Mukund Sibi- Teaching-Education

I have made 28 years of dedicated effort in teaching and mentoring students at all levels. My teaching responsibilities include courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels.  A number of other activities are also included in this section such as student mentoring.

  • Undergraduate: Courses: One semester Organic Chemistry for health sciences (~80 students); Sophomore Organic Chemistry (~200 students); Organic Spectroscopy (Senior level); Instructor for service organic laboratory and chemistry majors laboratory.
  • Other Activities: Established a home page for my sophomore organic class; major player in the modernization of our undergraduate organic laboratory; Mentor for Science-bound, McNair, and Goldwater Scholars; educated/trained nearly 200 undergraduate students and 120 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. NSF-REU program coordinator and PI on REU proposals.
  • Graduate: Courses: Physical Organic Chemistry I and II, Organic Synthesis, Organic Spectroscopy.  Developed new courses: Stereochemistry, heterocyclic compounds, and total synthesis.  In collaboration with a few colleagues, developed a new course on Introduction to Research for incoming graduate students. In collaboration with Prof. Cook, established a weekly organic course for graduate students
  • Other Activities: Lectures on how to succeed in graduate school and effective lab note book keeping for incoming graduate students.  Weekly group meetings researchers in the group: undergraduates, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.
  • International: Taught a course on asymmetric synthesis in University of Paris-Marie-Curie, University of Munster, University of Bordeaux, and Osaka Prefecture University

Curriculum Development

  • Modernization of undergraduate organic laboratory.
  • Development of three new graduate courses: Stereochemistry, heterocycles, and total Synthesis of natural products.
  • A key player in the development of a graduate course on introduction to research
  • Development of an organic tutorial for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows

Teaching, Advising and Curriculum Development

Education in a university setting consists of three major activities: 1) classroom and laboratory instruction, 2) research, and 3) mentorship.  My interest in teaching spans undergraduate and graduate education and includes classroom as well as laboratory setting.  At the undergraduate level I enjoy teaching sophomore organic chemistry, spectroscopic methods, and chemistry for non-science majors.  One very important aspect of undergraduate education is the opportunity for students to work in a research laboratory during the academic year as well as the summer.  I have been fortunate to have many talented undergraduates participate in research programs over the years and feel gratified to see that many of them have gone on to graduate careers in chemistry.  At the graduate level I have taught courses in organic synthesis, stereochemistry, heterocycles, natural products, and two physical organic chemistry courses.

Classroom instruction is an activity I enjoy very much.  It is an activity in which you get a great sense of pride and satisfaction that you can make a difference in a student’s career.  I believe that students do not like a ‘book-reading type’ teacher.  A good teacher must have a broad knowledge base and a deep understanding in his/her area of expertise and teach students how to think independently.  A teacher must be able to explain a concept in multiple ways such that if the first explanation is not clear, another route is found.  A major challenge in lower division teaching is finding ways to relate classroom material to day-to-day things.  This connection is very important since student learning is enhanced when they feel a particular subject is meaningful.  In this context, I am very interested in developing new courses that are aimed at teaching science to the non-science majors. Such courses are essential for educating the public at large and to providing them the information they need to make sound judgments on scientific issues they encounter in their day-to-day lives.  For example, a course titled ‘Modern Living Through Organic Chemistry’, could address such topics as pharmaceuticals, soaps and detergents, polymeric materials, sex pheromones, pesticides, and diet and nutrition.

Another challenging aspect of present day education is to develop effective teaching methodologies for large lecture courses.  Since large class sizes are the norm in most of my undergraduate level courses, I have strongly encouraged the students to make use of my office hours such that I am able to help them on an individual basis.  Another effective way of alleviating the difficulties associated with large class size is to have teaching assistants available to help students on an individual basis.  Unfortunately, budget constraints keep us from using this mechanism as much as we would like.  I also hold extra question and answer sessions throughout the semester. These sessions have been very helpful not only to the students, but to me as well for they provide a forum in which I can get comments on my teaching methods.  This is important because I believe that teachers need to be very flexible in their thinking and to constantly refine their teaching methods.  The advent of the world-wide-web has been a tremendous advantage to decimation of information.  I established the first home page for an undergraduate organic class in 1997 and have continued this activity for undergraduate courses.  From the comments I received at the end of the semester, this endeavor was a huge success.  I strongly feel that web page creation for a large class setting is important but total reliability on this alone is dangerous.

An extension of classroom learning is the opportunity for an undergraduate student to participate in research during the academic year as well as the summer.  I believe that laboratory research is a very important part of a student’s education.  This is a forum where the student is able to put his/her classroom knowledge into practice and moreover have a first-hand experience of scientific research.  Nurturing and encouraging students at this level is critical because future scientists are created here.  I have been fortunate to have many talented undergraduates participate in research programs in the past twenty-seven years and feel gratified to see that many of them have gone on to excellent careers in chemistry or other related disciplines (see table for undergraduates mentored).

There are many intangibles to what makes a person a good teacher.  Some of these are patience, understanding the student’s point of view, and clarity in thinking and expressing one’s ideas.  I strive very hard and try to incorporate all the above aspects into my teaching methods such that I am the best teacher I can be.