A reflection on teaching

Part of my course requirements are that I send time teaching, but thankfully there is help to get me up and running with some skills.

I have been asked to put together a 500 word reflective essay to get me started thinking about past experiences with teaching and I assume they mean as a student. But I do have some experience on the other side of the fence. During my undergraduate I spent some time as an algorithms tutor and I really enjoyed the experience. Also at many points in the past I have performed informal tutoring.

So what makes for a good teacher and a good learning environment?

Enthusiasm – I think that the absolute best thing to have in a teacher is enthusiasm. Even if they aren’t the most knowledgeable person in the field, if they can infect you with the an enthusiasm for the subject then that will propel you toward success. I can think of four teachers that have had this effect on me: my high school teacher teacher Ron Williamson, my high school choir teacher Katherine Fujikawa, my junior college Unix instructor Behrouz Forouzan, and my undergraduate algorithms instructor Muniyappa “Manju” Manjunathaiah. All four of these people have had a lasting effect on my life.

Connection – In addition to enthusiasm an instructor needs to be connected to the audience.  I have sat through many lectures of very knowledgeable people only to be bored to death trying to pay attention with an ever flagging attention span. But then there are instructors that connect to the audience and keep you engaged and enthused during the talk. This links to the previous attribute enthusiasm, if you don’t care about the subject then you aren’t going to care about the delivery.  One of the best techniques that I have heard of is to talk directly to different audience members during your lecture to actually connect to that section of the audience.

Knowledge – Knowledge is an important attribute in a teacher, but a teacher doesn’t need to be top of the field which is why I put this third. A teacher that can impart the basics of the subject and an enthusiasm to learn more and provide a better learning experience than a more knowledgeable expert that doesn’t connect tot he audience and impart a sense of wonder and curiosity.


End of the first year

This week marks the end of my first year with the LSI DTC. It has been a very good year. I have really enjoyed working with everyone else in the DTCs. I have made new friends and I hope to get to spend more time with them in the coming year.  I am going to try and join a pair of societies this year and have a bit more of an offline social life. I am thinking about joining the Fencing club and the Atheist, Secularist, and Humanist society.  I was at a few of OxASH’s larger events last year and enjoyed them.

The highlights of the year have been my research projects and the laboratory modules that allowed me to get an idea of what life in a wet lab is like.  The modules have been enjoyable and I have learned more in the last year than I think I have managed in any other year. The range of topics was diverse as well; from programming to physics to theoretical systems biology.

I am really excited about transitioning to my D.Phil research project but I will miss the experience that was my first year. I have gotten my toes wet over the summer with two successful mini-projects and I am joining the Stats dept to continue my investigation into the human genome. When I applied to Oxford I didn’t think I would get such an awesome research topic. I was originally thinking of something in ancient admixture or perhaps primate evolution. But I get to research us and our genetic inheritance.

I want to thank the DTC academics and staff that have made the year so enjoyable. I especially want to thank my supervisors: Gail Preston, Simon Myers, Steven Kelly, Gil McVean, and Gesine Reinert, for making my summer a very enjoyable time.

The projects that I work on

My current project is working on a new way to build phylogenetic trees without using a multiple sequence alignment and it is going fairly well. I am dealing with several NP challenges and doing fairly well at handling them with dynamic programming techniques. I have taken a previous method and improved the predictions.  I am happy about how it is going but I have only one week left on this project before I start my proper D.Phil(PhD) project. My supervisor and I think that this project will be publishable with a little more work and much number crunching to get the results that we need to show.


On 1 Oct, I start back on my D.Phil project which is looking at genetic data and trying to find out which mutations are beneficial to the human race and then possibly to generalise the method to other species. I am looking forward to it, I already have put 10 weeks into the project and I have some ideas of how to make it better when I get back to it. At the moment I am just reviewing the most significant part of the tree but I need to be looking at all significant areas of the tree to find the SNPs that are driving the mutation.

New Blog

I have decided to start a new blog as my old one, Science and Atheism, was feeling a bit restrictive. I know that I could have just changed format but I wanted a new name as well.

I am a 36-year-old research student studying positive selection and evolution in our species. In some ways it is really bizarre being a mature student but in others it is a lot of fun. I hope to be able to expand on this over the next few blog posts. I know it sounds like I study biology, but I really study the information that biologists produce and then analyse it to try to figure out what it means.

I am a computer geek and I am thinking about trying to learn Scala over the next few weeks as I am also going to be working in R as well. I normally program in Java, but I know several other languages as well. I have many years as a professional systems administrator under my belt, I mostly worked in SMEs. I developed an interest in concurrent programming as an undergraduate and I my research projects over the summer have both been fairly massively multi-threaded so I am looking forward to seeing how Scala handles multiple cores and processors.

I am married and have a bunch of children. One of the things that is fantastic about being a student is that I have a very flexible work schedule. It has allowed me over the past few years, during my time as an undergrad and my first year of post-grad work, to spend more time with my kids than if I had been working. I have also been able to spend an incredible amount of time with my beautiful wife.

I think the only negative for graduate school is the pay check. 😉

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