My goals when teaching are to inspire future biologists, help them develop their critical thinking skills, and help them acquire the tools essential to their success beyond university. As a professor at Boston University, I have received the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Graduate Education and been nominated for the Metcalf Award for Excellence in Teaching. Several graduate students from the lab have also received Outstanding Teaching Awards. As a lab, we place a strong emphasis on teaching and we consider it to be an excellent complement to our research programs.
BI 519 – Theoretical Evolutionary Ecology (Syllabus 2020)
The first course that I have developed, with the help of my good friend Colleen Webb, is Theoretical Evolutionary Ecology. The course is pitched at the graduate level, but also accommodates well-prepared juniors and seniors, and serves up to 15 students per year. The principal objective of this course is to familiarize students with the theories of population ecology, evolutionary biology, behavioral ecology and how those theories are interlinked.
The lecture series is split into three parts. Part 1 focuses on the ecological properties of populations, progressing from consideration of single, unstructured populations to single, structured populations and, finally, interacting populations. In the first part of the course students learn (or re-learn) most of the mathematical tools they need for the rest of the course (calculus and linear algebra). Part 2 focuses on evolution within populations, progressing from consideration of simple haploid selection models to Fisher’s fundamental theorem of natural selection. The second part of the course lays the foundation for the third part, as students come to understand the logical basis for the optimality approach. Part 3 focuses on behavioral evolution, introducing students to optimality models, dynamic programming and game theory. The aim of the lecture series is to give our students enough background to be able to read and critically evaluate the theoretical evolutionary ecology literature.
The lecture series is complemented by a lab series. Each week’s lab topic is chosen to complement the lecture material. In the lab, I teach the students to use MATLAB, drawing heavily on the teaching methods of Stormy Attaway in BU’s Department of Engineering. The lab gives the students the opportunity to grapple with the programming of the models that they have been exposed to in lecture and worked through by hand in the math homework. The aim of the lab series is to provide students with solid foundations in the use of a great tool (MATLAB), and to give students enough background to do simple modeling and springboard to more complex models if desired. Taken together, the lecture and lab series help students to develop their critical thinking skills as they grapple with integrating evolutionary ecology concepts, mathematics and programming. I strongly believe that the course gives our students a deeper understanding of, and appreciation for, the foundations of ecology, evolution and behavior.
2020: Overall course rating = 4.7 / 5.0, Overall instructor rating = 4.9 / 5.0
2018: Overall course rating = 4.5 / 5.0, Overall instructor rating = 4.7 / 5.0
2015: Overall course rating = 5.0 / 5.0, Overall instructor rating = 5.0 / 5.0
2013: Overall course rating = 4.9 / 5.0, Overall instructor rating = 5.0 / 5.0
2011: Overall course rating = 4.6 / 5.0, Overall instructor rating = 5.0 / 5.0
2010: Overall course rating = 4.4 / 5.0, Overall instructor rating = 4.6 / 5.0
BI 509 – Metapopulation Ecology (Syllabus 2019)
The second course that I have developed is Metapopulation Ecology. The course is pitched at the graduate level, but also accommodates well-prepared juniors and seniors, and serves up to 30 students per year. The principle objective of the course is to familiarize students with the concepts of metapopulation ecology, considering marine ecology, terrestrial ecology, and theoretical ecology perspectives.
The lecture series is split into three parts. Part 1 focuses on patterns of connectivity, considering how our understanding of the spatial scale of connectivity has changed over time, and how methodological and statistical advances have contributed to this change. Part 2 focuses on the causes of variation in population connectivity, considering both physical causes and evolutionary causes of variation, as well as how the phenotypes of adults and propagules (larvae and seeds) influence connectivity. Part 3 focuses on the consequences of variation in population connectivity for population and community ecology, for microevolution and macroevolution, as well as the implications for management and the design of networks of reserves. The aim of the lecture series is to give students an integrated understanding of the patterns, causes and consequences of propagule dispersal and population connectivity, and a deeper appreciation of the linkages between topics in the metapopulation ecology literature.
The lecture series is complemented by a series of student presentations and writing assignments. (The course fulfills both writing intensive and oral communication Hub Learning Outcomes at BU). Each week, two students develop and give a scientific conference presentation on a paper that complements the week’s lecture material. Scientific conference presentations are limited in scope, but all of the skills learned in this context are transferable to other contexts. The presentations are reviewed by the students’ peers, and peer feedback is discussed in open forum. Each part of the course, students will write a scientific review paper, synthesizing what they have learned. Again, scientific review papers are limited in scope, but all of the skills learned in this context are transferable to other arenas. The three papers will build on each other over the semester, allowing students to respond to constructive criticism as they add new material and hone their writing and thinking skills.
2019: Overall course rating = 4.6 / 5.0, Overall instructor rating = 4.8 / 5.0