The single characteristic that describes my teaching, advising and mentoring style is personal responsibility for the outcome. I expect students whom I teach, advise, and mentor to take substantial personal responsibility for a successful outcome, with the level of responsibility varying depending on the stage of the student, from first year undergraduates all the way up to Ph.D. students. In all cases, I am a partner in the learning experiences in the classroom or in an advising or mentoring session. My role ranges from managing partner to junior partner depending on the stage of the student(s).
Over the past decade, I have taught courses at Colorado State University (CSU) and the University of Wyoming (UW). At CSU, I taught a junior and senior level course in the vegetation ecology of the western US. This course included a lab that focused on identifying the important plant species in each of the vegetation types. I taught a doctoral level course in the ecology of grasslands and shrublands that combined the global distribution of ecosystems with key ecosystem processes. Finally, I co-taught a master‘s level terrestrial ecosystem ecology course with Indy Burke. The course was based on the Chapin et al. terrestrial ecosystem ecology textbook. At UW, I have taught a vegetation ecology course that focused on western North America, a terrestrial ecosystem ecology course, and a course on environmental policy in the European Union. The vegetation ecology course was similar to the one I taught at CSU. The ecosystem ecology was also similar to the CSU course except that I was the sole instructor. The environmental policy course began with a 10-day winter break field trip to Tenerife in the Canary Islands where the students were introduced to the environmental problems of a small island that receives several million tourists each year. After returning to campus we spent the spring semester on two activities: 1. individual student analyses of a specific environmental issue they observed on Tenerife using the format of a Canary Island law for their reports; and 2. delving into the workings of the European Union and the way environmental policy is created in Brussels and disseminated to the member states. I also co-taught a course, with Indy Burke, for the UW Program in Ecology an interdisciplinary doctoral program. The course was for students in their final year or two and the topic was preparing for the future. Our objective was to provide students with guidance and tools to help them think about and anticipate the postdoctoral world.
My advising for 8 years at UW consisted of working with undergraduate biology majors and helping them understand how to navigate the degree requirements and talking about career opportunities. I expected them to be fully engaged in all of the decisions that affected their futures.
My approach to mentoring graduate students differs between masters of science students and doctoral students. My role in a master’s program is one of providing a carefully guided tour through the scientific process. I choose to work with a master’s student when I have a well-defined problem that will provide a good student experience.
At the doctoral level, my role changes to senior colleague. I expect the student to take much more responsibility. Once the student has lead in the identification of a topic, I become fully involved in offering suggestions to improve the final products. I expect masters of science students to produce a thesis that consists of at least two publishable manuscripts, and doctoral students to produce a dissertation of 3-4 manuscripts, in addition to co-authoring team papers with the lab group.