Loyola University Chicago

Department of Biology

F. Bryan Pickett, PhD

Associate Professor of Biology
BIOL 401:  Medical Literature & Ethics
BIOL 405:  Advanced Developmental Biology
BIOL 409: Advanced Genetics

MAMS Teaching Philosophy

My approach to teaching has evolved over the past several years as I have gotten to know individual Loyola undergraduate and MAMS students extremely well and have come to appreciate our students as a population.  One of the opportunities I have seen as a Loyola faculty member for my growth as an educator lies in the need to design courses that will educate, appeal to, and hopefully inspire a population of students with widely varying levels of experience, and even interest, in Genetics, Development and Ethics.  I try to provide a rich experience for as large a number of students as possible by de-emphasizing the, perhaps traditional, "encyclopedia of facts" approach to Genetics, Ethics and Development education and instead work to engage students in the real discipline of scientific and ethical problem solving.  The Scientific Method is a surprisingly subtle philosophical approach toward understanding man's place in the world, which depends on a level of sustained mental discipline that often lies outside of the lived experience of many young people.  It is a continuing challenge for students to gain a comprehensive enough understanding of science to begin to formulate hypotheses and then devise detailed, realistic, and effective experimental tests of those hypotheses.  To help students begin to do the hard work of applying the Scientific Method themselves, I design my lectures to include the back stories that lead to experimental hypotheses, whether the foundation of an experiment was a lifetime of work or a single fortunate observation.  I then follow with a “student accessible” description of the methodology used by individual experimenters, and a discussion of the outcome of each experiment.  With this approach I use the life and practice of individual scientists as a contextual center around which appropriate vocabulary, mathematical and statistical tools and biological principles can be introduced. 

In speaking with our students I also have noted that they often mistake Science and Medicine for "a thing done" rather than "a life lived" and so I try to help students understand both science as it is and the deep commitments by individuals that act as the foundation for its current state.  I especially enjoy discussing the little labs in Frieburg and Heidelberg studying mutations that caused fruit fly larvae to die, which resulted in the identification of genes required for fly embryogenesis.  These same genes are conserved via evolution in vertebrates and are impacted in a variety of congenital birth defects, epidermal and neural disorders and the patterning of the vertebrate and Human brain.  The incredible dedication of these fruit fly researchers to the intense and sustained study of a topic that the vast majority of people cared little for led them to uncover deep and fundamental truths about nature and medicine, and allowed them to win the Noble prize in 1995.  I feel given the belief of many of our students that breakthroughs in Human biology come only from studying humans means the case of the fruit fly, or the frog head, or the chicken limb is especially instructive regarding the inherent value of passionate pursuit, even if the target of that pursuit is somewhat obscure at the beginning.  I hope an exposure to broad types of science will encourage my students to aspire to similar levels of commitment to the things that are important to them in their own lives.

One element of the student/professor relationship that I have emphasized during my tenure at Loyola is my availability outside of class for individualized and small group instruction.  I believe that the mathematical and problem solving basis of Genetics makes this discipline a particular challenge for students, and so I provide them with numerous out of class opportunities for individual attention.  I have always maintained three to five hours of office hours a week, and have provided many students with one-hour periods each week of individualized tutoring during my time at Loyola.  However, I also take a "tough love" approach, insisting that they try homework problems themselves first, and that they show me their class notes and worked (or attempted) homework problems when we meet. 

I hope that the combination of courses built around a deep appreciation of scientific creativity, ample personal availability and my high expectations for student performance build the intellectual strength and independence of my students.  I want to help them develop the discipline, skills and determination to push past any frontier that they encounter in their own lives as tomorrow’s scientists and physicians.