Partial Transcript: So, what was your upbringing like?
Segment Synopsis: Discussion of childhood, including childhood walks with parents, traveling with her epidemiologist father, the National Institute of Disease Control, her “feisty” grandmother, and her mother’s passion for making science accessible for children in rural India.
Keywords: Calculus; Darwin; English; India; National Institute of Communicable Diseases; Northeastern India; World Health Organization; World War II Jeeps; biological sciences; books; brakes; childhood illnesses; college towns; communicable diseases; elephants; epidemiologists; equal partners; fathers; grandmothers; heart conditions; hospitals; hunting rifles; influences; intelligent women; jokes; jungles; living world; mothers; mountains; naturalists; oldest children; parents; poets; potatoes and rice; rain; remote areas; rhinos; schools; science; scientific names; scientists; snake bite kits; tigers; trading; trails; translations; travels; tribes; unusual upbringings; walking; wildlife sanctuaries; zoology; zoology professors
Partial Transcript: Eventually, my family moved to New Delhi…and I attended college in New Delhi.
Segment Synopsis: Discussion of moving to New Delhi, deciding on a major, a book called The Coil of Life that helped her choose biochemistry, research she completed during her undergraduate years, attending the Indian Institute of Science, and her experience at UC-San Diego that turned her away from academic research.
Keywords: Bangalore; DNA; Indian Institute of Science; New Delhi; Oregon State University; PhD programs; The Coil of Life; United States; University of California-San Diego; academic sciences; bigshots; biochemistry; books; capitols; cell differentiation; cells; chemistry biology; colleges; cutthroat; detail-oriented; disillusionments; doctorates; enthralling; experiments; firsts in the field; genetic material; graduate institutes; high schools; illnesses; intense; juniors; laboratories; learning; letters; libraries; majors; marriages; math; media; mothers; physics; plant calluses; post-doctoral work; principal investigators; professors; reading; sciences; seven million people; slime molds; stories; thesis defenses; travels; undergraduates; uninspiring; universities; viral infections
Partial Transcript: [W]hen I came to OSU, it was a huge relief to find that there were people who were marvelous scientists that didn't stomp all over people.
Segment Synopsis: Discussion of her first years at Oregon State University, including starting at Oregon State University as a postdoc, her first experience as an instructor, becoming an official instructor, past TA experiences, and teaching at Oregon State University.
Keywords: Chris Mathews; Oregon State University; biochemistry department; biochemistry teaching labs; biology department; careers; chances; classrooms; courses; curiosity; department chairs; encourage; enzyme kinetics; equations; excited about learning; fearless learners; frustrations; graduate education; human beings; human place; hypotheses; hypothesis testing; instructors; interrelations; laboratories; math; modifying; observations; official positions; postdocs; required classes; research; sabbatical; satisfaction; scientists; separation; sharing; stressful; teaching; teaching assistants; young
Partial Transcript: Have you seen any shift in the demographics and the sorts of students you see in your classes?
Segment Synopsis: Discussion of the equal gender ratio and ethnic diversity (and lack thereof) in the biochemistry department at Oregon State University and the higher amounts of structure students want in classes.
Keywords: Oregon; biochemistry; caution; demographics; differences; discussion boards; diversity; ethnic backgrounds; freedom; guidance; ideas; instructions; learning; mistakes; participation; pre-college experiences; prescriptive; pressures; progress; pushing; ratios; structure; students; teaching; techniques; unknowns
Partial Transcript: Have you ever, besides teaching, have you ever advised students? What's that like?
Segment Synopsis: Discussion about advising students, including mentoring students as an instructor, advising students who resist taking Bacc Core courses, students who were later grateful to be pushed into certain classes and activities and out of their "boxes," and getting contacted by students after they graduate.
Keywords: Bacc core courses; Cambridge; adulthood; advisors; backgrounds; boundaries; boxes; challenges; choices; classes; colleges; contributions; curiosity; development; encouragement; enrichments; ethics; expectations; faculty; heritages; homes; ideas; identities; interactions; long-term relationships; mentoring; paths; personalities; productions; relationships; resisting; roles; social interactions; students; successes; teaching; theater; trust; tutors; unofficial; weddings
Partial Transcript: Is there anything else that you want to talk about?
Segment Synopsis: Discussion of gender, including the differences between educated and rural India and their views of women, women in educated spaces and classrooms, expectations of women's appearances, dual-working households, differences in work breakups between genders, the gender breakdown of students who received the Goldwater Scholarship, and the Women's Basketball team at Oregon State University.
Keywords: American women; Barry Goldwater Scholarship; India; Women’s Basketball; accomplishments; advising; appearances; attention; basketball games; careers; colleagues; committees; critical; daughters; dual-working households; education; friends; little girls; math; meetings; opportunities; policies; professors; respectfulness; sciences; status; tenure; tyranny; urban educated populations; women
SAVANNAH VAN WHY: My name's Savannah van Why. I'm here with-
INDIRA RAJAGOPAL: Indira Rajagopal.
SW: In the ALS building.
SW: So what was your upbringing like?
IR: So, I was born in India and I had maybe a little unusual upbringing, becauseboth my parents were trained in science. My parents met when they were both in college and they were studying zoology and my dad went on to go into the more medically related areas of science and he ended up as director of the national institute for communicable diseases in India, which is the Indian equivalent of the CDC. My mother became a zoology professor. I was raised together with my little brother, who's a couple years younger than me, we were raised by these crazed naturalists. Any time we went out for a walk, my parents would be 00:01:00pointing out plants and birds and animals to us and teaching their scientific names, which was something they started doing. They didn't really think that you needed to know that something was called a daisy. They teach you the scientific name for pretty much anything that you encountered. It was actually a pretty nice childhood because we lived up in the mountains in Northeastern India and this was a little college town about the size of Corvallis and it was at 7,000 feet elevation and it's very different from what people think of when they think of India.
