I recently served on my first faculty search committee. It’s been an interesting experience and I hope to be able to collect my thoughts and write more about the whole experience at a later time. But one aspect of serving on a faculty search committee that I’ll share for now is that it involves reading lots of teaching statements from candidates.
With the recent rise of accessible artificial intelligence text-generation tools, I had been disappointed by how many of these candidate teaching statements read as if they were AI-generated. There was a vacuousness to many of them. At some point I began questioning my own ability to distinguish between AI-generated and human-generated content.
It wasn’t until I happened upon a real, heartfelt teaching statement from a current faculty Kwame Kutten that I realized what many of these candidate teaching statements were missing. There was a humanness to Kwame’s teaching statement that explicated not only his pedagogical approaches with substantive examples but also his motives, his hopes, and his dreams for his students. I was so moved by his teaching statement, I decided to rewrite my own teaching statement and also make an artistic interpretation of my teaching statement via this video.
“In front of my computer, I teach. As a computational biologist, I teach machine learning algorithms to address challenges in biological data analysis. To accomplish this, I provide well-curated datasets to be trained and define explicit error functions to be minimized. I have already decided on the goals, approaches, and criteria of success; I have already done the thinking. The machine that I am teaching simply needs to obey and execute the set of actions I have already prescribed.
In front of my classroom, I also teach. I teach biomedical engineering. But my teaching here must be different because I am no longer teaching machines; I am teaching people. Unlike machines, people must be able to decide on goals, approaches, and criteria of success for themselves; people must be able to do the thinking. And when the occasion arises, people must be able to think and to decide to disobey and execute a different set of actions according to their own judgement, principles, and values.
I hope that the students I teach will learn to set their own goals that they believe are worth pursuing. And I hope that what I teach in the classroom will help enable them to devise the necessary approaches and gather the appropriate resources to pursue these goals more effectively. I hope that they will be brave in defining their own criteria of success.
Ultimately, unlike the machines I teach, I hope that the students I teach will be able to create new things that have never been created before. I hope that they will create new medicines, new technologies, and new ways of positively impacting our lives. And I hope that, much like I feel a sense of responsibility for what I teach them, they will feel a sense of responsibility for using the skills that they’ve learned towards creating things to the benefit of all of us.”