Copyright 1994, Rainer Glaser.
The foremost responsibility of a scientist and of a scientifically literate citizen is responsibility itself. Responsibility is intrinsic and the very foundation of the quest for scientific discovery and requires the careful evaluation and consideration of observations, their objective interpretation, and, eventually, their use for the common good. We are living in a society in which technology and science affect all aspects of modern life and chemistry is central to many of the pertinent socio-economical questions of the period. In light of the ever increasing complexity of modern society and its interrelation with nature, a functioning democracy can only continue to exist in the context of a scientifically literate and responsible electorate. As teachers of science, we thus must focus on two synergistically related goals: It is our foremost duty to educate the broadest possible segment of society about the scientific method and its virtues and limitations. It is the second equally important duty to teach those who seek careers in chemistry the skills and the moral and the academic standards that will assure our continued competitiveness in scientific inquiry and its responsible application.
I have had the opportunity to teach introductory courses to organic chemistry over the past few years in which I attempted to translate my teaching paradigms into practical teaching. The paradigm makes it imperative that one tries to ignite a joy about science in all students, even if their chosen fields of study are only marginally related to chemistry. Properly placing each topic in a broader context provides a simple and effective method to achieve this goal. For example, the mere fact that carbon burns to produce carbon dioxide is not really exciting, but to discuss this reaction in the context of global warming causes everybody to listen up - and learn. Recognizing and appreciating the impact of chemistry and science also was central to my teaching of the honors' sections. I required students to select a topic of their own choice related in some way to chemistry in the broadest sense, and to write a term paper on this topic. The students welcomed the opportunity to pursue a personal interest with such freedom and I received excellent papers that covered a wide variety of topics. Titles of some of these papers can be found in the Appendix concerning Chemistry 210.
At the graduate level, I have taught 400 level courses on reaction mechanisms, physical organic chemistry I and II, and organic spectroscopy. Furthermore, I was involved in the development of the section on molecular modeling of the new biochemistry course 399. The ever present challenge in graduate education consists in finding a balance between teaching the 'classic' material while leading the students to the frontiers at the same time. For example, physical organic chemistry has undergone a major transformation in the past decade with the advent of computational chemistry and molecular modeling. The same is true, and probably even more so, in modern nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. These changes have not yet manifested themselves in reformed textbooks and it is thus mandatory to use the primary literature in teaching these courses. Moreover, I have in the past and will continue to incorporate computational methods into these courses. I have been active in setting up the departmental computer laboratory which allows the students not only to familiarize themselves with available chemistry software but also to profit from software that I have written for this purpose. I taught an advanced level course on physical organic chemistry which allowed the students to learn about modern theoretical methods thereby enabling them to actually use these tools in their research. In fact, I expect that several of the term papers written as part of this course will eventually find their ways into Ph.D. dissertations and might even lead to publications. Graduate teaching and graduate research can and should be intimately tied to each other.
As teachers, we recognize who we teach and we have our personal preferences as to how to best teach a specific audience. But what do we teach? Clearly, the latter question is the most crucial and course material selection is the most important choice a teacher faces. With this realization comes the obligation to stay up-to-date in the market for textbooks and teaching aids, to follow new developments in the computer-assisted education, to stay informed about methods for performance evaluation, and to learn as much as possible about the psychology of learning. I have not only attempted to stay informed, but have taken actions to participate in the creation of teaching materials. As a frequent reviewer of textbooks and of articles intended for publication in the Journal of Chemical Education, for example, I have had the opportunity to participate in the selection and gradual improvement of course materials. Moreover, my students and I have written several programs which were used, along with commercially available software, in my teaching activities at all levels. One of these programs, a graphics program for the analysis of molecular vibrations, has been distributed through the Quantum Chemistry Program Exchange. At present, we are working on a version of this program which I intend to publish in conjunction with a textbook on vibrational spectroscopy in the near future.
Undergraduate students have to face what is probably one of the most important decisions of their lives: What career should they select. As a member of the faculty, I recognize the significance of guiding the students to make their choices. Knowledge is the key of informed career decision making and internships are an excellent way to gain such knowledge. As a member of the Council for Undergraduate Research, I am well informed of available internships nationwide. I have shared this knowledge with as many students as possible, and I have assisted very successfully a great number of undergraduates to participate in such internships. For the same reason, I have served and continue to enjoy serving as mentor for the McNair, Hughes and the NSF-REU programs as well as the Minority High School Research Apprentice Program on this campus. I provided undergraduates majoring in chemistry, biochemistry, chemical engineering, and computer science the opportunity to pursue original and interdisciplinary research in my group.
Even the very best graduate students may encounter difficulties in obtaining post-doctoral fellowships or positions in industry or government after their completion of the PhD program. To be able to successfully compete, it is becoming more and more important that students have a broad range of skills that allows them to participate actively in interdisciplinary research groups. Most of the exciting modern areas of study are at the interfaces between chemistry and physics and between chemistry and biology. In recognition of this trend, it has been my goal to offer students in my group an exposure to a broad spectrum of interdisciplinary studies. For example, I greatly emphasize the synergism between theoretical exploration and experimental research in all areas of research in my group and in the collaborative efforts I initiated between my group and others here in the US and in Germany.
A very important aspect of teaching science, and one that is too often neglected, concerns the development of communication skills that enable students to interact efficiently with their colleagues and to publish their results. I have taken various steps to develop the communication skills of all of my students and they have demonstrated excellent presentation skills at a variety of regional and national meetings and several of them have won best presentation awards on several occasion. Conference activities, collaborations, and speaking tours also are critical to raise the level of recognition of our research program within the chemistry community and help in placing students after their graduation.
A clear emphasis in the development of the undergraduate and graduate programs has to be placed on modernization of the laboratory courses and on the development of computer-assisted teaching. Building on my expertise in the area of computers in chemistry, I hope to contribute to the identification of suitable software and its implementation in the curriculum in the coming years. My approach to this will be quite conservative: Just because something can be learned using a computer does not mean that this is the better way. For example, even the most fancy computer modeling program cannot substitute the value of molecular models. I hope to contribute to this area through the design and publication of Multimedia Teaching Materials.