Most people think of India as being hot and muddy and the little town where Igrew up was up in the mountains and it was very green, very wet, a little bit 00:02:00like Oregon and cool because it was up in the mountains. We had plains and we had lots of mosses and ferns and it was, I'd say when I came to Oregon it felt familiar and because it was a small town and people just walked everywhere, and there were plenty of places to walk around and to get to know the flora and fauna of the place. It was just generally a delightful place. It's about 25 miles away from one of the wettest spots in the world, so we had so much rain that Oregon just seems like a desert by any comparison. It was cool and in the 00:03:00winter you would get frost and sometimes a little snow. It's kind of different from what most people think of when they think of India. Of course, 7,000 feet elevation wasn't really that high when you got mountains around you that are, many, many mountains around you that are over 20,000 feet high. That was the place that I grew up and that's where I guess I just got interested in the living world. It was all around us and like I said my parents idea of a vacation was to take us to every wildlife sanctuary that there was. Very early in my life I got to go to places where you rode on elephants and looked out for rhinos and 00:04:00sat in a little shelter up in a tree and watched for tigers and so... that was the sort of thing that my parents did for fun. My dad also, since he worked as an epidemiologist, one of the things that he did was to go to very remote areas where some of them were roadless areas, and so he had to go to all these places and collect data on the communicable diseases, particularly malaria that was very prevalent there.
I was the oldest kid and I was enthralled by what my dad was doing, and so I00:05:00begged him and sometimes got him to take me along with him when he went to these places, which were-he traveled in an old World War II Jeep and he'd take me with him and we would drive through these essentially they were trails, they weren't really roads, through the jungle. Sometimes you would have to drive through a stream and then you got out on the other side and you checked your brakes to see if they were wet and make sure everything was fine and then you got back in the Jeep and you bounced your way along the trail to wherever you were going. There were actually places where there were tribes living in the jungles. There were 00:06:00still hunter-gatherers, and we would take big sacks of potatoes and rice and things like that, because they had no access to those things in the jungle, and they would trade us for the potatoes and they would give us wild honeycombs and things like that. It was a really, really strange childhood. I learned to use a snakebite kit when I was 8 and learned to use a hunting rifle at about that same age because we went through places that had a lot of poisonous snakes or venomous snakes and a lot of predators, so if you're in tiger country you don't wander around without a firearm in your vehicle. That was extremely unusual, I 00:07:00would say, for growing up in India.
Also, because the national institute for communicable diseases that my dadworked for worked closely with the World Health Organization and so he got to travel to many places and as a result we got to travel to many different places and it was really, I think I look back on it and I think we had a lot of fun. My parents unusually for their generation were equal partners. My mother was a very strong and intelligent woman and I think that, I mean she came from a line of 00:08:00strong and intelligent women. My grandmother who was educated only at home taught herself calculus and was a considerable poet, and so she was a very feisty lady and my grandmother lived to be 101. She was lucid and interested in the world all the way to the day she died. My mother was her youngest daughter, and my mother was very energetic, very smart. She was probably the biggest influence in my life. Unfortunately, because of a childhood illness she had my 00:09:00mother had a heart condition and so when I was about 10 she got so ill she wasn't able to work anymore so she had to stay home. She was frequently in and out of the hospital which put a damper on what she was able to do, but she wrote books because she was home. One of the things that she was very passionate about was making sure that children in India who didn't know English had access to science.
This was one of those things where when I was growing up and I went to school, I00:10:00went to the sort of school where everything was taught in English. That meant of course that I had access to all the books in the world that were written in English, but in rural India, particularly, there are places where the schools don't, aren't, where you don't learn English or you learn very little English. Those kids obviously were limited in the access to books that they could read that were written about animals and plants and science and so my mother wrote books for children that were written in Indian languages so that the kids would be able to learn about these subjects, even though they couldn't speak English. That was a big passion for her, and one of the jokes that our family has is that 00:11:00when my mother was pregnant with me she was busy translating Darwin's Origin of Species, and so I was doomed from the womb to be in the biological sciences because she was so absorbed in translating Darwin when she was carrying me. That was my early childhood and eventually my family moved to New Delhi, which is the capital of India, and I attended college in New Delhi, at the University of 00:12:00Delhi, and it was, and Delhi is an enormous place. It was very different from my little town that I grew up in. but we had traveled a lot as I was growing up, so it wasn't a huge shock for me to be in a city of 7 million people. The university was very highly regarded, and I actually gotten to the place where I hadn't decided what I really wanted to do, but I knew it was something in science.
