PHGN341 THERMAL PHYSICS (Undergraduate, Spring 2017, Spring 2018)

Recommended text: Thermal Physics by Daniel V. Schroeder

PHGN530 STATISTICAL MECHANICS (Graduate, Fall 2016, Fall 2015)           

Recommended text: Statistical Mechanics by Pathria

PHGN333 INTRODUCTION TO BIOPHYSICS (Undergraduate, Spring 2015)

Recommended text: Biological Physics by Phillip Nelson


TEACHING INNOVATION: Research-integrated teaching

Learning statistical mechanics by applying the content to individual research areas

Despite years of education research and funded educational development efforts, long term assessments of graduate studies show that these efforts have been ineffective so far. Steadily increasing time-to-PhD, 50% attrition rate, and worsening job satisfaction have raised concerns throughout the world including USA. In physics, joint AAPT/APS committee identified problem areas and recommended remedial actions in 2006. However, an integrated effort to modify graduate studies has yet to come. Educational reforms at the undergraduate level clearly show that evidence based active learning strategies are more effective than traditional lecture based teaching. At the graduate level, research itself can be used as an active learning platform and research laboratories can be used as another form of classroom. In addition, surveys show that problem solving, programming, verbal and written communications, and multi-tasking are very important for jobs after graduate studies. To make the situation more complex, internet has paved the way for online education. In addition, virtual reality might enable hands on laboratory experience soon that can threaten the existence of university systems similar to libraries, postal services, shopping mall, and printed newspapers. However, research activities focusing on unanswered questions will always be relevant. In physics departments, preparatory core graduate courses such as classical mechanics, quantum mechanics, electromagnetic theory, and statistical mechanics are common throughout the world. However, these courses have not gone through reforms in decades as can be easily judged by the books that are used. Therefore, an integrated reform of graduate studies is urgently needed and research-integrated reform will likely ensure better student outcomes and relevance of universities in the internet age.

I have developed research-integrated teaching where students learn the concepts of statistical mechanics and biophysics taught in class by applying to their actual or intended research interests.  The course content was mostly flipped online to enable active learning activities during contact hours in class. Course delivery integrated reading current literature relevant to students’ research areas, problem solving, verbal and written communications, teaching skills, and team work. Ethical training in plagiarism, authorship, data analysis, reproducibility, and work ethic was integrated and assessed as part of the course. Graduate work involves working on a research problem and therefore, students were responsible to formulate individualized projects that were relevant to statistical mechanics and their research interests. In practice, successful completion of a research problem is mostly measured by publications which directly influence the future career development of students. Peer reviewed publications not only indicate the content knowledge, but may also indicate soft skills and ethical training. Therefore, a final project presentation and a report written in the form of a journal article were the summative deliverables. These deliverables were peer reviewed and scored by peer students in the class following a rubric developed in consultation with students.