TA Spotlight – Tessa Blanchard

Photo source: Tessa Blanchard

My name is Tessa Blanchard, and I am from a small town in southern Ontario – Welland! I completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Ottawa where I received my BSc in Biology with specialization in animal physiology. I completed my MSc at the University of Guelph where I studied the respiratory system of amphibious fishes.

I am currently a fifth year PhD Candidate in the Schulte lab in the department of Zoology. For my thesis, I am interested in understanding how fishes utilize plasticity from a physiological, transcriptomic and epigenomic perspective to cope with warmer temperatures during early development.

I have had the opportunity to TA two courses at UBC – I have TA’d BIOL260 for 2 semesters and I have TA’d BIOL342 for 7 semesters, where I’m now a senior TA. This course has recently taken an ungraded format, which has been a great educational journey.

What do you most enjoy about being a TA?

I think what I enjoy the most about being a TA is being able to help my students. I am very passionate about biology, and I really enjoy helping students find their own passion. I also enjoy helping students develop their own understanding. When a student is struggling with a problem and we sit down and work through the problem together, it’s that moment when it finally clicks for them that I find very rewarding. It is my job to guide the students and I am determined to do as much as I can to help students succeed.

What has been a TA brought to your graduate studies experience?

I think TAing has enhanced my graduate studies experience in many ways. As graduate students, most of our time is spent writing or conducting experiments, so being able to TA is a nice change of pace. It is something I look forward to every week and something that I really enjoy doing. It has also made me realize that teaching is the career path I want to pursue, so every teaching opportunity I get is a learning experience that is helping me to become a better instructor.

What has been an interesting outcome of your TA experience?

Recently, I was introduced to the concept of ungrading. Last year, the course I TA’d (Biol342) decided to pursue the alternative grading route and introduce ungrading to the course. In an ungraded classroom, students are provided lots of critical feedback for their work rather than grades and they decide their own grade at the end of the term. This has impacted me in different ways as an instructor. It has changed my perception of learning and has led me to realize that you don’t always need a grade. Sometimes students just need to learn from their mistakes and improve on them through feedback, and this can be facilitated by having a space where they can learn without the worry of grades.

It has also changed relationship with students. Rather than seeing me as someone who may penalize them with a grade, I am now seen as instructor who is there to guide them in the right direction, provide feedback when necessary and help them to continue to grow and learn in the classroom. I think that has been a very interesting but positive outcome of my TA experience.

What opportunities relating to teaching and learning have you been a part of?

One thing I really enjoy about UBC is all the teaching and learning opportunities they offer to graduate students. I have had the opportunity to complete the Instructional Skills Workshop (ISW) through CTLT and Foundations of Pedagogy course through CIRTL. Both courses have really helped me improve on my teaching skills and reflect on what it truly means to be a good instructor. I am currently enrolled in the Certificate Program in Advanced Learning and Teaching (CATL), which is a 1.5-year program that I think will really take my teaching skills and knowledge to a whole new level. I will also have the opportunity to conduct a small research project. It will be really interesting to dive into the world of research on pedagogy. I was also awarded honorary mention for the Biology 2022 Teaching Award.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Most of my research has required raising hundreds of baby fish and it takes up a lot of my time to care for them. However, in my spare time I enjoy exploring what Vancouver and the surrounding areas have to offer. I try to get out to hike as much as I can and I enjoy spending some weekend camping in various parts of BC. During the rainy seasons, I like to spend my time baking various treats!

Engaging in research field work

What are your plans following graduation?

If all goes as planned, I would love to complete a post-doc in the field of Science Teaching and Learning. I am very passionate about teaching and finding new ways that we can improve on the quality of undergraduate teaching/learning in the field of STEM. After my post-doc, I would love to get a job as either a lecturer, a professor of teaching or even an undergraduate laboratory coordinator. My dream job would be to teach undergraduate students about science and help reduce barriers that students currently face in the field of STEM.

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