When I was in high school I really loved math. I loved physics. I really lovedchemistry. The strange thing at the time I wasn't crazy about biology. I knew a 00:13:00ton of biology because of being around my parents and because we had so many books around the house, but the biology that I was learning in high school was very uninspired and I had not, I had sort of decided that I would probably go chemistry, maybe math. It's kind of interesting how your whole life changes because of something that happens. When I was a junior in high school I got a strange viral infection of some kind and I was ill for a while and then I had to stay home and recover, and so I was in bed and my mother used to go to the library and check out books for me. she brought me piles of books and one of the 00:14:00books that she brought me was a book that had been written in the '60s about all of the discoveries that had led to the understanding that DNA was the genetic material and how that information in DNA was used to direct the synthesis of proteins, but it started from way back when, when people had no idea what the difference was between living and non-living things and it was beautifully written as a story that told you all about the people and about the ways in which gradually we came to understand that the living world was ruled by the same laws as the non-living world and so there was this book and it was called the coil of life. 00:15:00
That was one of the books that my mother picked up and brought to me. I startedreading that one morning and I read it straight through all the way to the end. I was absolutely enthralled, because the whole thing was about using chemistry to understand living things and that wasn't what we were learning in school, and I loved chemistry and I was just fascinated with the idea that you could understand the living world through chemistry and when I put that book down I knew what I was going to do, and so the thing that I wanted to do of course was biochemistry, but Delhi University did not offer an undergraduate degree in 00:16:00biochemistry and so I ended up just doubling up on biology and chemistry which turned out to be a really good thing, and so that was the start of really getting into what to this day I'm absolutely, absolutely fascinated with. That was college, and while I was in college I actually got to work in a lab for starting out making media for lab and stuff like that. Because I was almost obsessively detail oriented, the PI of the lab decided that since I made the 00:17:00media with such obsessive perfection that maybe he should allow me to do something else in the lab that would be a little bit more challenging and so I got to some experiments with what they were doing at the time, which was using plant calluses, which are undifferentiated tissues that are obtained from different parts of a plant and getting them to differentiate to form specific parts of the plant and so that was something that I got to do as an undergraduate. When I got done with college I was pretty certain that I wasn't 00:18:00done with learning about biochemistry, so I decided that I was going to get my Ph.D. in biochemistry and so I went on to apply to various Ph.D. programs, and the one that I was really interested in was at the Indian Institute of Science, which is in Bangalore and they only took 12 students, or thereabouts, 10-12 students a year and it's a graduate institute, at least it was then back in the day. There were no undergraduates there, so it was purely a research institution and to my great job I got accepted. I did my Ph.D. When I had just about finished my Ph.D., I was close to the end, I decided that I really wanted to go 00:19:00to the U.S. because that was where the best science was happening and I thought that's what I'll do. I'll go do some postdoctoral work in the U.S. As it happened, I just sent off a letter to this professor at UC San Diego who was working at the time on slime molds and the amazing thing was I thought because everyone told me that you have to apply a year ahead in order to get everything sorted out.
I wrote to him and I told him what I was interested in and that I was interested00:20:00in working with him. Back in the day when you had to get a letter from people, I got a letter from him and he said come on over. I hadn't defended my thesis. So I talked to my Ph.D. mentor and he said, well, he said you can finish it up. You can go there and you can do some work and if he'll have you before you've defended your thesis, go. I did. A year later I went back and defended my thesis. I worked at UCSD in this lab and it's a long story, but I didn't like it 00:21:00as much as I thought I would. In the meantime, and I had originally only intended to be in the U.S. for a couple of years and then go back to India, but then I ended up meeting somebody who came to the same lab at UCSD as a postdoc. It turned out that that was the person that I was going to marry. I ended up staying in the U.S., but having finished some work at UCSD I decided that I wanted to look for a different place to be and came to Oregon State. That was the beginning of a whole other part of my life. 00:22:00
UCSD was a wonderful place in terms of learning. I learned a lot, but it wasalso extremely intense, and I saw some things in the labs at UCSD that put me off of the scientific enterprise. Academic science lost its luster for me because I found that people were almost cut throat in their competitiveness and that the way that labs were run and the focus on being the first in the field no 00:23:00matter what it took really I guess it just put me off. The person that I worked with was particularly bad in that respect. He just stomped on the people that worked for him, but he was a big shot in the field so I was a little disillusioned by that and when I came to OSU it was a huge relief to find that there were people who were marvelous scientists that didn't stomp all over people and it was a much more human place and so I was really happy to be at OSU and I worked as a postdoc for a few years and it was while I was working as a 00:24:00postdoc for Chris Matthews, who was formerly the chair of the Biochemistry Department that I got my first chance to teach, and this happened because Chris was gone for a year on sabbatical to Sweden and I was his postdoc and he needed someone to teach a class that he used to teach and so he asked me if I would be willing to teach the course while he was in Sweden and I asked him if he would mind if I modified it. It was actually the biochemistry major's lab, and he said, no, go for it. Do whatever you want.
I actually got to put together a course based on some research that I was doing00:25:00in Chris's lab and turn it into a laboratory course for biochemistry majors and I taught that course. That was the first time I had really taught anything officially and teaching that course changed my life because I absolutely loved teaching. I thought, why has no one ever told me about teaching? Because all through graduate school and as a postdoc the only thing anyone ever emphasized was research. I hadn't really given much thought to teaching. When I got the chance to teach it was just amazing. I felt energized. I felt absolutely 00:26:00delighted when I was teaching and it just seemed to me like it was the thing that I was born to do. When Chris came back, he realized that I had enjoyed teaching very much and he also looked at my teaching evaluations and he said, well, it looks like that worked out pretty well for you and would you like to teach that going forward? So, I did. Pretty soon, he was asking me if I wanted to teach other classes. All this time I was still a postdoc so I was still doing research, but in a couple of years I was teaching at least one class every term. 00:27:00Every new class that I taught that was something challenging, something fun to do, and so I was having a wonderful time, except of course it was kind of stressful to be a postdoc and be teaching because I was supposed to be doing research full time.
