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BTI Postdocs Teach Bio 101 at BTI

Amber Hotto

BTI Postdoctoral scientist Amber Hotto

An opportunity to teach

Postdoctoral associates are expected to perform research, exhibit critical thinking, and write scientific papers. Yet the skill set for the position that many postdocs aspire to,  to be Principal Investigator at a university, often require qualifications that are distinct from those achieved in a traditional research education. The expectation is that a PI applicant will be prepared to join committees, advise undergraduates, bring in external funding, and teach. But conventional training programs for graduate students and postdoctoral associates in plant science provide little experience beyond research.

The Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI)  is helping close this gap. Over the past 5 years BTI has collaborated with Tompkins Cortland Community College (TC3) to host a Biology 101 class each semester. The class is geared towards non-biology major students and includes a weekly lecture and lab. The relationship is symbiotic .  TC3 can offer an additional Biology 101 section at a major research institution and BTI gains the opportunity to offer postdoctoral or graduate level research associates a much-needed venue for acquiring teaching experience.

Amber Hotto and David Stern

Postdoctoral scientist Amber Hotto in conference with PI and BTI President and CEO David Stern

The education department at BTI has maximized the benefit for BTI staff. The class itself is conveniently held at BTI, and has an enrollment maximum of 12 students. In addition, postdoctoral associates can choose to teach the class alone or in a pair. With two teachers, the course load can be designated as desired to gain both classroom and laboratory teaching experience. Previous BTI course instructors are available to be mentors and share materials with the budding teachers. There is enough flexibility in the curriculum to allow the instructor to customize the course to take advantage of their own interests, background, and strengths.

By teaching this course, postdoctoral associates are considered to be adjunct instructors for TC3, which can set them apart from other candidates in an increasingly competitive job market. This is especially true for non-US citizens who are considering applying for positions in the US, as it may be their first introduction to the American college education system. There is also a freedom to develop a teaching philosophy, which will ultimately aid in applying for a tenure-track faculty position at a university. From experience, I can say that teaching this class is a lot of work, but I believe the benefits far outweigh the additional time spent outside research tasks.

The implementation of this program at BTI helps postdoctoral associates prepare to apply for principal investigator positions in the future. Teaching skills should be an essential component in the training we receive as scientists, to compete in the current job market.

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