Teaching Philosophy & Pedagogy
Over the next half-century, human interactions with the natural world are likely to have a long-lasting impact on our planet. Geoscience departments must take the responsibility of educating young minds about vital issues like natural resources, climate change, earthquakes, and other natural hazards. Academicians play indispensable roles in creating knowledge and empowering the next generation of scientifically literate graduates who are the voters, researchers, educators, and policymakers of tomorrow. It is often the need for succinct and precise explanations that forces a detailed examination of the fundamental principles that motivate new research. I am committed to using active learning approaches, advanced technology, personalized mentoring, and relevant field experiences for a stimulating learning experience for students.
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I have delivered lectures or taught courses in Earth and Environmental Sciences at premier public and private universities, where responsibilities include preparing sections and course reviews, evaluating assignments and examinations, and providing student mentoring during hands-on labs. At Princeton University, we revamped Fundamentals of Solid Earth Science (GEO203-ENE203) for science and engineering majors (Course Website Link). Core idea of the new course was to use our planet as the key component for elucidating the universal crosscutting scientific concepts such as those of energy & matter. Along the way, more advanced topics such as planetary thermodynamics, structural geology, petrology, and sedimentology, were introduced.
Having spent several weeks in Iceland, Wyoming, Nova Scotia and Washington discussing the regional glaciology, biology, petrology and seismo-tectonics, I am convinced that field experience is integral to a well-rounded geoscience education. A field school in Eastern Ontario with electromagnetic and seismic instrumentation convinced me that processing and interpretation can be more insightful after experiences in the acquisition of data. For Fundamentals of Solid Earth Science, I took Princeton students on field trips to see glacial erratics and striations in Central Park, minerals in the American Museum of Natural History (Open Link), and around outcrops in New Jersey (Open Link).
During a geophysical field exercise along the Delaware-Raritan Canal (Open Link), students tied their smartphones to ice hockey sticks and a wooden dump truck to find and characterize a magnetic dike. In addition to basic geological concepts, students were exposed to concepts in data science and signal processing, such as the procedure of stacking to amplify the signal of a magnetic anomaly. These activities also allowed the students to see the practical application of their work and learning within a group promoted teamwork and individual progress.
Active Learning & Role Models
I have found that learning occurs best when theory is put into practice through active learning approaches. I incorporate several interactive components during lectures – Who am I? or Mine me, blackboard, and classroom activity. Solid Earth geosciences is inherently a multi-disciplinary endeavor where individuals and teams across nations and cultures come together to share tools, data, and expertise (e.g. 3D Reference Earth Model). While we train students to learn from and influence diverse teams, the imagination, creativity, and grit of an individual geoscientist cannot be overlooked. Role models that paved new discoveries, overcame opposition, and dealt with bias are especially relevant for students from underrepresented groups. The Who am I? component humanizes geoscience achievements by challenging students to identify pioneers such as Inge Lehmann based on cues. The classroom activity involves a tactile demonstration, such as on fault mechanics and pore pressures.
Technology-assisted learning tools are critical for improving accessibility to education worldwide, especially during unforeseen situations like the COVID19 pandemic. In Fundamentals of Solid Earth Science, we adopted a quantitative and computational way of learning these geoscience concepts through Python programming and Jupyter Notebooks (Course Website Link). Programming tools were utilized in interactive components and computational workflows during all three components of the course - lectures, field trips and problem sets. Several students had no prior programming experience but learnt to appreciate its utility as they modified our codes and learnt from tutorials to answer problem sets. Another effort at combining active learning and technology was made while conceptualizing a seminar series on observational seismology. Several undergraduate and graduate students were exposed to hands-on exercises on observational seismology through routine analysis of seismological data. We touched upon interesting seismic phenomena such as deep earthquakes, which required an interdisciplinary approach fusing relevant results from geophysics, geochemistry, and geodynamics.
Attracting a Diverse Student Body
Growing up in diverse countries like India, Canada and the U.S. has made me deeply aware of the large divide in the opportunities afforded to those from different socio-economic backgrounds. For example, students from less advantaged backgrounds are less likely to apply to higher education in the first place, because of financial constraints or social norms. When these students do apply, on average they are at a lower academic level or are less aware of opportunities than their privately educated peers due to the circumstances of their background, and hence fewer are admitted. I have taken part in multiple outreach events to promote a more inclusive student body in the geosciences (Checkout the List). I presented a teachers as scholars (TAS) workshop on Probing the Earth’s Dynamic Interior with Earthquake Waves at Princeton University for ~15 high-school teachers from underserved communities in New Jersey so that they can use our tools in classrooms to introduce the fascinating world of geosciences (Workshop Link).