Eventually what that led to was that the next chair of biochemistry after Chrisdecided that it was time to make this official and actually give me a position in the department that was not sort of postdoc but actually instructor. With the help of the chair of the biology program, Bob Mason, the two, so the 00:28:00biochemistry chair and biology chair got together and they created an instructional position and they made it so that I was teaching some courses for biology and some for biochemistry and so that's where I officially started being an instructor, even though I'd been teaching for almost 10 years by then. That was the start of my official OSU career as an instructor. What can I say? It's just been wonderful. I have had the chance to develop and teach classes from the 100 level all the way to graduate level, and so it's been all kinds of different challenges but very, very fun. I taught I'd say thousands and thousands and 00:29:00thousands of students over these years and there's nothing that has made me happier. It's an interesting thing, because, and I think about the way in which graduate education was structured was that I might never have found out that I would love teaching if it hadn't been for chance. If Chris hadn't been hadn't been going on sabbatical at the time, I think I would have just been doing research and maybe I would still be doing research to this day and I would never have discovered how meaningful and fulfilling teaching was.
I feel really lucky because I feel like there were so many little chances that00:30:00led me to where I am today, whether it was this random book that my mother picked up and brought to me when I was sick at home that actually got me started with curiosity about biochemistry or the fact that I got to have a chance to teach just because I happened to be Chris's postdoc. That has been my journey to being an instructor at OSU.
SW: Were there ever any classes that you taught and the main learning experienceyou got was I don't really enjoy teaching this subject? 00:31:00
IR: Only when I was a TA, not in any class I've taught at OSU. When I was a TA Ihad to teach a class on enzyme kinetics, and I had to teach it to a bunch of people who were not interested in enzyme kinetics. That's putting it mildly. These were people that had to take this class because they had to take it. It was a required class. They couldn't care less. The hated math. They hated enzyme kinetics because it involved equations, and I was too young to know what to do about it. that was a very unsatisfying experience. I felt like I didn't know how to make them care about it and I was very frustrated because I thought it was the coolest thing and they didn't care. I was also very young and I didn't know what to do about it. The classes that I've taught-I have to say at OSU I have 00:32:00had so much freedom to teach my classes any way I want. It's been absolutely wonderful because you think it'd doesn't matter. You could teach a 100 level class. It could be a 200 level class. It could be a graduate level class and nobody's peering over your shoulder trying to tell you how to do your job. They just leave you alone and you can figure out what you think is the best thing to do and you go ahead and do it. The thing is, it's kind of like, I think about it that you're trained as a scientist and teaching is a hypothesis testing. You go in there and you think I'm going to do this and it'll have this result. 00:33:00Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn't, just like in science. You take note of that and you say, well, you know what happened here. Do I have to reframe this hypothesis or did I just not do it right? What does this mean that I thought my action X was going to have result Y and it hasn't? In a way, the classroom becomes your laboratory because you're trying to figure out I have certain goals and I have certain hypothesis about how to reach those goals. Now I structure it so that I can make sense of whatever results I get. Because if I set it up right I can observe what happens and determine whether my hypothesis 00:34:00was supported or not. It's absolutely fascinating, you know? You think there is this whole business of getting people to understand things, to wrap their heads around something, and also because teaching is about more than just getting people to learn the facts, right? Because you want them to be fearless learners. You want them to be curious. You want them to be analytical. You want them to think about things. you don't want them to just sit over there like baby birds with their mouths open waiting to be fed, right?
You want them to care about learning, and to think about the implications of00:35:00what they're learning, and to ask the wrong questions. Those things are hard to figure out. How am I going to teach this? How do I create conditions where I encourage students to do these things because in a sense you can't really teach curiosity but you can encourage curiosity, right? You can encourage students to do the things that will help them develop the habits of mind that you want them to develop. It's been really interesting. It's every bit as interesting as the laboratory science, in terms of figuring out how to accomplish these things. At some level, I feel almost more rewarded by doing this because you know you're 00:36:00dealing with human beings. You're dealing with helping them acquire these skills that they are going to take out into the world and then they're going to do wonderful things and that's deeply satisfying. You feel so good about it.
SW: How much do you really enjoy inspiring people? How much do you enjoylearning how to teach?
IR: They're not really separated, Savannah, you know? That day when I was about14 when I read about DNA and how you could use chemistry to understand what was going on inside of living things. That sense of wonder has stayed with me through all the things I've learned and through all the things that are happening. Strangely enough now that I'm not doing laboratory research, I have so much more time read. I can read about all of these things that are happening and think about them. I find it's just amazing. It's just wonderful. I want other people to, I want my students to see, to get a glimpse into how amazing all of this stuff is so that they learn because they are fascinated by it. Really, you can't make somebody learn. You can provide good conditions for their learning. You can encourage them. You can guide them. But you can't make 00:37:00somebody learn. If you can get them to be excited about something, you don't have to prod them. You don't have to whack them over the head. They're learning because they want to learn, right? That part is very, very important and learning how to do that, how to get people excited. Learning how to get them excited about it in a way that will result in better learning. Because it's possible to say oh my God that's cool but not really think about anything. That's not learning. I think that learning how to teach or learning how to be effective in getting people excited about things is all of a piece. They're not separate things. In a way, I think that's true of almost anything you do, right? 00:38:00You do lots of different things that matter to you and they're all kind of interrelated in some way. There's the creativity component. There's the component of wanting to share something that you care about with other people. I think that all of it ties into, it's all part of the same thing.
SW: Speaking of students, have you seen any shift in the demographics and thesorts of students you see in your classes?
