I wrote an email to my molecular biology professor this morning after class, partly expressing my exasperation at having my whole conception of the professor-student classroom relationship being knocked for a loop. See, he very briefly presents an idea and then begins asking questions of the class...he won't tell us the answer unless we're really struggling, but sometimes not even then, in which case he directs us to seek the answers on our own. I'm so used to the standard model, in which the professor opens floodgates of information and we're to open wide and ingest it. His method shakes up that comfort zone and places a tremendous amount of responsibility on each student.
At first, this really had me terrified. Going into the class, I'd heard a few stories about his exams and how no amount of study beforehand can make you feel in the least bit prepared. A 50 is apparently a good exam score... uhh. Not exactly the kind of thing you hear that instills confidence.
Now that we're starting to sink into things, I find that I really enjoy leaving the lecture with more questions than answers. I enjoy seeking out my own answers instead of them being handed down, and I kind of enjoy the insecurity of it all. I told him I feel like I'm lost at sea and unsure of which was is up. In his response, which I received just moments ago, his response was, "When you find which way is up, let me know, please!" How many professors in how many disciplines would response to an S.O.S. signal like that? Not many, and that's what makes the subject all that more delightful. He's adrift, as well...but obviously in much deeper waters.
For once, I'm studying a subject in which not all of the answers are known. To think that I stand just about as good a chance as anyone to find an answer...or to ask a question that will lead someone else to an answer...is so incredibly appealing.
I also expressed these feelings in the email, as well, along with some questions about epigenetics from a PBS special I saw a while back. Turns out that he did some ground-breaking research in that field and that the programme I saw will be shown, in part, during the course. That gave me goosebumps and got me a bit worked up, but what came next made me grin ear-to-ear and yell out, "NO....WAY!"
What caused such a reaction?
First, a little backstory.
On the second class meeting, the professor had two former students come in and speak to us about the class and how to succeed. We were invited to ask as many questions as we could think of, for these folks were his brightest students, he proudly proclaimed. One of them just received some tremendous grant and all kinds of accolades for work that she is doing in the field, and the other just scored a 39 on the MCAT.
These obviously are not unintelligent folks.
The Q&A session was enlightening, but wasn't nearly long enough. We needed a few hours to really satisfy everyone's curiosity and ease their fears. haha
So, back to the response I received from my professor and the bombshell written at the end.
He'd given me some extra information about the subject in the PBS programme...just enough to really get me excited for section in which we study that phenomenon. It was followed by, and this is a (almost) direct quote, "I believe you would eventually perform very well in this class - you remind me of (the guy who scored a 39 on the MCAT), one of my guest student speakers on Wednesday!"
I've read it over and over again in the last half hour since that arrived in my inbox. What a tremendous compliment! That's even better than the one my genius anatomy professor gave me last fall. WOW!