GIRIRAJAN LAB
Teaching
Students taking an exam in BMB 484 I teach two courses, Genomics (BMMB/MCIBS 551) for graduate students in the Fall semester and Functional Genomics (BMB 484) in the Spring semester. Genomics 551 is aimed at first or second year graduate students, and is intended to introduce students to concepts in genomics. Functional Genomics 484 is aimed at upper-level undergraduate students in the life sciences. The syllabi cover topics such as genomic complexity, the human genome project, model and non-model organism genomes, evolutionary genetics, genome sequencing (methods, analysis, and applications), and functional genomics (regulation, model systems). Research articles are assigned in class to both pique the interest of students towards current breakthroughs in genetics, as well as expose them to scientific writing. These papers are selected from a list of publications that I have amassed since graduate school. Some topics were also my “dream topics to teach” — ones that I conceived as a graduate student. It is my hope that these efforts will encourage students to get into the habit of reading papers, and to remain up to date with the latest research further along in their careers. I have also incorporated an additional project where the students are asked to learn about a prominent scientist’s career path through his/her landmark publications, and then discuss their contributions, central theme of research, and key turning points of their career in a paper. I believe this will allow students a glimpse inside the mind of a scientist, and how their thought process evolves over time. Ultimately, my goal is to instill an excitement for learning into students, and to present them with a conceptual knowledge of genomics by the end of the course.

I redesign the syllabus every year based on student feedback, while retaining specialized topics. A major responsibility for me is to structure lectures in a way that maintains a logical flow of concepts in genomics, and at the same time ensure that students are not overwhelmed by the diversity of topics and change of pace of lectures. To enable smooth transition between lectures, I use feedback forms from students and conduct review sessions to clarify specific questions and re-iterate the grand scheme of the course. Students have often found these extra sessions (outside of class hours) helpful. During the course, I try to impress upon biology students the importance of learning computational skills to analyze big data, and at the same time, get bioinformatics students to understand and think deeply about biological mechanisms. The TAs and I avail ourselves to accommodate any requests from students with outstanding questions from lectures or assignments.

I strongly believe that every student can achieve his or her fullest potential, given enough motivation and guidance. I have focused my courses more towards learning rather than teaching. Using a dynamic process, I modify the style of my presentation (alter speed, depth of topic, or review hard concepts introduced in a previous lecture) based on a brief survey/feedback that students fill out after every lecture. I have been able to accommodate the criticisms and the positive feedback to improve both courses. I make a point to know students by name and to interact with them at a personal level. I arrive to class about 20 minutes early to both chat with students informally to better acquaint myself with their goals and aspirations, as well gauge their understanding of the course material. In addition to classroom discussions, where I am able to understand the global level of understanding and motivation of the class, I conduct several one-on-one interactions with each student to learn about their individual strengths, and weaknesses in understanding the concepts. I also conduct additional review sessions to students that do not fare well during the midterms. Teaching has made me think and understand concepts deeply and has enhanced my own research. Oftentimes, I have had students from previous semesters show up at my office excitedly talking about how they are now working in a lab that uses several concepts discussed in the genomics class. That makes my day!