Spotlight on Faculty: Judith Saide

Dr. Judith Saidefor wesiteWinner of the 2011 GMS Educator of the Year Award, Dr. Judith Saide continually inspires students with her passion for graduate education. The award is based on student recommendations from all of the GMS programs. Dr. Saide has been nominated for several years during her career at BUMC, consistently meeting and surpassing the GMS standards for excellent teaching. Learn about the involvement of an exceptional educator from the caring, modest, and warm GMS Educator of the Year.

Q. Can you tell us a little bit about your career here at BUMC?

I’ve been at BUMC for over 30 years. I had been involved in both research and teaching for many years, but more recently I’ve been primarily focused on teaching. I teach medical physiology for graduate, medical and dental students. I became the course director in 2005 for medical physiology. I love the environment here; my colleagues are great, as are the students.

Q. What is your favorite aspect of teaching?

I particularly like discussion sessions. These allow interactions with the students that help you get to know them better on a more personal and academic level. Discussion sessions are more relaxed and a less formal environment than the lecture hall. One of the most satisfying aspects of teaching for me is the one-on-one work with students who are struggling with course material. Having them reach that eureka moment when they finally “get it” is very rewarding for me.

Q. What do you think is most important in being a great educator?

You must have the ability to have clarity in your explanations and you must be able to answers students’ questions in a clear manner that helps them understand the material in a new way. Also, you must have the capacity to engage students in the classroom. It is important to create a non-threatening environment. Teaching means encouraging students to ask questions, and that will only happen in an environment where they feel safe.  They should not be afraid to raise their hands. Finally, enthusiasm about the subject you’re teaching is critical. I am awed by the human body and how it works, so I find it easy and rewarding to teach Physiology with enthusiasm.  Because of ongoing research, the field stays interesting because it is constantly evolving.

Q. You said it is important to engage students, how do you do that?

You engage students by asking them questions. Start with less complex questions so students feel encouraged to participate. These questions help an educator gauge how well the students understand the material. All educators need to be invested in the students’ understanding of the material. Student participation depends on the dynamic of the class, which changes with each new group in a classroom. Participation of one or two active students can be contagious. But it also depends on the professor. The professor should be open to students who are confused and should not to be intimidating to the students, and that is not always easy.  I don’t consider myself at all intimidating, but I’ve discovered that I can be perceived that way!

Q. What have you learned about teaching?

The more you teach, the more you can recognize where and when students are struggling with the material. Although, new teachers have an advantage to succeed at this as well, since they have recently been in the students’ shoes as learners and know the areas that need special attention.

Q. What do you think you do that has contributed to your nominations and receiving this award?

I’m not sure exactly. I have heard from students that they appreciate that I am clear in my explanations of topics. I also use vignettes to emphasize the importance of understanding the basics, and I care about doing a good job. I also love what I teach, and I’m invested in my students’ success.

Q. What advice would you give to other educators?

Be aware of your audience and make eye contact. I like to use the chalkboard rather than power point presentations in my lectures. It helps you pace the lecture and interact with the students. For new teachers and even more experienced faculty, confidence can be an issue before a lecture. I try to remind myself that I have something to offer the students. Finally, science information is exploding, and that puts a huge burden on students who are expected to learn more every year.  The challenge for teachers is to cull the information, emphasize what is fundamental, and not overburden students with facts. Information overload saps a student’s joy of learning.  I think if we teach less, students will learn more, and they’ll have the tools to search out what they need to know.

Q. And what about advice to your students?

I would encourage students to try to learn a subject to empower themselves, not just to pass the next exam.  That can be difficult because students are overwhelmed with material and are usually in survival mode.  But if they take control of their own education, by being active rather than passive learners, passing exams shouldn’t be a problem.  I advise students to study material as if they had to enter a classroom and teach it.  Thinking about explaining concepts to someone else is an excellent way for a student to find the holes in their own understanding. It encourages them to actively search out answers.  One way to do that is for students to spend some time working together in groups asking and answering each other’s questions.

Another way, of course, is for them to ask questions in class or search out faculty.  Students are often hesitant to do that, because of concerns about what a faculty member, or worse, their classmates might think of them.  I have the greatest respect, though, for students who are trying to learn and are willing to make themselves vulnerable by admitting they are not following an explanation in class.  That forces an instructor to rework that explanation, and everyone benefits.

Congratulations again to Dr. Saide on a well deserved award. It is educators like her that make a difference on students’ academic success.

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