IR: A little bit. In some ways, yes. When you think about demographics, I don'tknow so much about that the demographics have changed a lot since I've been teaching because in biochemistry I actually feel like the BB [Biochemistry and 00:39:00Biophysics] department at OSU has-
It's a small major but it's always had a reasonable ratio of males to females.Over the years it's actually gotten to the point where you know it's not unusual to have slightly more women than men in each incoming class. That's not always the case, but it's pretty close to 50/50 and sometimes there's more women than men and that has, I think it's shifted a little bit in the direction of more women, but it was never terrible. The kinds of students... I think we have more diversity in terms of the classic definition of diversity as in the different 00:40:00ethnic backgrounds of the students. I think we do have more diversity now than we used to. But most of our students have always come from Oregon and maybe Oregon's getting a little bit more diverse than it used to be. Maybe that's what's reflected in what we see. I do see some differences in the sense that I feel like these are probably the result of precollege experiences that students have and the difference that I see is that more students are looking for more 00:41:00structure where when I first started teaching I could, for example I taught an honors biology class where I would just give students a great deal of freedom in what they could do and my early experiences with that class were that absolutely delighted the students. They just loved it.
But over the years what happened was I felt like more of the students werecautious about it, because they felt like they needed to know exactly what I wanted them to do. Which, really what I wanted them to do was to do what they wanted to do, right? Something that was based on their ideas rather than waiting for me to tell them, not because of anything else but that I wanted them to be unafraid to try something new. To do something where someone is not holding your 00:42:00hand and telling you every detail of everything that you need to do, but to do it and to learn something from doing it the way you decided to do it, right? You do something. You make a mistake. You learn something from it. I wanted them to learn to do that because I think it's important not to wait on somebody to tell you how to do things. There's always skills to be learned. There's techniques to be learned, but when your mindset is such that you just sit over there waiting for somebody to give you all the directions, you're not proactive. You're not coming up with your own ideas. You're not coming up with ways to assess your own ideas. I really wanted this to be a thing where you say okay I'm not going to mark you down if you make a mistake but I want you to be brave and I want you to 00:43:00step into the unknown. If you want to talk about it, I'll talk to you about it, but I want it to be your thing. I think that maybe over the years what has happened is more students are coming from precollege experiences were getting something right was more important than independent thinking. They get nervous about the whole business of doing something on their own that doesn't have a great deal of, where detailed instructions are not provided, even when you tell them, no, I'm not going to mark you down if you did it wrong. I just want you to take that step and do it. People are much more tentative about doing things when you say have at it. 00:44:00
Then they get more anxious about it and they're concerned that what if I did itwrong? What exactly do you want? Really the only thing I want is for you to try to do this by yourself so that you learn something and so that has changed a little bit and I think that's probably got to do with the way in which education, precollege education, has changed over the period, maybe it's a little bit more prescriptive and a little bit more of handholding so that you get it right rather than letting you make a mistake and learning from it.
SW: When you don't give as strong of directions as you say most students are00:45:00used to from precollege experiences?
SW: Does it seem like people in lower level courses or people who are newer tocollege are more reluctant to think independently and act independently?
IR: To some extent that's true, but I've even seen it in 300 level classes. Itcould be something quite simple. You tell people, okay we're going to have a discussion board and I want you to go discuss what we're talking about in class. You figure, well, I've given you some thoughts about how you might participate in this discussion. I say, okay you can ask questions about it. You can answer questions about it. You can add something to what we have talked about. You might post a link to something that you found that is pertinent. That's the general instructions. Used to be that the discussion board would just explode. 00:46:00People would go in there and they would be happy because they would talk about whatever we'd been discussing in class and I think there's again more caution now because I get more students asking me about, can you give us some more guidance about this? I think, well, you know I don't really know how I could give you more guidance than tell you here are some ways in which you can contribute to the conversation, and then I just want you to talk. Where I didn't have to push people, I think I'm having to push them a little more and there a little more uncomfortable doing things when they're not sure exactly how to do 00:47:00it. Which is a problem when you're learning, because if you know how to do it already why are you here? If you're going to learn something new you have to be okay with being a little uncomfortable. You have to say, okay I'm not quite sure how to do it but I'm going to do it anyway. If you're going to insist that you can only do those things that you already know how to do perfectly, well you can't make progress. You're never going to stretch yourself. This isn't like a blanket statement, but I do see a little bit more in general of caution where it seems that students are a little bit more nervous about doing something unless they know... they want to know where are the lines that I color within? It's not 00:48:00enough to just give them the crayons and say here have fun. They want to know do I have to, do you want me to, can you give me a color by number so that I know you want red over here and blue over here kind of a thing. Certainly it's not all of the students, but there is a little bit more of that tendency now than there used to be. Young people have so many pressures and I think when you've gone through high school and everybody's telling you all about how you got to do things in order to get those grades in order to go to college in order to have a life, and if you don't do all of these things exactly right you're doomed.
I can see why that would result in people being anxious. It's not really a00:49:00recipe for making people adventurous and encouraging them to have their own ideas.
SW: Have you, besides teaching, have you ever advised students?
IR: Oh yes.
SW: What's that like?
IR: Well, let's put it this way. Just like I was teaching before I wasofficially an instructor, I was an advisor before I was officially an advisor. As you know, in BB we have faculty advising students. We don't have professional advisors, and so from the very beginning when I started teaching, I was also advising, not in an official capacity but more of the mentoring students and helping them think through their choices for what they wanted to do and how to 00:50:00get there, and that I think is something that is to me, it's very intimately connected with the teaching because again you're not teaching just to get somebody to stuff a textbook into their heads, especially at the college level. You have young people who are coming in who are at that wonderful stage of life where they've just stepped out of the umbrella of their home, right? They're out on their own, for many of them for the first time and that's their first experience of adulthood and technically at 18 you're supposed to be an adult, 00:51:00but we all know that it doesn't happen overnight like that.
