After being on sabbatical for the calendar year 2009 (an odd schedule that straddled two academic years), I returned to teaching in January of 2010. One of my sabbatical projects was to develop a bioethics course with Dr. Richard Perry, a faculty member at the Lutheran Theological School of Chicago. We taught the course in Chicago to 12 seminary students and 10 Luther students. The course involved site visits to health- and environment-related community organizations as well as some readings in ethics and genetics. The course was well-received by both groups of students. The Luther students also immersed into the Chicago scene via group and individual outings to various ethnic communities, parks, cultural events, historical sites, etc. and thus earned study away credit for the experience. I love Chicago!
From a teaching standpoint, things have also changed. I am no longer involved in our introductory Principles of Biology course. Instead I am teaching a nonmajors course that has evolved to become The Biology of Race and Sex. I am finding this to be a very interesting approach to teaching basic genetics and developmental principles, and I think the students are quite involved. Next fall this course will be paired with a religion course entitled Race and Sex in Religious Discourse; students who enroll in both courses will meet the all-college ethical requirement – should be interesting! Genetics remains my major course, with some significant changes to the lab portion of the course following my sabbatical experiences learning gene finishing and annotation strategies. Jake Jipp, a senior major, developed a two-week lab exercise for the class, which we tried this spring – and it generally worked! More genomics is being integrated into the lecture portion as well. Molecular Biology is due to undergo some yet-to-be-determined modifications as well, as I will teach it again for the first time in four years.
This fall I will begin a three-year stint as the faculty member holding the Rulon Chair in Biology. What this means is that I will have some money for research activities and professional development. I have yet to finish assessment of the Nectria essential and dispensible chromosome sequences that have been generated from several subcloning projects by undergraduates; part of my sabbatical focused on learning how to better finish and annotate gene sequences, so I am somewhat more confident that I can accomplish this task. The Nectria genome has been sequenced and that will make it easier. I hope to have completed the Nectria project by the end of this calendar year. Also I plan to use the Rulon research funds to return to researching RNA methylation – an area that I worked on as a graduate student and one that I remain intensely interested in. The cap and its methylation have been studied extensively, and its formation and functions are well-documented. The role of internal methylations remains unclear. I hope to examine possible approaches to investigating that question in an intensive way with students during January 2011, as a way to jump-start the project.
My kids are growing up! Mike had a terrific study abroad semester in Auckland, New Zealand, and will be a senior at the University of Minnesota. After a crazy year of college visits and paperwork, the triplets have selected their colleges: Matt will attend the University of Minnesota, Kate will be at DePaul University in Chicago, and Liz has enrolled at Northeastern University in Boston! Our bank accounts are shrinking already!!
Please continue to keep us posted on major shifts in your careers, potential for internships, and feedback on your college experiences—we are interested in your perspective!