What is your field of study? What drew you to this field?
My field of study within biology is Evolutionary Genomics. I came into the field kind of accidentally. Genomics has changed a lot in the last 4- 5 years. I’ve been interested in doing comparative evolution for some time, but more recently I have been provided with the opportunity to start doing real genomics-- comparing whole genomes against each other to understand how evolution works—as a result of several new technologies that are becoming available.
What do you see as the potential or value of your work/research?
The line of research I pursue really asks the questions: “What genomic traits make us human?” and “What genomic traits allow humans to become susceptible to diseases that other primates don’t get?” Our most recent results suggest that some of the adaptations that have changed in human lineage may have had “knock-on” effects that make us more susceptible to diseases like cancer and diabetes, diseases that occur later in life that aren’t under the pressures of natural selection.
What honors courses are you teaching? How is this honors teaching experience different from a traditional classroom?
I just taught one honors course called “Biology of Social Issues,” which was about genomics in society. We talked about the basic biology that genome technologies use, but then we also discussed questions such as, “Can you patent a gene?” We talked about the issues around cells, cell culture, and whether people own cells they take from you. Can other people really own parts of your genome? We also discussed things like genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) and some of the ethical challenges they present.
Teaching an honors course is different in the sense that I’ve learned to expect some more synthetic thinking, and I’ve found that students produced a lot of high quality writing. I gave a lot more written assignments that tried to pull together different ideas from class.
You are early in your teaching career. What do you think you'll learn from this role?
I’m learning how to better communicate science to non-majors or non-scientists. And my hope is that my students will then go on and communicate all of these cool things they’re learning to their friends and family.
How would you describe Commonwealth Honors College as a community of scholars?
I know the students talked about the class with their peers and colleagues within the college, since many of them live in the dorms here. And then hopefully, as some of the new professors get up and going, we can start to think of more interactive courses that would build off each other and encourage these conversations.