Teaching and mentorship have been integral aspects of my academic career, having taught nearly every semester throughout my MSc and PhD study (see CV), and currently through my Visiting Assistant Professor position at the W.M. Keck Science Center serving the Claremont colleges. I have a versatile teaching background and style, which emphasizes active and experiential learning. I cater to diverse learning styles by using sophisticated visual and audio tools that I generate from my research, group and one-on-one interaction, and hands-on demonstrations both within the classroom and in the field. My use of 3D digital data was particularly effective when teaching Mammalogy at Yale, and Evolution at Howard and Vanderbilt, where my own 3D imaging research was a helpful tool to instruct students on whale evolution and neuroanatomy.
My prior experience includes six semesters of teaching three-hour human anatomy labs at San Diego State University, employing hands-on instruction using preserved human cadavers, brains and other organs, osteological material, and microscope slides. These materials helped students engage in a range of scientific skills, such as microscope handling and usage, in addition to knowledge of human anatomy. I also led the field component of an ornithology course, in which I instructed students in traditional biological field methods, as well as the identification of birds and bird songs. As a research scientist at the University of Texas CT Facility, I co-led workshops on CT scanning methods, where I gave one-on-one assistance to the participants on using high-resolution X-ray CT and computer-based imaging techniques. In this position I also gained extensive experience in curation and accessioning of a variety of specimens including preserved, osteological, and fossil vertebrate, invertebrate, and plant specimens. Skills from my work as a research scientist translated well to mentoring and training students in computer-based CT and imaging methods at every institution I have worked. At Yale I had the opportunity to be a Teaching Fellow for a wide range of courses, from the introductory-level History of Life, to seminar-style courses such as Extraordinary Glimpses of Past Life, to the largely laboratory-based Mammalogy and Human Osteology courses. As a postdoctoral research scientist at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, I successfully trained undergraduates in using a 3D laser surface scanner and conducted workshops focused on digital imaging (CT and 3D laser surface scanning) applications to museum specimens and paleontological fieldwork for Proyectos Dinosaurios interns. At Vanderbilt University I engaged in ongoing mentorship activities with undergraduate and graduate students and guest lectured on Evolution and The Rise of Marine Mammals for the Earth Systems Through Time course.
I actively involve students in my research, and would be excited to develop courses in digital methods in paleontology and biology using the special volume of a short course to which I recently contributed (Racicot 2017) as the baseline for my syllabus. The course would broadly include all steps in the process of hypothesis-driven 2D and 3D data acquisition, interpretation, and publication. Such a course would benefit from using nearby natural history museum collections such as the Western Science Center, San Diego Museum of Natural History, and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHMLA). The CT and MRI scanning facilities at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of California, and my existing research database, could be used to develop online learning experiences for students and the general public.
I have been involved in fieldwork spanning four different continents, and so would be able to instruct students in paleontological and biological (including ecological) field methods in Southern California and elsewhere. I would be excited to leverage the nearby museums along with field excursions for effective field and museum teaching opportunities. One field trip would include field identification and behavioral observations of wild marine mammals and birds off the coast of Southern California. We will subsequently compare these behavioral observations with gross dissections and “virtual” dissections of animals’ brains from the same species using CT and MRI scans. I would also incorporate field trips to Pliocene marine strata such as the San Diego Formation, which contains whale fossils including one that I have formally described, with first-hand research experience at the San Diego Natural History Museum, NHMLA, and Western Science Center. These opportunities would allow students to gain field- and museum-based experiences applicable to a variety of STEM careers. More ambitiously, I have been in discussions with colleagues studying marine mammal populations off of the coasts of Namibia (Walvis Bay) and South Africa (Cape Town) to develop courses and training experiences for undergraduate and graduate students in modern ecological and biological methods that are also applicable to paleontology and neuroscience. The last portion of the field season would involve guided research at Etosha National Park in Namibia, to further refine student training in methods applicable to ecology and behavior, and field identification of mammals, while gaining experience in monitoring vertebrate populations. The courses and field programs I propose here would not only be transformative experiences for students, but also would involve them in my ongoing research and have the potential to inspire student-led research publications.
Digital imaging and morphological quantification provide potential stand-alone insights at every step of the research program, making it robust in the face of unexpected challenges. This has allowed me to involve undergraduates in my research program throughout my academic career. I am currently advising one undergraduate student (Madeleine Alberdi, Vanderbilt University ’20), and successfully advised another who recently graduated (Abigail Glass, Murray State University, ’18). Ms. Glass successfully obtained research funding for the majority of her work with me, including travel funds to research at the NHMLA collections and for microCT scanning at Vanderbilt University. Ms. Glass presented the results of our work at the Society for Marine Mammalogy conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia (October 2017), for which she received conference travel funds. Ms. Alberdi also obtained travel funds for research at the NHMLA for our project on seal and sea lion brain evolution. Ms. Alberdi also received a prestigious Littlejohn Fellowship as part of the Vanderbilt Undergraduate Summer Research Program for which I was her primary advisor. Both students are on track to lead or coauthor research publications based on these opportunities. Undergraduate projects in my lab draw on aspects of my broad research program, which can be readily compartmentalized into components that students can complete within a limited timeframe. I am also open to helping students discover their own research interests and independently–developed skillsets. Students will be expected to disseminate their research at conferences and through public outreach, as well as directing their research for publication. I would encourage students to apply for grants and other funding to support their research, fieldwork, and conference travel, while making every effort to provide funding for these activities with extramural support when possible.