Prior to becoming an Assistant Professor, my teaching was limited to training students on an individual basis in the research lab, organizing and delivering lectures on a wide variety of topics, both within and outside my area of research. Clearly the challenge that lies ahead of me was to organize a formal lecture course in its entirety. The bigger challenge was to get students interested in the subject matter, motivated to do more than expected and to hopefully leave a lasting impression. Perhaps, I was blessed with a string of absolutely wonderful teachers and mentors who accomplished those goals effortlessly. The two professors who had an immense influence on my style of teaching and training are Chong-Lek Koh (MS mentor) and Martha M. Howe (PhD mentor). One thing they both had in common is that they were completely organized, meticulous, and passionate about the subjects they taught. Chong-Lek introduced to me the wonderful world of microbial genetics and molecular biology. The most invaluable wisdom imparted to me by Martha was how to be professional at all times and to believe that every student can succeed. While working with her, I (and many other colleagues of mine) hated her style of mentoring. She was an “iron-lady with a smile”. She was too demanding; there was always one more experiment to do. It was not long before (usually after moving-on) we realized what she had done for us; we were able to stand shoulder to shoulder with other students from any institution, whether they were from MIT or from Harvard. In fact, at FIU, I usually spend my first lecture getting to know the students, their goals, and talking about my goals. I tell them that when I am through with the class/training in my lab, they should be as well prepared as any student from any ivy-league school. I also insist that the quantity and quality of lecture materials and exams will not be watered down for any reason. I realize that the philosophy comes with a price tag – some students love you and the others hate you. This is a price I am willing to pay since those who hate will come around (hopefully) and will be glad that our paths crossed.
I consider every student mentored by me as part of my legacy. Thus, I also apply the same principles in training the students in the lab, i.e., that they become confident and comfortable with the subject matter, and never be afraid to speak up. All the students interested in working in my lab get a set of guidelines as to what is expected of them. This document includes many things that I took for granted as a graduate student. It has evolved over time and has gotten modified after every good and bad experience with students. Often this document serves as a deterrent to students who just want to get-by and attracts students who are willing to put in the effort.