It's a crucial time in your life because you're trying to figure out for thefirst time on your own who am I when I'm not around my parents and all the people that I grew up with? There's also that whole piece of okay what do I want to do with my life? What am I going to do when I'm done with all this formal education? A lot of that has to be sorted out in those years that people spend in college. That makes for some turbulence because it's not always obvious which of your ideas you came up with yourself and which of your ideas were put in 00:52:00there when you were 4 years old by somebody that you were around. You have to peel away all that stuff and you have to discover what you think. You have to decide what you want to do. You have to think about what your contribution to the world's going to be. It's a very exciting time. It's very unsettled in some ways but it's very exciting. In addition to just the business of okay I'm getting a degree in biochemistry. I have to learn biochemistry, there's all this other stuff going on in the background and I think that that's something that good advising can help and I think that that ties in somewhat to the whole business of this is a... your education is not just about what you do in class. 00:53:00I have always liked the, and I've always thought that advising went hand in hand with teaching because I had the good fortune to have the sort of education, the sort of people who served as, it's based on the system that they have in Oxford and Cambridge in England which is that students are assigned to what's known as a tutor, and the tutor is the faculty member who is responsible for your development. Essentially a kind of a mentor and advisor. This person is an expert in the subject but is also responsible for bringing you along in other ways. 00:54:00
So, that I think is crucial because it's important for somebody who is a youngperson, who is in that phase of life, to have someone who's a little further along and maybe has a little more understanding of life and the world who can help them navigate that path which can be sometimes a little treacherous. Sometimes I've had students who come to me and they're in their junior year and they always thought they wanted to be premed and now they realize they don't want to do that and they don't know what to do with their lives and they're so distressed because they think I should have had all this figured out. You think, 00:55:00no you don't. There's no calendar that says if you're a junior you have to have figured out your life. The other thing is that it's alright to not know. You know it's not such a big deal. You'll figure it out. People have perfectly good lives. This is part of the thing with this generation that's been raised to believe that if you don't do everything perfectly and if you don't do everything right according to some list of some I don't know checklist that some sadist made up, that you have to do everything on that checklist and you have to do it perfectly otherwise your life will be over, that's where you can provide some perspective. You can point out that there are plenty of people who didn't know 00:56:00what they wanted to do and they turned out just fine and they had good lives. Some of them became extremely well-known and famous and successful. That's one part of it.
The other part is it's I think your academic development, or your intellectualdevelopment, is necessarily going to be linked to your development as a human being. It's important that that part of it not be neglected. It can't just be you're going to have a really good teacher and class but there's nobody to help you develop in other ways. I think depending on the individual there's different 00:57:00things that they need to be told or guided in, right? There's the ones that made great grades and they're doing great in their math and their chemistry and all of their science courses and then they resist having to take their bacc [baccalaureate] core courses, and you think, you know you're missing out. All of this is part of what it means to be a human being. Your identity is not biochemist. That's one part of your identity. You're a human being. You could enrich your life in so many ways if you would not go into this with such a bad attitude. You think about whether it's history, or it's music, or it's art, or 00:58:00it's literature and you think this is part of your heritage as a human being. You can't turn your back on that. You're just impoverishing yourself, and in some cases that what you have to help people see. In other cases, they just need some encouragement. In some cases, you need to push them to do something that they're afraid to do and think okay, if you tell me that you're terrified of public speaking maybe you should learn to get over that. Maybe you need to go slay that dragon and maybe you'll be happier for the rest of your life. There's so many things like that that you can do as an advisor.
I think that that's very much tied into helping students get the best experience00:59:00out of their college.
SW: Have you ever felt more inspired or irritated in some cases when somebody's,say, resisting taking their bacc core classes?
IR: No, not irritated so much. I just feel like that's just misguided. It's hardto be, well I think irritated is the wrong word. I think what it is is then it's a challenge for me to show this person why they should do this, because I feel like you wouldn't resist it if you understood what you stand to gain. No one has 01:00:00shown you what you stand to gain or what you stand to lose by not doing it. It's up to me to show you that and to tell you should do it for these reasons. Granted, it's a requirement, but I want people to take it as more than a requirement to understand. Just like with learning anything if you want to learn it it's a different thing. You're not just checking boxes on a list, and so I feel like that's what would be the best way to do it is to help people see that these are all things that enrich your life, that help you understand the world in ways that limiting yourself to certain disciplines is not going to do. Why 01:01:00would you want to miss out? This is your chance to go learn about those things. Saying I only want to do math and science. I'm enthusiastic about math and science, but just doing that you miss out on a lot of things. You miss out on important things. I feel at some level it's like somebody telling you they just want to eat kale. You think kale's good for you, but maybe you need something else to really nourish you besides kale.
SW: Have you ever had somebody who at first resisted bacc core classes,01:02:00especially resisted taking some specific classes they were worried about and then came back later and thanked you?
IR: Oh, yeah. It wasn't so much a bacc core class, but we had a student, she wasa great student but she was shy. Telling her you really ought to take some kind of class where you'd be forced into some kind of social interaction, which she did not wish to do. But, pushing her to do that she actually ended up signing up 01:03:00for the class and discovered that she enjoyed it. Likewise, I've had other students, a student who was again he was very, very bright and not the kind of resistance to bacc core or any of those things, but just very inwardly directed. I pushed him to go try out for the theater. One of the reasons that I think the theater is so great, is I have to tell you I absolutely love live theater.
