Mid-Zoomester News at USC!

What a turbulent, crazy year.. but .. I finally have some good zoomester news!

First: I just received word that my recent article submitted to J. Biological Control over the summer was accepted w/ minor revisions- so Yippee! It’s also exciting because it wraps up the last data bits leftover from my work as a Delta Science Postdoctoral Fellow back in 2016-18. I’ll be sure to link to the article once it is in press!

Second- so far this zoommester has been going ok.. and maybe even well! (I decided that ‘ok’ is actually a very positive word choice relative to how I would describe the majority of 2020). I managed to provide hands-on activities for students in both of my classes, particularly in my BISC315 Ecology class which was recently featured in the USC Dornsife News!

https://dornsife.usc.edu/news/stories/3317/from-l-a-to-taiwan-usc-students-hunt-down-insects-to-better-unde/

For my Ecology class (which has a lecture and a lab), the article highlighted my students’ insect collections and pit-fall trap surveys of arthropod diversity. Other projects that they are conducting include: 1) an iNaturalist study and report (where they submit photos of surrounding flora and fauna to an iNaturalist class project, and then they write up a report about their observations in nature as well as the life-history of some of the species that they documented), 2) an independent literature review (they research a research topic of interest in the field of ecology and then give an oral presentation on their findings to the class at the end of the semester), and 3) an independent research project (they write up a mini research proposal, conduct an experiment or observational study (post approval), summarize and analyze their data in R, and then make a research poster to disseminate their findings). I’m hoping they can present their research at the undergraduate research symposium in the Spring (but TBD via COVID19). For the students on campus, I can lend them equipment for their independent projects and sterilize the equipment before and after. Whereas for the remote students- I try to direct them to alternative free or cheap ways to conduct the studies that they want to implement.

Some of these projects are remotely guided, particularly for my students in Northern California, Michigan and Taiwan, and then others are a bit more hands on. For example-with the students that were able to come to USC campus, I handed out insect collection kits and demonstrated how to catch insects with a butterfly net in the first lab, and in the second lab, I handed out equipment and supplies for arthropod diversity field surveys and demonstrated how to set up pit-fall traps in the ground. For each of the -in person socially distant field-labs on campus, I also sent youtube videos to my remote students to help them understand how to catch insects and deploy pitfall traps.

I also discovered the beauty of teaching R via zoom (ironically I don’t have to physically ‘zoom’ around a room and can just calmly use breakout rooms with small groups of students or have students share their Rstudio screens with me one-on-one. I tried something new this semester as well and so far it is going great!-Basically I selected students that had previous R-experience and asked them if they were willing to be leaders of breakout rooms. That way small groups of students can help each other work through Rcode and practice datasets that I give them and then eventually work their way up to using their own research datasets and modifying the practice rcode. If they get stuck, they just simply buzz me into their rooms and I can help them pretty efficiently. So far so good! My TA, Tina Nguyen has also been instrumental in helping me manage all of this!

I’ve also thought about ways to make my other lecture-based GE course (Environmental Studies) more interactive, fun and hands-on. I try to use mixed media in my lectures- so good documentaries and podcasts, along w/ a mix of lecturing with powerpoint slides and lots of participation-point based breakout room activities that involve group discussions and case-studies. For the students that can’t attend lectures, they can always access the recorded material and can make up any point-based activity within 48 hours. I also recently converted one of the assignments on endangered species from a written word-docx assignment to a blog! I actually really enjoyed grading these blogs (way more than grading essays!) and I think the students enjoyed it as well. Not too mention the additional skillset they gained by learning how to make a blog.

There were many incredible blogs, but for the purpose of time/space- here are three excellent blogs from students in my class (I received permission from them to repost):

Blog by my student, Mario Koenigsperger, link below

Mario Koenigsperger

https://koenigsp.wordpress.com/2020/09/06/endangered-species-blog/

Juliana Tichota

https://enst100tichota.wordpress.com/

Bela Echternach

https://loggerheadseaturtlecom.wordpress.com/2020/09/02/__conservation/

The coolest part about having to adapt to the current situation and make modifications to our courses -is that ultimately myself and other instructors are actually becoming better educators! The days of just lecturing (with questions and mini discussions here and there) are over- and that is a good thing. More on this soon.

New Teaching Gig at USC: Ecology and Env. Studies!

