Professor / Microbiology
"...be open to learning and the process of discovery."
What aspect of Biology are you most interested in?
Biology is the study of life. I am interested in all living organisms but since I started teaching I have been fascinated by how people learn. This interest in education is coupled with my training as a bench scientist and the study of the unseen microbial world. Microbes play a critical role in our ecosystem and impact all aspects of the earth and its residents. Yet they are often labeled as “dangerous germs”. The more we understand about the microbial world the better we are able to evaluate the role they play in our quality of life. The vast majority of microbes are beneficial and just a small percentage, known as pathogens, cause disease. If we consider the impact of just three diseases: AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, we can appreciate how devastating infectious disease is on a global level. I am interested in helping students understand this dichotomy as they learn about microbes.
What advice would you give to a new college student?
Firstly, be open to learning and the process of discovery. Let it excite you the way it did when you were a toddler. Get involved, don’t be passive, engage your mind. Find what interests you, pursue it passionately and learn at a deep level. In the field of infectious disease there is so much we talk about in the classroom that then is heard in the current news. Everything from drug resistance, MRSA, nosocomial infections, mad cow disease to H1N1. These topics come alive when you relate them to your own life and their impact on society. Patricia Cross states that “passive learning is an oxymoron; there is no such thing”.
Secondly, pace yourself. Science classes are rich in content. Do NOT cram for an exam the night before. Disaster will follow. Keep up with the material, whether you are reading or writing or thinking. Consider running a long distance marathon, you have to put in regular training to achieve ultimate success. There is an anonymous quote that captures both of these suggestions: “If you study to remember you will forget, but, if you study to understand, you will remember."
What’s the favorite part of your job?
I care about my students and my subject area. I am inspired by Parker Palmer, a highly respected writer and teacher: “[teachers] are able to weave a complex web of connections among themselves, their subjects, and their students, so that students can learn to weave a world for themselves.” I get excited when students see the relevance of the material in my classroom. I love it when students ask to borrow books to read and when they bring in articles they found in the library or in the newspaper. If I can play a small role in the lifelong learning process then my job has meaning.
Plus, I get summers off to travel with my family. This past weekend I was in Monterey with two days in the world famous aquarium, a few weeks ago I was in Yellowstone National Park. Last summer I explored the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. A teaching job has its perks if you like to travel and maintain a love of learning!
What was your proudest moment working with students?
There are many rewards each semester. I would find it difficult to choose a “moment”. I love to hear that students who have previously been intimidated by science find it fascinating and fun. Recently a student completed the class and then wrote a rap song inspired by gas gangrene. She sent me the YouTube link. Another student was accepted to vet school in Scotland. Many microbiology students go on to careers in allied health, particularly nursing. Some plan to work in health clinics in Africa or Mexico. I am humbled that I get to be a part of their career plans. I often joke with my students that if I am their patient one day I want to know that they really understand key elements of infection and disease.
Linda Abraham has her M.Sc. from University of Witwatersrand, South Africa and her Ph.D. from University of British Columbia, Canada.
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