Voices of Experience: David Kuhn

Photo of David KuhnDavid Kuhn is a Professor Emeritus of Biology. He joined UCF in 1970, and he has won two Teaching Incentive Program awards, two University Research Excellence Awards, a College of Arts and Sciences Excellence Research Award and a University Professional Excellence Performance Award. His research interests focus on the developmental genetics of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster.

1. What teaching methods have you found to be most effective for your students?

I feel that students respond the best to a wide range of teaching methods you might choose, as long as you are enthusiastic about your discipline and maintain an active research interest in the area. Your excitement can become contagious. By being on the cutting edge of your discipline, you can focus on the present state of the discipline and explore future directions. Remember to maintain a sense of humor, and if you make a mistake, simply say, "I made a mistake." One additional point: I like using graphics such as PowerPoint, not for reading the slide, but simply to use it as a starting point for the discussion.

2. What was your most memorable teaching experience?

There"s a question I can"t answer. Every class is different; every circumstance is different. Although one can teach the same class many times, it"s always different because the students in the classroom create a different environment. There have been many times that I walked away from the semester thinking, "this was really fun." These memorable experiences range from small graduate courses with 10 or fewer students to large classes of 220. One of the most enjoyable courses I can recall was an Advanced Genetics course composed of 15 compatible graduate students who got along well. For whatever reason we were all on the same wavelength.

3. What single piece of advice would you give to new professors today?

Those of us who have been in the system for the last several decades were privileged to live through a golden age of science. We were there when Sputnik took off and were the beneficiaries of all the upgrades in science education. During these years the educational focus was on producing students who were better thinkers, better communicators, and better writers, and that is still the theme of a liberal arts education. However, times have changed. Now we live in a more consumer-based society. Many students now demand to be taught how to do something so that they have a profession they can walk into and be trained for. Research programs have been moving more and more away from the creation of new knowledge to the production of a product. Faculty members are being asked to find ways of making money for the university. As states allocate fewer dollars in support of higher education, it becomes important for universities to become corporations and act entrepreneurial. I would advise new faculty members coming into the university system to understand the times, adapt, and expect as much change in higher education over the next several decades as seen during my faculty tenure. Finally, with regard to tenure and promotion, new professors need to identify successful role models in their area, and pattern their development after those individuals. Success will follow.

4. Why did you become a university professor? What kept you in the profession?

For most of us who go into science, we do so because it"s just fun. As I"ve told my graduate students for years, "I never came to "work"; I came to "play."" I"ve always enjoyed nature and natural science, so it was a pretty easy gravitation. I"ve been doing informal research since I was seven years old. The academic career was one that seemed natural. My answer for why I"ve stayed is similar: if you can spend your entire day doing something you think is play rather than work, why do anything else?

5. What changes have you seen over your career with regard to student learning and how have you adapted to them?

I don"t know that student learning has changed, but the focus on what somebody wants out of the class has changed. In years past, people would say they didn"t quite get the grade they wanted, but they really learned a lot, and that"s why they took the course. Now it"s not quite that simple. People want and think they deserve a high grade because they are consumers. They don"t view higher education as a privilege any more. Thirty years ago, it was a privilege to go to college, and one felt privileged to be associated with professors. Now it"s "I"m paying your salary; I am a consumer and here"s what I want out of your class"if I don"t get it, I"m going to be upset." Now it"s not what they can learn, but what they can apply to a job. It"s a natural change and we just have to get used to it.


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