We all have our different reasons for pursuing science. Many of us are natural tinkerers, and want to know how and why things work. Others discover careers in science along a once medicine-bound pathway. Still others grow up fascinated with bugs, snakes, and large sea creatures. And some of us were inspired by an extraordinary science teacher.
At UC-Berkeley, we are lucky enough to be surrounded by enthusiastic professors who have profound impacts on student trajectories. And although the accolades of the particularly high-impact professors are well sung by their students, there’s nothing like some national prospective to remind us of just how important these teacher-student interactions can be. Imagine my surprise when I visited Science Friday this morning (science radio is a necessity for performing tedious microscope dissections) and encountered a familiar face up front and center. I did a double take … could it be? Yes, it was Integrative Biology’s beloved professor Tom Carlson! (Okay, okay, as one of his GSIs for Medical Ethnobotany, the course featured, I felt a twinge of fame-by-association giddiness)
Former medical ethnobotany student and Science Friday associate senior producer Christopher Intagliata tells Dr. Carlson that it was during one of the class’s weekly garden walks that a light bulb went off in his head and he thought, “I want to be a biologist.”
Dr. Carlson’s response was an important point that is often taken for granted when thinking about teacher-student relationships:
“You’re not the only one who gets inspired. I get inspired. And I get energized. It sustains me, just to see how your wings are open and that you’re flying in ways that put a fire in your belly.”
And this can be true in all relationships, teacher-student, PI-grad student, boss-worker. As both a graduate student and graduate student instructor, I realize now more than ever just how much the students can influence the instructors–in energy, in confidence, in gratitude, and even in the perceived importance of the subject matter.
Ira Flatow‘s final comment? “Wow, I wish I had a professor like that.”
If you’d like to hear more about “The man, the myth, the legend, Tom Carlson of UC-Berkeley” (in the words of Flora Lichtman), visit: