Assistant Professor of Science (Environmental Studies)
What is special about teaching at Yale-NUS?
Sheridan: The enthusiasm of the students! I think everyone probably says this, but it’s true. I have been fortunate to have the majority of my student groups be very engaged and dedicated, but it really does seem like that is the norm here, rather than the exception. I try to cultivate that enthusiasm as much as possible, but ultimately it comes from the students themselves.
How would you describe your teaching style?
Sheridan: I like to think that it is interactive. I encourage students to ask questions, and I try to get them out and about as much as possible, in ways that relate to our subject. I personally learn well when there is some sort of hands-on element, whether it is conducting an experiment, collecting data in the field, or presenting to my peers. I try to incorporate that into my classes where I can. This semester my students have started the Yale-NUS Farm, and are continuing a camera trapping project in various forests around Singapore that their peers started last year. I like having the accumulated data available to the students (thanks to our great IT team!) so they can see what they are helping to create.
Can you recall a moment when you knew your class was going well?
Sheridan: Any time that students are asking a lot of questions, I feel like it is going well. Some students are just shy and don’t like to speak up, but I’ve been fortunate to have some groups that ask engaging and challenging questions. When they ask questions I don’t know the answers to, it’s a double-edged sword–I wish I already knew the answer, but I love that they are asking questions that push the limits of my knowledge, or that they are causing me to think about the subject in ways I hadn’t previously considered.
What have been some of your best moments teaching at Yale-NUS?
Sheridan: Any time I get students into the forest or out into nature in any way it is great for me. It’s just an endless learning experience, because everything is new to them, from basic taxonomy to ecological theory to evolutionary history. I love getting students to see how all these different fields come together.
One of the top experiences I’ve had at Yale-NUS came right after I arrived. I started here in July 2014, and less than two weeks after moving to Singapore, I was leading a summer LAB in Spain with 8 students. It was my first interaction with any Yale-NUS students, so I didn’t really know what to expect, but they did me proud every step of the way. They were focused and attentive and curious and wonderfully pleasant to be around at all times, and every one of my Spanish colleagues commented to me how impressed they were by our students’ questions. They worked exceptionally well together as a group, and really looked out for each other. To really get across how great they were, I tell people about the worst thing that happened on the trip: I had to tell the students (one time) to be on time for things–and after that they were never late again. From the perspective of teaching, especially in a foreign country with undergraduates who just finished their first year of college, having that as your “worst” problem is something that would make any professor proud.
What is the biggest challenge in regards to teaching?
Sheridan: Trying to continually engage students. Sometimes students just don’t enjoy the subject, or their other classes may be really demanding, or they may be struggling with things that we as professors are unaware of, but I think all professors really want to have that enthusiasm and engagement with every single student. When it isn’t there, we try to figure out ways to get it.
What do you wish you knew about teaching when you started that you know now?
Sheridan: That grading takes up so much time! An important part of teaching involves regularly assessing students and giving them feedback from which they can learn and grow–and thoughtful input on exam/quiz answers, and on their writing assignments, is very time-consuming. When planning for my courses, I need to remember it’s not just about class time, and prepping lectures/exercises/exams, I also need to budget time for giving constructive feedback. It’s something that I’m still learning to accurately budget time-wise, but obviously feel is an integral part of teaching.