Pallavi Sirjoosingh: Winner, Principal’s Prize for Teaching Excellence (Faculty Lecturer)
A packed Leacock 132 can be an intimidating place when you’re down in front and looking back up at more than 600 undergrads about to study university-level chemistry for the first time.
It’s exactly where Pallavi Sirjoosingh wants to be.
The young faculty lecturer, who just won a Principal’s Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Faculty Lecturer category, is passionate about teaching, more interested in sharing knowledge with fresh-faced students than pursuing research into her own interests, which happen to be timely in a pandemic era: the study of RNA enzymes, the building blocks of COVID-19 vaccines.
“I really enjoyed my time teaching,” she says of her experience as a teaching assistant pursuing her PhD at Penn State University. “I was better at teaching, and I enjoyed my time outside the lab more than I did inside the lab.”
Feeding off the excitement
Teaching introductory chemistry, some of the biggest classes at McGill, she’s in her element.
“What I really, really like is that, apart from the content or whatever I’m going to teach, the students are so excited, it’s the first day of Fall and there’s just this buzz in the room,” Sirjoosingh says. “And I don’t know how to not be excited when I’m in that classroom. They are so excited to learn.
“I remember how I felt when I was an undergrad in my first year and just starting out and feeling all this excitement about learning, about being in a new place and about all these new avenues … I really enjoy that aspect of teaching, and that keeps me motivated.”
The content of introductory chemistry doesn’t really change. This is the foundational stuff, the basic chemistry anyone who wants to pursue more esoteric research later has to absorb first. Does teaching the same material over and over again get stale after a while?
Not so, Sirjoosingh says. “Every time I go into a class, and this happens every single semester, there will be questions I’ve never been asked before. And it’s so good. It’s like something new that I’ll think of, or a student will bring up something that is slightly outside the course, but related, but I’ve never made that connection before, and now I can. I really enjoy that, because it’s different every single time, even though I’m teaching the same content.”
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