Teaching Philosophy (in brief)
I love teaching. I was inspired by my mother, who taught chemistry to high school students. I learnt from her that teaching can be an exceptionally fulfilling and rewarding profession. I am a firm believer in the liberal arts philosophy of education. I believe that a liberal arts education should form the basis for a lifetime of intellectual growth, and only secondarily does it provide career training. To accomplish this, we as educators have to encourage our students to be curious about their world by providing them with an atmosphere that supports inquiry. At the same time, we must provide them with the analytical skills necessary to satisfy that curiosity. Whether a student comes to college with or without clear career goals in mind, I feel that the best way to meet their individual needs is to foster a sense of learning for learning’s sake.
Dennis’ Teaching Responsibilities
Every spring since 2015 (except in 2017 and 2018 due to a research-grant related teaching release), I have taught the following course: Neurobiology (BIOL-475/675). This course is designed for upper-class biology and neuroscience majors as well as graduate students. Class size typically ranges from 75 to 90 students and meets three times a week. Every fall since 2015, I have co-taught the following course with another member of the Biology department: Laboratory in genetics and cell biology (BIOL-395). This course is one of two required lab courses for all biology majors. Class size typically ranges from 130-145 students who are divided into 6 separate sections. Each section meets once a week.
In addition to my main teaching commitments, every semester since fall 2015, I have taught the following course: Neuroscience journal club (BIOL-601). This 1-credit course is designed for the 1st and 2nd year graduate students in the Integrated Neuroscience Graduate Program. All INP graduate students are required to take 4 credits of this course. Class size typically ranges from 10-15 students each semester. During fall 2018 and spring 2019, I co-organized the CMB/Neuro seminar series (CMB-790) along with another member of the Biology department. Typically, 10-15 graduate students take this course for credit. However, this seminar series is attended by approximately 50 (faculty, undergrads, grad students, and postdocs) people from across campus.
Apart from classroom teaching responsibilities, I advise postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, and undergraduate students who work on research projects in my lab. I also serve on graduate student thesis and dissertation committees. I take each of these responsibilities seriously and aim to promote good verbal and written communication skills, as these are ever more important in today’s interdisciplinary research community. I motivate my students to learn basic writing principles and public speaking techniques. I encourage them to apply these skills during conference presentations and applications for grants and fellowships.
I continue to learn and hone my own skills in teaching, grant writing, and laboratory management by attending workshops as and when opportunities arise.
From students who took Neurobiology:
“I just wanted to say thank you for being an awesome professor! I really enjoyed going to class and listening to you lecture. You made a difficult topic fun and easier to understand. I am extremely grateful that I was able to be in your class my final semester at UNR. I hope you continue teaching because it’s (unfortunately) rare to find professors who actually care about their students and put in the time and effort to make sure they understand the material. It is nice to know that you genuinely care about your students and want the best for them”.
“You have been such a positive influence in my way of thinking towards education and shown me what it is to have a passion for learning and teaching. Thank you so much for a fantastic semester! I am so glad that I took your class and had the pleasure of meeting you. I look forward to staying in touch with you and coming in to chat with you from time to time”.
“I was sitting there, listening to you lecture about the brain some Wednesday morning in February when it hit me. “I want to study Neuroscience,” I said to myself. “It’s my major after all, and I find it absolutely fascinating”. I was on the Pre-med path for so long, but I can’t tell you why. I guess I was just doing it because everyone else was. But that morning, after my epiphany; I finally gained the courage to step off the Pre-med route and join something that I was actually very excited to be a part off: Neuroscience”.
From students who took Laboratory in Genetics and Cell Biology:
“Dr. Mathew is very approachable and willing to help when students are struggling. Great instructor and knows the contents thoroughly. Enjoyed having him around lab very much”.
“Dr. Mathew is a great professor and really cares about his students. You can tell because he goes out of his way to try and go over everything with each student to make sure the no one is left behind”.
From students who took the Neuroscience Journal club:
“Dr. Mathew is an excellent instructor, both caring and passionate. It is clear that he puts a great deal of thought into running the neuroscience journal club, and makes every effort to ensure the sessions are interesting and informative. Thank you so much for everything you do, Dennis. You are a wonderful teacher and an inspiration to all of your graduate students”.
“The journal club does a great job of providing students with opportunities to network with other faculty and learn valuable research skills. Each semester I have spent in journal club has taught me new tips about how to be a successful academic and researcher. Dr. Mathew also makes every effort throughout the semester to ask for student input and incorporate student ideas. It is an excellent course that is very useful to graduate students in the neuroscience program. No changes needed!”