Biological Sciences faculty honored for excellence in teaching and mentoring

The Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Awards, believed to be the nation’s oldest prize for undergraduate teaching, reflect UChicago’s commitment to honor inspiring teachers. The Faculty Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching and Mentoring recognizes tenure-track and tenured faculty in the Biological Sciences, Divinity School, Humanities, Institute for Molecular Engineering, Physical Sciences, and Social Sciences.

This year, Bana Jabri, professor of medicine and pediatrics, was named one of four Quantrell Award winners, and Jason MacLean, associate professor of neurobiology, won one of five Graduate Teaching Awards. Learn more about their approach to teaching–and listen to them describe the experience in their own words–below:

Bana Jabri, Quantrell

Bana Jabri, Professor in Medicine, Pediatrics and the College (Photo: Jean Lachat)

Bana Jabri likes to compare her teaching method to a cubist painting.

“At the beginning of the course, I introduce different elements for which students don’t necessarily see a meaning or a global image,” she said. “I tell them they have to trust me, that it’s not done randomly, but that it’s part of how we think scientifically.”

Jabri structures her courses in immunology and immunopathology so that students can build a foundation on the basic concepts without getting lost in the details. She says her somewhat old-fashioned method of using a whiteboard instead of computer slides in class sometimes unsettles students, but it helps her avoid overloading them with too much information too quickly.

Her goal is not only to help them master the fundamentals, but also give them the confidence that they can contribute their own ideas.

“Initially they are very scared because they think they cannot do it,” Jabri said. “But the one thing they learn—and it’s absolutely key for me that they take out of class—is that however young, one can have an outstanding idea.”

Jason MacLean, Grad Teaching Award

Jason MacLean, Associate Professor in Neurobiology and the College

While it would be easy for a busy scientist to settle on a routine format for the courses he teaches, Jason MacLean changes them every year.

“Frankly, I’m never satisfied, because I think you can always do better,” he said.

MacLean learned to constantly re-examine and critically evaluate his work while studying with his PhD advisor, neurologist Brian Schmidt at the University of Manitoba, Canada.

“Each time I thought that I had a solid result, Brian would poke holes in my conclusion and would force me, either through argument or additional experiments, to convince him of its validity,” MacLean said. “While difficult in the end, it made me a much better scientist.”

MacLean builds this spirit of challenging assumptions and conclusions into both his laboratory and his undergraduate courses in neuroscience. He wants graduate students in the lab to be open-minded and not be constrained by the tenets of neuroscience. In his undergraduate course, he guides students through contemporary literature and asks them to critically evaluate the data and conclusions.

He wants students to take these critical thinking skills and apply them toward whatever field they decide to pursue.

“Whether they remember anything about the brain or not,” he said, “it’s a great vehicle to teach them to think critically and evaluate evidence.”

About Matt Wood (483 Articles)
Matt Wood is a senior science writer for the University of Chicago Medicine and editor of the Science Life blog.
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