President's Award for Excellence in Teaching by a Graduate Student
Lisa Robison, Psychology
Dissertation Title: Effects of Modifiable Lifestyle Factors on Behavior and Pathology in Mouse Models of Healthy Aging and Alzheimer's Disease
Can you tell us, in general terms, about your research?
Alzheimer’s disease is a devastating neurological disorder that currently has no cure, and medications often do little to help patients. Therefore, my research aims to identify how different lifestyle factors, such as exercise, can be utilized to protect the brain and preserve memory and other behaviors in older healthy mice and in mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease.
What excites you about your work?
My favorite part of teaching is training students to become more independent scientists, whether that be in the lab or in the classroom. I have had the opportunity to mentor many undergraduate students during my time at Stony Brook. "Research and Writing Methods in Psychology" is my favorite class to teach because for most students it is their first time getting to choose their own science, picking and researching a topic and presenting and writing a final paper. The first class going over the syllabus, students look terrified about the semester ahead. Getting to watch students grow their confidence and take tremendous pride in their final product is the greatest reward.
How has your time at Stony Brook helped equip you for success?
The people at Stony Brook are by far the best resource. I could not have been luckier with having wonderful mentors, especially my advisor Dr. John Robinson. I contribute much of my success as a teacher so far to having the opportunity to observe and learn from amazing professors in my department. Each semester I have taken at least one thing from the professor I was TA'ing for that I thought was particularly effective (e.g. teaching style, an activity or an assignment, an interesting topic) and have incorporated it into my own teaching. The communicating science journalism classes at the Alan Alda Center were also extremely helpful in teaching me how to better communicate my work to people in different fields!
What advice would you offer to new teachers who are finding their voice in the classroom?
Be patient and forgiving with yourself if you're not a perfect teacher at first - it takes practice. I used to be terrified of public speaking, so the first few classes I ever taught I just read off my slides and didn't make eye contact with anyone. It gets easier, and you get better as you get more comfortable. Inject your personality into your teaching. Videotape yourself and watch it - you may be doing things (good or bad) you never even noticed! Ask for feedback from students, peers, and mentors often so that you can figure out what works for you and what can use improving.