ARCHIVED: Future of Teaching: Meet Our Newly Tenured Faculty
Courses Taught: Analytical Dynamics; Astronomy; Electricity and Magnetism; Introduction to Electromagnetism, Light and Modern Physics (General Physics without Calculus); Introduction to Mechanics; Quantum Mechanics; Crazy Ideas in Physics and Rocket Science
Extracurricular activities: Gardening, writing short stories
Most recent book read: Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
“I can’t think of another place where I would have been in the mainstream in terms of both teaching and research. There are places where I could have done the same amount of research, but not as much curriculum development. One of my colleagues started having students help him research the relationship between math, literature and culture for eventual inclusion into a textbook. Seeing that made me realize there is a broader definition of scholarship. There’s no textbook in my field, so I realized I could write one. The working title is XAFS for Everyone. XAFS stands for X-ray absorption fine structure.
“My research in XAFS is very collaborative. I tell people what things are made of. A typical collaboration with a chemist, for example, begins after they have tried to synthesize a new cancer treatment. They come to me and I try to verify that they have made what they think they’ve made.
“I like the idea of having students do things that are real and individual and then communicate their work to the world. At Sarah Lawrence we had plenty of opportunities for students to do individual work, but we didn’t have so many structures for communicating to the world. I thought, students are already doing the conference projects, they just need a forum to share them. So I started the Science Poster Sessions. First it was just for students from my classes, but now it has grown to involve all the sciences, as well as some psychology students and all of the students from the graduate program in human genetics. Now over 100 students participate. I would say it is one of the premier academic events on campus.”
Courses Taught: Graduate and Undergraduate Fiction Workshops; Craft of Fiction
Extracurricular activities: Spending time with his wife, kids, and their golden retriever; watching movies; playing racquetball
Most recent books read: The Art of Time in Fiction by Joan Silber; Cost by Roxana Robinson; The Spare Room by Helen Garner; and Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower
“I take teaching very seriously. You don’t do it if you don’t like it. There are other ways to make a living. I try to write in the morning and get my writing done early. It’s not a bad schedule in terms of finding time to write, but you have to be disciplined. I’m working on a new book right now, tentatively titled, The World Without You. I’m writing this book from multiple perspectives and I have to avoid letting the cart lead the horse. You don’t want the story’s themes to lead the story. A lot of these things come up frequently in my students’ works and I can intercept them in my own writing because I’ve helped students work through them.
“One thing I’ve noticed among some of my grad students is a tendency to over-foreshadow. Flannery O’Connor said a great ending should feel inevitable and yet still surprise the reader. When the writing is under-confident, there can be too much popcorn along the trail and at the end you’re not surprised. It’s better for the reader not to notice the popcorn until the end.”
Courses taught: “Poetry and the Graphic Novel,” "Expanding the Poetic Toolbox," graduate and undergraduate poetry workshops
Extracurricular activities: Photography, going to museums, hanging out with her cat, walking in Prospect Park, and watching tennis
Most recent book read: Notes from No Man’s Land by Eula Biss
“What’s lovely about Sarah Lawrence is you can teach classes about what you’re interested in, in that moment. It’s not a fossilized, static scenario where you’ve learned the subject matter and now you’re teaching it; often you’re learning along with the students.
“Sometimes we have too narrow vision of what a poem is and what it should do. If a student is only writing first-person poems about their personal experience, I'll suggest that they write a fable, a poem in the voice of Dick Cheney, or that they experiment with a hybrid form—an architecture poem or dance poem.
“I like people to feel a kind of flexibility. I want that for myself, and I want it for my students, so they feel like there isn’t anything they can’t write about. Whenever there’s something I feel I could never write about, then I think, That’s clearly an assignment for myself. I try to make myself as uncomfortable as possible.”
Courses Taught: Jewish Spirituality and Culture; Kabbalah, Hasidism and Jewish Enlightenment; Modern Jewish History; The Holocaust; Jewish Life in Eastern Europe
Extracurricular activities: Writing songs and playing acoustic guitar and piano.
Most recent book read: The Return of Martin Guerre, a historical novel by Natalie Zemon Davis. Now he’s working on Moby Dick.
“It turns out Sarah Lawrence is the most difficult place to teach in the world, because you’re trying to have a two-hour conversation, not a lecture. When I first got here I consulted with senior faculty both inside and outside my department and got fantastic ideas on how to run things without running things. How to let people talk about what they read, but still guide the discussion. Religion and ethnic tension and genocide are conversations that are sometimes hard to control, and yet when students are tired toward the end of the semester you also want to try to provoke.
“I also got the sense from my mentors here that you could really make teaching important, central to your work. You can think about teaching not just in terms of how to present an idea, but how to explore the material along with students. I had to learn how to make teaching and research part of the same thing.
“It’s very difficult to balance teaching and your own research and writing. Some very inspiring faculty members showed me that it could be done, that they could be part of the same process. Having these more experienced colleagues made all the difference.”