Graduate Seminar: Phd
Special Reading Topics:
- American Physical Society. 01/01/2013 - 12/31/2017. Position : Member.
- American Astronomical Society. 01/01/1992 - 12/31/2017. Position : Member.
Astrophysics is all about posing and answering questions on topics that span the Universe. There is always an opportunity to apply the analytical methods of the discipline to uncover something fun about whatever topic interests a student. My own interest in teaching lies in the opportunity to help students develop analytical tools and apply them broadly. I try to make the process of selecting a topic part of the exercise; it is often easier to learn the tools of the trade than to come up with “the right question.”
To provide a sense of my teaching interests, the following list describes some of the courses I have enjoyed teaching. I also mention mentoring and service (as Departmental Director of Graduate Studies and as a member of the University's Graduate Council), overseeing the graduate experience of roughly 100 students in Physics and Astronomy, as well as working to improve The U's overall graduate program.
Computational Physics (graduate; PHYS 6730). In this course we cover the details of numerical meth- ods in computational science. Our range of material was significant. For example, based on student interest, we worked the “traveling salesman” problem (minimizing the route to visit many cities), an- alyzed GPS-based plate tectonic data, in addition to more traditional numerical problems in physics. predicted the time and date of the next solar eclipse.
Introduction to Computers in Physics (undergraduate; PHYS 3730). We covered things ranging from stock market fluctuations, image reconstruction, how to write a CV (LaTeX) and homepage (html), to solving chaotic physics systems. The students got exposure to diverse subjects, and came away with a sense of their interconnectedness by virtue of the tools we can use in quantitative analysis. (One student even got a job offer because a prospective employer looked at the homework on the web.)
Introduction to Physics for Scientists & Engineers II (undergrad calculus-based E&M; PHYS 2220). This service course is composed of technically-adept students, mostly majoring in engineering. The chal- lenge here is to convince the roughly 200 students that what they learn in the course (electricity, mag- netism and light), is both interesting and generally applicable. We discuss topics in biology, chemistry, geology, meteorology and astronomy, trying to make useful estimates about real-world phenomena.
Einstein in the 20th Century and Beyond (undergrad, general education; PHYS 1905). In 2005 I was honored as Utah’s University Professor, and was given resources to develop and implement this course. The focus in on the relationship between physics and its real-world applications, and the responsibility that scientists have to society. One of our goals in the course is to address the issue of “What is Science?” in the face of challenges like the dangerous dismissal of the reality of climate change.
Mentoring. I have worked with about a dozen advisees, at the undergrad, grad and postdoc level. My research groups tend to be small; for example, now, I am advising grad student R. Zollinger on an interesting project in planetary science, and two undergraduates, both working with dynamical simula- tions. As an advisor, I am demanding—happy to give out technical advice, but (like my thesis advisor G. Wegner) insistent that students learn to come up with their own research questions.
Director of Graduate Studies (I served in this postion for a number of years, into 2012) and the University Graduate Council (2012-2014). Unlike formal teaching or mentoring, serving as the Department’s “DoGS” enabled me to help with the entire educational experience of our graduate students. From designing course curricula and degree requirements, to advocating for individuals who run up against bizarre University rules, I believe I made a difference in their graduate program. I was also on the University's Graduate Council, enabling me to contribute to improving the graduate experience throughout the U. I helped with admissions decisions and reviewed graduate programs across the campus.
These courses and experiences have opened me up to possibilities of teaching with a broader scope, not just in terms of subject area. I see the next phase of my teaching as taking responsibility for guiding students toward specific critical areas such as sustainability. Is this how I can best help them to make a needed impact on their lives and their future? Maybe for me as an educator, that is “the right question.”