But I think being part of it, being in a production, it gives you a chance01:04:00to-one of those chances to try on a different personality. This is one of those things that we don't realize is that the extent to which we respond to other people's expectations of us. Let's say you've grown up in a place where you have a reputation for being good at math and science, but people think that you are unlikely to participate in ice skating. People have, for some reason, maybe you in third grade you said I don't want to go ice skating and people decided you're not an ice skater. People have these mental pictures of you. They have these 01:05:00expectations of you. Savannah would never go ice skating, or Savannah is the math and science genius, right? We respond to those expectations but what that does is it limits us. When everyone says Savannah won't go ice skating, you go along with that and you don't go ice skating. Unless you're a very unusual person who says, says who? I'm going ice skating. For the most part, you have all these roles that people have decided that you fill. You're the responsible one. You're the clown. You live up to those things. There are two ways that are 01:06:00easy ways to break out of that mold that may or may not be you, because this is just a creation where everybody else expects you to do certain things because you once did that.
One way is to move away to a place where nobody knows you. Let's say you go awayto college and for once in your life you don't have a million people who know you and who all expect you will do things a certain way. Theater is the other way. You can play a character that's totally different from the way you normally are. It gives you a chance to get under the skin of someone different from yourself and to see what that feels like. What does it feel like to be a wild and crazy person if I'm normally pretty quiet and retiring. You think what does 01:07:00that feel like? That gives you a chance to try on something that you might not have tried on otherwise. Anyway, I did push this young man to try out for the theater, because I felt like he was very much in that place where he had bought into the expectations that other people had of him. I wanted him to try out what it felt like to break out of it. Because if you say everybody thinks I'm this person, I must be that person. You think, well, try something else. Maybe it'll feel like a better fit than where you're at right now. It may not, but at least 01:08:00it gives you a chance, right? At first he was aghast. No, I'd never do that. I'd never go on stage. I kind of by a combination of teasing and him and guile and various other methods, I finally got him to agree to try out for a play and he enjoyed it and it actually gave him a chance to try something out that he would never in a million years have done by himself. Then once he'd done it, it was no longer something that was outside of things I never do.
It was no longer in that box. You think the fewer things you have in that box.01:09:00The only things you should ever have in a box like that is things that might by, I don't know, dangerous to your continued existence or things that are ethically dubious, right? Other than that, there's no reason not to try things out. Granted you may not like them, but how would you really know unless you tried. 01:10:00One of my tasks I think is to prod people and say ask yourself these two questions. Am I likely to endanger my life or my health? Or, am I likely to cross some ethical boundary by doing this? If it's not either one of those, be 01:11:00curious. Try it. Try it once. If you don't like it, you never have to do it again. But don't be closed off. Human experience is very deep, rich. You think don't just put yourself in a little box and refuse to peek out of it. That's one of the fun things you can do with advising. You kind of get people out of their little self-created boundaries and say yeah go do it. You don't have to do it well. You just have to do it. Then you might decide, hey, this is kind of cool, like, someone who tries out who says I can't dance and then they take a dance class and they think oh my gosh this is amazing! How can I sign up for more? I 01:12:00think that that's important.
SW: Are there other parts of advising that you also enjoy or that you do thataren't necessarily prodding people?
IR: The way we do advising in BB is very much mentoring sort of a thing. Thatmeans that you develop with every student that you advise a relationship that is very much based on trust and me wanting to do the best for this person just as if they were my own kid. I think that that's a very... I find it very worthwhile 01:13:00to develop those relationships and to just be there as a sounding board for someone who's trying to figure out where do I want to go with my life? What do I want to do? If there's something I can do to help them get in the direction they want to go then I can do that for them. I think what makes me happy about this is, years after people graduate from OSU they go to grad school, they go to med school, they get married, they have kids, I still hear from them. They're still part of my extended family. They send me baby pictures and invite me to weddings. There's a very real sense in which you make these very long-term 01:14:00relationships with people and to me that's just priceless. I'm going in May to attend the wedding of a student who graduated here in want to say 2007. We had another student who graduated in 2008. We went to her wedding. Last year we went to her thesis defense, her Ph.D. thesis defense in Boston. She defended her thesis at Harvard and we went to attend her thesis defense.
We've gone to more weddings than we can shake a stick at because there's so manyyoung people who have gotten to that place and it's like, hey, I'm getting 01:15:00married. Please come to my wedding. In some cases, I haven't done this, but Kevin has had the, because he's given to do things like this, he's actually performed the wedding. He's been the officiant in weddings. We have a lot of people that we interacted with that are very dear to us and that we'll have long-term relationships with and I think that that's born of that interaction that we've had where we have interacted with them at that stage of their lives where they're trying to decide what do I want to do? Where do I want to go? How do I achieve these things? In some cases they're having a hard time. You think, okay, well, I'm out of money or I'm sick or there's all this crap going on with my family and I don't know how to handle it. You help them navigate that. Now 01:16:00they're gone on and they're doing great and they're doing all these important things in their lives. I think that that's very satisfying.
SW: Finally, is there anything else that you want to talk about?
IR: Well, you said you were talking to me because you were in Women's History atOSU, or Women's history class? Is that right?