So, I have some exciting changes and news! Starting Monday I will be teaching two undergraduate classes at USC this Fall! I recently changed positions at USC as a postdoctoral researcher (studying parasite-host interactions in the marine phytoplankton community) to a new postdoctoral teaching fellow position. As much as I love research, I really missed teaching and mentoring and wanted to dive deep into teaching to gain more experience as an instructor of record.

USC CAMPUS PHOTO
Photo of USC campus from: https://dworakpeck.usc.edu

I will be teaching an upper division Ecology course with a lab (BISC 315), and a lower division Environmental Studies course (ENST100). I’ll also be participating in USC’s CET New Faculty Institute , a faculty development program. I’m super stoked, and have been hustling for the past month to modify and design the curriculum and get all of the materials ready for the Ecology lab course. I thought most of my time would be modifying and designing new lectures and labs…. and I’ve definitely had some surprises along the way regarding where all of my time goes:

  • It takes a lot of time to prep a lab room/facility if by chance you are ‘lucky’ enough  to have a lab that does’t have a lab manager…. The benefits are that I don’t need to share the lab w/ too many other classes.. so I can leave things set up from time to time. Plus my TA can use the lab as her office hours! Cons- it is up to me to fix everything and get everything ready for the semester! So I definitely spent some time on tasks like getting rid of that old whiteboard that doesn’t erase anymore and fixing the new one that somehow arrived broken (thanks to the hubby for the latter!). On the same note- all of that old hazardous waste in the fume hood.. yup- need to condense it and call EH&S to whisk it away. ….Those old dead snails that have been rotting in the back of the room for over 6 months.. .yea I put those in the dumpster. That cart with some strange devices that look like broken microscopes.. turns out nobody knows who it belongs to.. but it can’t be thrown away. I think that one will just get put in storage….  Oh and then the broken Monitor that we need to use for presentations…thank goodness for IT support…

 

  •  Then there is the ordering and organizing of all of the supplies for each lab. Which means you have to modify or design labs and fully prep all of the lab instructions and hand outs before the semester starts (which is a good thing anyhow). I did this… and I even made sure we had phase-contrast microscopes before I designed a lab. However I learned a big lesson- always physically check out the equipment before you spend all of the time designing a lab and handouts! Turns out – the phase-contrast microscopes  that we have available for our teaching labs don’t have 20X objectives. Later I learned it is standard for most microscopes to only have 4X 10X 40X and 100X.. and I guess 20X is rare.. who knew!?! Unfortunately, one of the labs I spent a couple days designing (including all the handouts, instructions and reading materials)- requires 20X objectives lens… oops! So had to scrap that one and cut my losses. In the end it worked out and I extended a lab on insect diversity instead which I think will be better anyhow. On this note- I am super grateful to the Entomology Curator, Brian Brown, at the Natural History Museum for donating some of their no-data insects for my class insect collection. Im planning on putting them on a backdrop of the phylogeny and evolution of insects (Misof et al. 2014, Science) so students can see the different adaptations that have evolved through time in the Class Insecta.

img_1701.jpg
In a couple weeks I will mount these onto a phylogeny backdrop w/ an evolutionary timescale.. new photos to come later. Insects courtesy of the Natural History Museum’s Entomology Collection in Los Angeles.

  • Lastly there are the little things- like moving into a new office and setting up the space so that it is beneficial for office hours; learning how to use the departmental printer/copier; going to all of the classrooms and making sure my computer connects properly (and organizing those chairs in the classroom since it looks like a rave recently happened!); and meeting with teachers and TAs that taught the classes in previous years so that I can get the run-down on what worked and what didn’t work.

 

Then when I do actually have time to work on my lectures.. I find myself going down rabbit holes of finding cool documentaries for my Environmental Studies lectures, such as my new one on the interactions of society, culture and the environment- (Check out this cool documentary series on Native Americans and their stewardship of the land and waters); or going through all of the scientific literature on interesting topics that I am incorporating into my lectures such as sex-changing fish for my ecology lecture on mating behavior and sexual selection (which by the way is how I got interested in ecology in the first place over 20 years ago!.. oh geez Im getting old!)

Screenshot 2019-08-24 10.58.16
Figure 1: Todd et al. 2017. Female Mimicry by Sneaker Males Has a Transcriptomic Signature in Both the Brain and the Gonad in a Sex-Changing Fish. Mol. Biol. Evol. doi:10.1093/molbev/msx293

Anyhow… Monday is right around the corner.. so with that Im going to start uploading everything onto our online BlackBoard system… here we go!

Ps- if any of my students are reading this— don’t worry- I got this! You are in good hands… ha ha ha.