2010 Faculty Awards for Excellence in Graduate Teaching

Below are the recipients of the 2010 Faculty Awards for Excellence in Graduate Teaching.

Judith Farquhar

Staying focused in graduate school is easier if you think of your tasks like a list on a sticky note pasted to the bathroom mirror, Judith Farquhar tells her students.

“You need a basic three–sentence statement to keep yourself on target,” said Farquhar, who encourages students to say simply what their topic is, where it will be researched and why it is important.

Graduate work can be full of sidetracks and potentially wasted, unfocused time. By having a clear statement firmly in mind, students can focus and move along in their work.

Teaching students how to make a project have meaning to other people is an important part of the work she does in her Anthropology proposal writing class. Farquhar also teaches courses in Chinese society, medical anthropology and research methods.

Many of her students need to apply for foundation grants to support their fieldwork and complete their degrees. As a result, they must know how to be persuasive in proposing a project for funding. In order to gain a broader vision of their work, students review each other’s proposals and suggest improvements; Farquhar adds her observations, based on her experiences dealing with foundation review panels.

“Proposals can’t be just about an inward–looking topic that is only of interest to one discipline,” she advised.

Farquhar specializes in the anthropology of medicine in China. She has done extensive fieldwork in China and completed her PhD in 1986 in the University’s Department of Anthropology after doing field research at the Guangzhou (Canton) College of Traditional Chinese Medicine. She continues to go to China regularly for research on health issues.

As she oversees the research work of her PhD students, she encourages them to appreciate the traditions and effectiveness of both local Chinese approaches, which include acupuncture and herbal medicines, and the Western approach, which has developed with different strengths and limitations. Such a comparative perspective has led to substantive and important work in the field, she said.

“I have a student who is looking at psychiatry and depression in China,” she said. “That research examines how the two cultures differ in the way they understand suffering. In China, the disorder we know as depression is not a very useful description of the feelings of sorrow, helplessness and ill health that take people into psychiatric clinics. This project provides a deeper understanding of individual misery, beyond the clinic,” she said.

Her students also probe the depths of Americans’ relationships with health care, and as a result, find new relationships on what people want from doctors and medicine.

“I have one MD/PhD student who is studying life–enhancement pharmaceuticals,” she said. That student is looking at ways people use Prozac and other medicines to “fine tune” their lives, rather than necessarily to treat an illness.

Cornell Fleischer

When Cornell Fleischer first arrived at the University of Chicago, he had spent nearly 14 years teaching undergraduates.

But when it came to graduate teaching, “I didn’t really know what to expect,” Fleischer admits. “I was used to preparing survey courses and advanced undergraduate courses. And now all of a sudden I was employed primarily to raise a significant part of the next generation of scholars in my field.”

The transition wasn’t easy at first, yet over time Fleischer began to see the unique rewards of graduate teaching. While he enjoyed working with a “generation of young people who actually took seriously what I had to say … the greater satisfaction is when your students become your colleagues in scholarship,” he says.

As an undergraduate instructor, Fleischer had become skilled at “building up a body of knowledge, a foundation that is initially broad and general and increasingly broad and particular.”

But with graduate students, “I had to make sure a foundation was solid before I could then go about imparting the not only specific, but also particular sorts of skills and ways of approaching primary material.”

Tackling primary materials is no small feat for students interested in Ottoman history. Most Ottoman scholars must be able to read a minimum of five languages, Fleischer says.

“There’s no textbook for this sort of thing,” Fleischer says. “There’s no textbook for learning how to use the Ottoman archives, so there are very tangible as well as basic skills that you can pass on. As I have gotten really outstanding students, it’s not only become easier but also much more pleasurable.”

In addition, Fleischer has found that working with graduate students helps shape his work. “There’s often, I’ve found, a kind of crystallization of concerns that then does find its way into your own work, how you look at your own field and your own scholarly production,” he explains.

“A decade ago I was already getting increasingly interested in the intellectual and religious history of the 15th century, which is pretty much unmapped terrain in the context of Islamic history at large,” he says. “The conversations that have developed around those themes have given me my next scholarly project, one that is both an individual and a group effort.

“As a result of a number of dissertations that have been done here in the last few years, there is now a critical mass of people interested in similar issues although working in different contexts, and we intend to pursue this work together in the coming years.”

As for working with his graduate students, Fleischer says, “I guess for me it’s a little like raising a family. People become assistant professors, and you’re able to give them advice. Nothing stops [when they finish] the dissertation—not the friendship, not the mentoring, not the help.”

Jeffrey Harvey

Jeffrey Harvey had some self–doubts during his first year as a graduate student in physics at the California Institute of Technology.

“I was intimidated by how smart everyone was and how much they all knew,” said Harvey. He tries to remember that he now works from the other end of the graduate teaching equation.