IR: Okay, maybe a little bit about that aspect of it, where I would say that oneof the things that I think about is that I was born in India which is kind of 01:17:00interesting, with respect to the status of women, because there's a big gap between the kinds of things-there's essentially two countries there, where one country is the urban educated country, which is what my parents were from and then there's all the rest of India. Because I had the good fortunate to be born into the urban educated population I had all kinds of opportunities that were not and still are not available to women there. When I was growing up no one told me I couldn't do math and science. I thought that that was-I mean, hearing about that later on when I came to the U.S. that girls are told that they can't do math or science was horrifying to me. That's just because I happen to be in 01:18:00the lucky minority. Anyway coming to the U.S. I had imagined it would be very different because in India a large part of India parents still value a son over a daughter. They don't think that their daughters need to have as much education as their sons and so having seen that sort of a thing when I came to the U.S. I was convinced that things were going to be totally different. In some ways they are. They're different, I mean, I haven't actually met anyone who thinks they care about having sons more than having daughters, which is a good thing. They value their kids no matter what. I did not find the status of women to be as 01:19:00much better than India as I expected. This was in unexpected ways, because for example when I was at UC San Diego I was talking to grad students in the lab and some of them told me about being told when they were younger that girls didn't do math and science and things like that. These were people who were to my mind the equivalent of the urban educated people that I knew in India. It came as a surprise to me that anyone who was in that category would even thing that a woman could not do math or science.
Some of the other things that I saw were just the differences in which, the ways01:20:00in which men and women were sometimes regarded, even when they were getting their Ph.D.s in science, the way that the professor may interact with them or how in a lab meeting something that a female student said was not really given that much attention and when the exact same thing was said by someone else, like a male grad student, suddenly everyone was paying attention to what the student was saying even though he said exactly what the woman had said 5 minutes earlier. It's things like that you notice. The thing that surprised me most was, 01:21:00again, this is a societal issue, not a university issue, or anything, was the absolute tyranny of the expectations that American women have regarding their appearance. How it starts so early and it creeps into their brains so that there's no way to escape it if you live and breathe the air here is that you are somehow expected to be this wondrous Disney princess and that I found that many of my friends, extremely bright, extremely accomplished women could not totally 01:22:00shake this thing that had crept into their brains when they were little girls. They were very self-critical about their appearance and about their failure to live up to this mythical, I guess, this unrealistic expectation of how you were supposed to look regardless of what your other accomplishments were, regardless of what kind of person you were.
None of those things was enough unless you also had this perfect appearance.That to me was a form of tyranny that I had not encountered in India and I had not expected to find anywhere, where it was one of those things where you think 01:23:00you take your best and brightest women and you have them worrying about whether they conformed to this ridiculous ideal of some kind. Even when they don't do it in an obvious way, there are ways in which it's there embedded in their subconscious. That bothered me about the whole thing. With respect to OSU, I have to say when I first came here I was very impressed that they had a stated policy of being friendly to dual career couples, which I thought was wonderful because it's not always a given, because that says this is a place that understands that women can also have careers and that there are special challenges associated with having both members of a couple be involved in a 01:24:00challenging career. That was a very pleasant surprise for me, and although there was only one female professor in the biochemistry department when I started as a postdoc, that number has increased gradually over the years. I didn't really feel that there was-I felt like my male colleagues did not have a problem coming and asking me about things relating to the research I was doing and they relied on me for advice on things and so it wasn't that they doubted my ability to do science. 01:25:00
I do think there's a little bit of a difference in which certain tasks aredivided up among the faculty. I think that women tend to be more likely to be nominated to be on committees or to do things like advising, which take time away from some of the things that are important for promotion and tenure. I won't say that the women are doing this entirely involuntarily, but I think that 01:26:00this again speaks to that piece where women often take on things that don't directly benefit them, but it does make it that much harder for them because then they've spent time on these other activities which even if they think that these are important activities, are not going to be directly considered when they go in for promotion and tenure and things like that. There's a little bit of a tendency to offload some of those things onto the women, but I have to say that our department I feel is pretty good in that respect in terms of having a 01:27:00culture of respectfulness. I don't think people, I can't say that I've ever dealt with colleagues who in any way indicated that they thought I was less because I was female. I think that that's-and we have the most amazing students and we have lots and lots of young women who are coming into biochemistry and biophysics. I was thinking about it the other day and thinking back to over the years to the recipients of the Barry Goldwater scholarship, and it's one of the 01:28:00most prestigious national scholarships for science. The Biochemistry Department has had more Goldwater scholars than any other-as a department we've had more than any other department at OSU, but then we also have more Goldwater scholars than any other institution in the Oregon University system. But, the thing that's most remarkable is I think all but 2 I want to say of the, no 3, of the Goldwater scholars that we've had have been.
We've had amazingly accomplished young women who have graduated from this01:29:00department. It's very, I feel very good about the fact that there's this next generation of women who are going out there and they are bright, they're accomplished, they're confident and they're going to do great things and it makes me very happy. You think that we need more of them out there just so all the little girls will know I could be that person, too. It's kind of like when you go to the women's basketball games so you know that OSU has an amazing basketball team, the women's basketball team. When you go to those games we have 01:30:00season tickets and I go and even when they don't win a game one of the things that I think is so wonderful about it is that they have all these little girls who come with their parents to watch the game and they're watching the young women on this team and they're playing to win. They're playing fiercely. I think about all those little girls watching and you think this is a good thing for a little girl to see, that you can grow up to win. You can grow up and you can do what you want and you can do it fiercely and joyfully. That's something that is 01:31:00good to see.
SW: Well, thank you for taking the time for this interview.
IR: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. It was fun talking to you.