies, metacognition, assessment design, effective teaching/learning techniques, etc. I also started to attend and present my scholarly pedagogical work at biology education research conferences such as the American Society of Microbiology’s Conference for Undergraduate Educators.
Regarding practical work, I was elected as a board member and scientific advisor for Bad Science Watch, a Canadian science advocacy organization. I presented my postdoctoral research at Start Talking Science, an annual event where researchers present their findings to a public, non-technical audience. I volunteered locally at the Franklin Institute and the annual Philadelphia Science Festival as a public-facing educational volunteer. All this experience helped me learn how to break down and explain advanced scientific concepts to anybody on the fly.
Because I had shown that I could manage an entire course without having it blow up in my face, I was appointed as a Visiting Assistant Professor at Haverford College. While there, I team-taught an introductory biology lab and taught a non-major pharmacology course I developed from scratch.
At this point, I knew I had to switch to full-time teaching and joined the Department of Biology at the University of Pennsylvania as a Lecturer. The bulk of my teaching experience was obtained at Penn in a wide range of topics and levels, in both lecture and lab settings.
I left the University of Pennsylvania in the summer of 2019 and moved to Toronto, ON, Canada. I am currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology at York University. While here, I designed an introductory course-based undergraduate research experience in molecular biology, and in 2023, won the York University Faculty of Science Excellence in Teaching Award.
While not teaching, I moonlight as a husband and father to the best wife, two crazy boys, and two screwball cats. I also play the guitar, am a combat sports nerd, train regularly in gi/no-gi grappling, and compete in local submission wrestling tournaments when I can.
If you've read this far, please feel free to reach out if you have any questions or would like to chat.
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