By Lauren Stiene | Online Reporter | SQ Online 2016-2017
For those of you taking Human Physiology this quarter, you already know how lucky you are to have James Cooke as a professor. Although he is new to UC San Diego, Professor Cooke has been declared by many students here as their favorite professor. After talking to Professor Cooke for only a short period of time, I could instantly see why he is such a loved professor. Professor Cooke truly cares about his students and wants them to gain the most knowledge as possible from his classes. The passion Professor Cooke has for teaching is especially clear in the fact that his entire research focus is devoted to discovering more about how students learn. The Saltman Quarterly is lucky enough to have Professor Cooke as our new faculty advisor!
Q: You are the new head faculty advisor for the Saltman Quarterly. Are there any changes you have in mind for SQ or is there anything specifically you are looking forward to in joining SQ?
A: I am looking forward to everything because I have never done anything quite like this before. This is a totally new experience for me. I’m a teaching professor, so working with undergraduate students and helping them learn any number of different things is what I am most passionate about. This is a natural extension of that.
Part of your question was what am I looking to do differently, and the answer to that is quite honestly not a whole heck of a lot. I am following in pretty big footsteps here. I want to honor the vision of what Saltman Quarterly can and should be. One thing I would like to do is engage the Writing Center at the Teaching and Learning Commons and set up workshops for students to help them with their writing and editing. I think this will streamline the process and reduce the burden on the people at the top who are doing the final editing. I would also like to get all of the faculty members that are currently part of SQ more involved in the organization.
I know from talking to Steve Wasserman (the formal faculty advisor of SQ), that there has been an enormous improvement in SQ within the past year. What seems to be the big driver of that is frequent meetings. Having regular meetings is important. We are going to continue having frequent meetings, and if anything we are going to have more meetings. This is a really important organization. I didn’t know Paul Saltman, but I hear nothing but wonderful things about him. I would like to maintain his vision of helping students communicate science with other students. The Saltman Quarterly is very important.
Q: How do you like teaching Human Physiology (BIPN 100)?
A: I love it. The other physiology professors and I joke that physiology is probably the easiest subject to teach, because it is inherently very interesting. It affects everyone. Trying to get students interested about physiology is extremely easy. The material also lends itself to all sorts of fun in-class activities. A lot of our students identify as pre-med, so that helps in that we can explain how medical problems come about and how we can treat them.
Q: Do you have a favorite class to teach?
A: One of the other classes that I teach is Human Reproduction (BIPN 134). I really enjoy teaching that class as well. The make-up in that class is quite different. It is an upper division class and it is an elective, so it’s not a requisite course which means that the students who are there really want to be there. And then talk about interesting material, all we’re talking about is how we make babies, so that’s inherently very interesting as well. So the material is very cool and it’s a subject that most people are at least somewhat familiar with, but not nearly to the depth that they probably think. During lecture it is clear that students are really piecing all of their knowledge together and figuring things out.
The other class I teach is BISP 195, which is the IA training course. Anybody who is teaching as an IA for the first time in biology has to take this class. In this class we’re not focusing on biology content, we’re focusing on teaching and learning. This is a really neat experience, because teaching and learning is my area of research and is near and dear to my heart. So I don’t really have a favorite class to teach, they all offer me something that is a little bit different and they’re all kind of fun in their own ways.
Q: Do you know what classes you will be teaching next year?
A: The same as this past year. In the fall I teach BIPN 100 and BISP 195, in the winter I teach BIPN 134, and in the spring I am teaching two classes of BIPN 100.
Q: Were you interested in science education as an undergraduate?
A: I was not interested necessarily in science education. I’ve always been an outgoing person, and I liked working with other people. Throughout high school and college I was interested in biology and I knew I wanted to work in biology in some capacity. When I finished my undergraduate degree, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I enjoyed research and I liked biology, and so I stuck around and did a Masters degree in the same lab in which I did my undergraduate thesis.
After getting my Masters degree I decided I wanted to try a different area of research, and I went to a new school and got my PhD in an entirely different area. It was when I was getting my PhD that I got the opportunity to work as a TA, and that was my first experience with teaching. I worked as a TA every semester as a graduate student, and I really enjoyed it. I got a lot of positive feedback from both my students and my superiors. It was shortly after this that I got the opportunity to teach at UBC.
Q: Did you know you wanted to go into research as an undergraduate? What kind of research are you currently working on?
A: I didn’t know for sure. It wasn’t until my third or fourth year that I had even considered it a possible to do research as an undergraduate. I approached a professor whose class I really enjoyed, and I asked him if he would be willing to have me in his lab. He said no, but told me not get discouraged. I went to 4 different professors after this and asked them if I could work in their lab. They all said no. The last profesor I went to said no, but she told be about a professor who was on sabbatical and he would need students in his lab when he got back. She told me to read his papers and try to sound knowledgeable about the field, so I learned about his work and I talked to him about his research. He kind of laughed, because I was trying to use all of the jargon and the technical terms, but he said if that if I was willing to be in the lab that he would have me in his lab. That’s how I got my start, I was working on a behavior experiment in a neuroscience lab looking at how rats process auditory stimuli.
My research interest has gone from what I call basic research to teaching and learning. One of the things I am looking at now is whether or not group or collaborative exams can increase retention of course content. I am most interested in what I can be doing as a teacher to help students learn.
Q: Do you have any advice for students interested in research or science in general?
A: The biggest piece of advice I would give is to try all sorts of things if you can, and don’t get discouraged if you get turned down. The other thing I would say to anyone in college is that you have time, so don’t rush. If you don’t get into medical school at first, maybe take the year off to travel. You have this unique moment in your lives where you can experience all sorts of different things without much negative repercussions. When you get older and have a family and a job you might not have as much freedom to do all of these things you might want to do. You shouldn’t be discouraged when things go wrong, but rather take it as an opportunity. Being turned down is not a failure, but rather an avenue to explore something different. When you get older you are going to look back and be grateful for all of these different experiences because these are what shape who you are.