Professor Ian Blair is from the Department of Biomedical Science.  He is Director of the Macquarie team that is at the forefront of Motor Neuron Disease (MND) research.   Ian also really enjoys teaching and mentoring students. 

How do you feel about teaching? 

I really enjoy teaching; I come from a family of teachers and dinner table talk always revolved around educational topics.  The energy that comes from connecting with students is exhilarating.

Professor Ian Blair, Department of Biomedical Science, Macquarie University

Teachers and scientists enter their profession with similar motivation – to have an impact!   Ian’s students benefit both from the knowledge acquired from a leading researcher and an academic who is passionate about teaching.  Like any great researcher, Ian takes a scientific approach to his teaching:  Assessing what he knows about learning and teaching, examining where the knowledge and skill gaps are, collecting data and evaluating his performance. Ian regularly avails himself of learning and teaching professional development opportunities to upskill his teaching practice. 

How does teaching affect Ian’s research? 

To teach genomics and genetics to UG and PG students, Ian needs to go back to first principles and ensure that he can synthesise and communicate the existing body of knowledge in a coherent and accessible way.   Questions from students help Ian to reflect and evaluate how he presents information.  

Teaching enables me to hone my presentation skills and communicate science to a knowledgeable general audience.

Professor Ian Blair, Department of Biomedical Science, Macquarie University

How does research impact on Ian’s teaching? 

Ian’s research helps his teaching.  He constantly brings examples from his research into the class to help illustrate a point and provide a real-world context.  His Motor Neuron Disease Research is particularly relevant to a clinical setting. 

Are there unique opportunities afforded to teachers that may not be available to researchers? 

All of my masters students and post doc researchers have come from teaching into Science and MD units – sharing my passion about the research that I do can inspire a future generation of researchers.

Professor Ian Blair, Department of Biomedical Science, Macquarie University

Teachers have an opportunity to influence and affect many students in positive ways. Indeed, giving students the thirst for knowledge to the point that they want to not just consume existing knowledge but make discoveries themselves is a unique opportunity for a teacher.  

Is there a link between research and teaching? 

Research shows that teaching and research have a small positive correlation and the relationship between the two are mutually enriching (Neumann, 1992).  Teaching and research, in practice, often merge in the university environment and facilitate achievement in both domains.  Ian is certainly a shining example of Neumann’s research in action. 

Teaching is a Science in that there is a large body of knowledge about effective practices that have been gained from scholarly research.  Just like scientists/doctors, teachers should use this evidence-base to inform their practice. Good teachers and scientists build reflection and evaluation into their process. Being an effective teacher or scientist does not mean that you don’t make mistakes or have things go wrong.  The difference is that effective teachers and scientists think about the mistakes or things that go wrong and try to work out what went wrong and why and what can be done better next time.  Poor teachers and scientists often blame students or research assistants, equipment, their environment or context and so on. 

students doing groupwork

Just like scientists, teachers are constantly collecting data, but the purpose for teachers is to see whether learning is taking place and how students learn best.  Like scientists, teachers experiment with new strategies and approaches to see how well the initiative has worked.  Both roles require good communication and presentation skills to synthesise a body of knowledge and pitch it at an appropriate level for the audience (whether learners or peers).

Posted by Lyn Collins

Senior Instructional Designer in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences.

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