feel successful at it. We have to force ourselves to do things that aren’t easy.”
Her advisor at University of Pennsylvania was not supportive of her decision to go to DeSales and instead urged her to do a postdoc. However, many of the other people she knew who were doing postdocs had been doing them for three or more years. She took a chance on pursuing a teaching career and says that she is glad she did. “Teaching is truly what I believe I was meant to do, and I really enjoy it.” She teaches between four and five courses a semester and is the only biochemist on the faculty. She is in charge of putting together the curriculum and laboratories and preparing for accreditation. She also is heavily involved in recruiting students into the major. She mentors a student doing undergraduate research and advises 25 or so students who are health-related and science majors.
Her experience as a teaching assistant was “tremendously important” in laying the foundation for these skills. During two of her years as an undergraduate, she was a teaching assistant for an undergraduate freshman chemistry laboratory course as well as a calculus course. In particular, as preparation to teach calculus, she took a course in which a faculty member taught teaching assistants how to teach math. A similar course in teaching chemistry would be an extremely valuable addition to graduate school, she said. It should be designed for students who are in their later years of graduate school and are planning to go into teaching.
Despite her experiences with teaching at University of Pennsylvania, Aaron had to develop several critical skills at DeSales. She was not prepared to design curricula and was challenged to put together two semesters of a biochemistry lab despite never having taken a biochemistry laboratory as a student. She had to learn in her teaching how to break down concepts and explain them in terms that diverse groups of students could understand. She also needed to be able to mentor and advise students, prepare proposals, manage her time, and prepare assessments.
She was supported by an NIH fellowship at University of Pennsylvania, which had both pros and cons. It enabled her to develop and pursue interests outside her research area of crystallography, in part by taking classes in the medical school. She also had monthly meetings with other people receiving the fellowship and organized symposia funded partly by the grant. But it created tension with her advisor who “wasn’t exactly thrilled that I was doing all this other stuff on the side, but he kind of let it go. I didn’t talk to him about it too much, and we had this great relationship where I think in the end he was really glad I did it, but as long as it didn’t interfere too much with the lab.” Her advisor encouraged her to attend meetings, present posters, and give talks, which helped her learn to speak in public. He also encouraged his students to write their own papers, which he then edited with them in an iterative process.