Communicating Science with Erin Iski

Erin Iski, a postdoc at the CNM, who is interested in a career in teaching, recently gave a guest lecture at Governors State University. She found out through Argonne’s Postdoctoral Program Office that Governors State has agreed to host guest lectures by Argonne postdocs. Walt Henne, an assistant professor of chemistry at Governors, is in charge of this program and gave Erin a valuable opportunity to be a professor for a day by
lecturing to a group of college students.

Erin lectured in the class “Current Topics in Analytical Chemistry,” which included a mixture of undergraduate and graduate students and focuses on fundamental concepts. In lecturing to the students she was trying to emphasize general, scientific concepts. She couldn’t assume that the audience had vigorous background knowledge in the subject matter as Argonne and peer researchers usually do. Erin needed to articulate beginner ideas to bring the students up to speed before she could explain deeper concepts.

Erin was fortunate that she had previous experience as a teaching assistant (TA) throughout graduate school. “I believe this experience was distinctly different than being a TA,” says Erin. She enjoyed being able to exercise control over the subject areas covered in the lecture. She also liked the responsibility of enhancing and adding to the concepts that the students were learning in the overall course.

Walt gave excellent mentoring throughout the process, start to finish. Specifically he advised the need to “reduce everything to its simplest possible explanation.” This is essential when discussing complex and detailed topics such as “Modern Imaging and Surface Characterization Techniques,” which Erin lectured on, especially given that the area would be new to most analytical chemistry students. With the guidance provided by Walt, Erin was able to lecture on two subjects, one being her research at Argonne and the accompanying course material.

Walt provided helpful pedagogical tips to Erin from how to focus the lecture, to making the talk relevant and approachable to the largest number of students without losing any of the character of the lecture. She also prepared by speaking with her former graduate advisor on how to structure an effective lecture and what relevant concepts to include. Erin spent about four hours preparing her lecture plus another four on and off rehearsing what to say, going over slides, and ensuring she was communicating efficiently.

“Erin gave an excellent three-hour lecture and research talk that fit well with the course,” said Walt. “In ‘Current Topics,’ we strive to introduce students to advanced areas well beyond the typical material covered in our analytical chemistry curriculum. Most students leave with an excellent command of separation science and mass spectrometry, but we are trying to integrate topics such as surface science and characterization techniques, given the rapidly evolving analytical chemistry arena and the importance of these topics in the field. It is invaluable to have partners at places such as Argonne who can give both interesting research seminars for our students but also provide the theoretical background through a guest lecture prior to their research presentation. One key to that success is that we strive to let the guest lecturer have a great degree of control over the material they cover so they get a fairly good feel for the instructional part of being a faculty member.”

After the lecture was over Erin, received valuable feedback from both the students and Walt on how things went. The comments were positive and constructive. “The most important thing that I learned from this opportunity was that I actually do like teaching,” said Erin. “I think that many of us postdocs say that we want to be teachers, but we have very little real teaching experience.” Having the opportunity to write, revise and deliver a lecture not based on her own research was a fantastic experience and incredibly educational.

Erin V. Iski (CNM) received her bachelor of science in chemistry from the University of Tulsa in 2005. She then went on to achieve her Ph.D. in chemistry from Tufts University under the supervision of Professor Charles Sykes. Her research interests include low temperature, ultra-high vacuum scanning tunneling microscopy (LT-UHV-STM) projects. She is specifically interested in analyzing and viewing the self-assembly of amino acids on metal surfaces.

Erin is also studying the chemical vapor deposition of graphene on metal foils with correlating studies of growth in UHV on single crystal surfaces. After completing her postdoc, she hopes to teach at a small, mainly undergraduate university or to work as an educational director of an outreach center.

About Argonne Today

Argonne Today is a daily publication of Argonne National Laboratory intended for employees and facility users. It provides information on science and engineering results; awards and funding opportunities; employee benefits, safety, wellness, diversity, leadership and career development; and seminars, conferences, symposia, professional events and club activities.
This entry was posted in Communicating Science and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.