“I try to have a certain amount of empathy for the students, and I usually bring them donuts at least once a quarter,” he said. His empathy, donuts and all–around instructional savvy have now brought him a 2010 Graduate Teaching Award from the University.

“It’s very meaningful because I do put a lot of energy into teaching and advising students, and it’s always nice to be recognized when something matters to you a lot,” Harvey said.

Harvey has taught Quantum Field Theory, Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity. Last autumn quarter he taught an Advanced Topics course on the strong interactions of physics, and attempts to describe them using mathematical techniques that grew out of string theory.

“That course is really for me the perfect example of how research and teaching influence each other, because for the last year or so I’ve been working on research projects that grew out of that class,”

Harvey said. At the start of the course, he confessed, there were some aspects of the subject matter he didn’t know much about.

“I was really just trying to stay a step ahead of the students. It really influenced my research, and I think the students enjoyed it, in part, because they had a sense that we were learning it together.”

The strong interactions are the ones that hold atomic nuclei together. “More importantly, they’re the interactions that bind quarks into many of the fundamental particles we see,” including the protons and neutrons that nuclei are composed of, Harvey said.

“People complain in particle physics that we don’t have much new data and that we’re waiting for the Large Hadron Collider, and we are. But when it comes to the strong interactions, there’s a huge amount of data,” he said. “It’s just that we don’t know how to interpret a lot of it.”

Harvey has mentored nearly 20 doctoral students. Half or more now hold academic positions, while the others have gone into the software industry, management consulting and finance. Two more, Sophia Domokos and Andrew Royston, have nearly completed their doctoral studies.

Royston recently received the Physics Department’s Gregor Wentzel Research Prize in theoretical physics and has a postdoctoral fellowship awaiting him at Rutgers University. Domokos took the Wentzel Prize last year and is headed for postdoctoral research at the Weizmann Institute in Israel.

“The job market this year was really tough, but they both got good positions,” Harvey said. “I’m pleased that they’re graduating and have good jobs, but I’m going to miss both of them because I enjoy collaborating with them.”

Dennis Pardee

Students find intellectual satisfaction in probing the grammatical depths of ancient languages in classes taught by Dennis Pardee.

Pardee teaches Biblical Hebrew as well as courses on the inscriptions in pre–exilic Hebrew and in related languages. His principal research is on Ugaritic, the language of the people of Ugarit, an ancient Syrian city north of Israel. It was a culture in which the mythological Baal was an important divinity, though later he did not fit into the monotheistic Yahwism of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.

Passages from the Hebrew Bible form the basis for Pardee’s Intermediate Hebrew classes. The three–quarter sequence begins with prose verses, such as portion of the creation story that begins Genesis. The second quarter consists of reading poetry, primarily the Psalms, and the third includes reading manuscripts, including biblical texts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls.

“Biblical Hebrew poses particular problems because of the place of the Bible in much of our culture,” Pardee said. “Students come in with a very broad range of backgrounds, from fundamentalist to liberal to ‘don't care,’ with every possible variation and from every possible religious or cultural background. Thus my goal is to get them all to a very basic position of doing responsible grammatical and lexical analysis before moving on to higher levels of analysis.”

Pardee thus concentrates on the intellectual side of the study of Hebrew and lets students work through their own reactions to this approach.

“If students work this method into their approach to any text in a language which they do not understand at an intuitive level, I consider that I have done my job. If the occasional student wants to do graduate work in one of our Near–Eastern fields with this approach to the texts, that is even more rewarding.”

Along the way, Pardee learns from his students as well, such as a session in which he got a new insight on a verb form in Hebrew.

“I confess that I had not analyzed the form in detail as I should have. I was essentially repeating the view of one of my most respected colleagues in another university without realizing that his translation implied the existence of a form that does not exist in Hebrew — a third–person imperative.

“It was the student’s ‘naïve’ question, ‘Does Hebrew have a third–person imperative?’ that set me back on my heels and made me rethink the analysis. The closer analysis eventually found its way into a review of the work in which my colleague’s questionable analysis was published,” he said.

In order to increase their understanding of grammar, Pardee has his students do supplemental readings and quizzes them on grammar once a week.

“I want the students to see the beauty of the grammar,” he said. “My basic methodological stance is that one cannot understand a text in a language that one has not learned to near–native proficiency, in particular a dead language, without analyzing it in detail,” he said.

Understanding a text requires a basic grammatical analysis. If students don’t know which word expresses the subject and which the object, they won’t really know the meaning of the text. “Or, in lexical matters, students sometimes try to understand a text by taking a word or words in the most basic sense when a little searching though a dictionary or wider reading will reveal other nuances that fit a given passage better,” Pardee said.