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I value teaching as an opportunity to deepen my understanding of concepts relevant to my research, and to train the next generation of scientists as both a mentor and lecturer. As lecturer, I have taught undergraduate developmental biology (Biol 120) to 150 students, and a portion of graduate level developmental biology (Biol 200D) at UC-Santa Cruz, and I have been honored by multiple teaching awards. In addition to developmental biology, my teaching interests also include: stem cell biology, cell and molecular biology, genetics, epigenetics, genomics, and science communication. In both the undergraduate and graduate classroom, I engage students through interaction and modeling real-life science.

Teaching Awards and Honors:

  • 2011 Universal Design of Instruction Award, Disability Resource Center, UCSC
  • 2011 Commencement Speaker, Biology Year End Celebration (Biograd), UCSC
  • 2013 Favorite Faculty, Stephenson College Commencement Ceremony, UCSC
  • 2013 Finalist, Excellence in Teaching Award, Committee on Teaching, UCSC

Undergraduate Teaching

To model real-life science for my undergrads, I show my undergrads how to frame hypotheses, and how to propose experiments and controls to test their hypotheses. To promote interaction, I use clickers and I walk through my classroom, sitting down with my students, and encouraging brief discussions. I also use visual aids, including movies, origami, and microscopes with living model organisms, and I draw on my slides with an iPad program. Finally, I encourage students to create models of developmental processes for extra credit. In the process of drawing, painting, sculpting, or animating, students develop an intimate awareness of concepts in developmental biology. Their work also provides particularly inspiring visual aids for my classroom:




Top row (left to right): 3D teaching tool to demonstrate the developmental process of mouse embryo turning, origami fate-mapping project, fabric model of cell movements through the primitive streak, charcoal drawings illustrating early zebrafish development, 3D mouse blastocyst model.
Middle row: Movie stills from an claymation illustrating early nematode development.
Bottom row: Movie stills from a flip-book animation illustrating human embryonic development.

Teaching Graduate Students

 Phenotypes of mutants recovered from F3 mutagenic screen

Figure __. Phenotypes of mutants recovered from
F3 mutagenic screen. (A) Mutagenesis and
genetic screen strategy, (B) wild type, (C) no eye(ney)
mutant, (D) little eye 1 (ley1) mutant, (E) little eye 2
(ley2) mutant, (F) ey1 ley2 double mutant,
(G) ney ley1 double mutant, (H) ney ley2 double mutant.

In the graduate classroom, I model real-world science using a data-driven manuscript writing exercise that I developed (Halbisen and Ralston, in prep.). For this exercise, I provide students with a set of cartoon figures, and I ask them to use the figures to write a manuscript, including title, abstract, introduction, results, and discussion. I also ask my students to draw a model figure and to propose experiments to test the model in the discussion section. Through this activity, students practice observation, interpretation, and proposing and validating mechanistic models. Importantly, students use their creativity to transform evidence into argument.

After students submit their manuscripts, I ask each student to perform a double-blind review of a peer’s manuscript. At the end, students receive two independent reviews of their papers – one from me, and one from a fellow student. My teaching evaluations indicate that students find the writing and reviewing experience enriching, challenging, and fun.

~ Header image of invertebrate gastrulation by E. Haeckel. ~ Last updated 2014 with Mura CMS by M. Halbisen.