38 - Optional Interview with Dr. Robert Gamache

دوره: Coursera – Learning How to Learn / درس 38

Coursera – Learning How to Learn

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38 - Optional Interview with Dr. Robert Gamache

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Dr. Robert Gamache was named by

Thomson Reuters as one of the world’s most

influential scientific minds for 2014.

He’s also currently the Associate Vice

President of

Academic Affairs, Student Affairs, and

International Relations at the

University of Massachusetts, while

simultaneously serving as a professor

in the Department of Environmental Earth

and Atmospheric Sciences.

Despite Dr. Gamache’s long experiences in

administrator, he

was also the dean of the University of

Massachusetts

School of Marine Sciences for close to a

decade,

Dr. Gamache is also clearly a very active

researcher.

Of the list of the ten most cited

publications by the University of

Massachusetts Lowell faculty

compiled in 2011, he was a coauthor on

five of the ten, including the top three

papers.

Dr. Gamache’s current work relates to the

problem of line shapes from molecules.

Ultimately, this work is important in

understanding planetary atmospheres.

In support of missions for NASA and the

European Space agency.

Professor Gamache is married to Suzanne

and

has two children, Justine and Peter, and a

very clever dog, Newton, who helps

professor

Gamache to explain Newton’s laws to his

classes.

With that, let’s begin our questions.

Dr. Gamache, I’m so glad to have you here.

And let’s start with our first question,

which is you’re bilingual in French and

English.

Can you talk a little bit about that

bilingual background and how

it might inform your learning in both the

sciences and, and overall?

Sure.

There are a few interesting points of my

study of French.

I’ve had the opportunity to work in France

often,

and early on I decided I would learn the

language.

I was in my late 30s at the time.

[COUGH] First, let me say that I’m

dyslexic and as a child I had.

Really a lot of trouble learning English,

spelling, grammar, reading.

I still have trouble reading.

I’m a little bit slower than most people,

especially with the precision needed for

reading scientific articles.

But my study of French really enforced my

learning of English.

And I’m really grateful for, for that.

In terms of learning, I use a bilingual as

an

example of why students should study every

subject every day.

When I say this to students I of, often

get a very strange looks.

And I explain that no, I’m not saying

study for six hours out of class every day

but, you should do the homework that’s

needed

and spend at least 15 minutes on every

subject.

And I use being bilingual as an example.

When I go to France, my first couple of

days I struggle to find words.

After a few days, it’s kind of smooth.

What’s interesting is when I come back to

the United States, my

first few days in the United States, I do

the same thing.

I’ll have a colleague or a student come in

my office and ask me a question.

And my mind is just racing, looking for

the English word.

Thank goodness after a few days it’s, it’s

okay.

So, why is it we can speak English without

thinking?

And, you know, the answer is that we’re

using it all the time.

So it’s just there in our brain.

So the example I used for them is if you

study chemistry every day, you, it’s right

there in your brain.

You don’t have to search for things.

The same thing with work with physics,

or biology, or psychology, or history, any

subject.

If you study it every day, it’s just there

in your

brain and you don’t have to do a lot to

recall information.

It’s just there.

You know, sometimes I think of it as

like strumming a guitar.

After you strum it, it resonates and it

continues to, to resonate and send out

the sound, and I almost think that that’s

what we’re doing with our own brains

when we’re just keeping something in mind,

we’re keeping those neurons resonating a

little bit so they don’t sort of die away

and, and go off to do other things.

So, I, I think that’s a vitally important

piece of advice.

You observe that when you first began

studying in

the Sciences, you stumbled across some

particularly effective techniques.

Can you tell us a little bit about those

techniques?

sure.

I mean, the correct word here is stumbled.

Because when I was an undergraduate, there

was not a lot of research on how

we learn, and the things I did, I just

stumbled upon them.

Now they are backed by research, and you,

you show a number

of these things in your book and I can

attest that they work.

So when I was an undergraduate I was

taking physical chemistry in my third year

and I

became fascinated with the fact that you

could

take equations, you could take simple

rules of physics.

And with that, you could derive other

equations.

And what I did is I started doing every

problem in the textbook.

At first, it was a little difficult but

with time, I

could do problems as fast as I could look

at them.

So, I noticed that problem solving in

other courses at the same time became

easier.

It was later in graduate school that I

found that

there was research and this repetition

actually hard-wires your brain.

So in my case, I hardwired my brain to

solve problems.

Precisely.

I, I think it’s almost like again, like

learning an instrument.

By practicing continuously, you can bring

those,

those parts of a melody to mind instantly,

and, and play them

and fit them together in new ways more

easily,

and that can be a very effective technique

for learning.

Can you talk a little bit about how

some of these techniques which you applied

in science?

Also can be useful in the Humanities and

the Social Sciences?

Well, yes they are.

And, you know, the interesting point is,

while I was doing

this and I was hard wiring my brain to

solve problems.

And I mention problem solving in other

disciplines became easier.

So it does spill over and, you now, this

technique is, is not unique to science.

This, this would work with any subject

matter that you would like to study.

So I, I do recommend this for my science

students and also for the non-scientists.

It’s a great strategy to develop to, to

get knowledge in a certain area.

And again, one of the big benefits is it

spills over to your other studies.

Exactly.

I think it’s very similar to the kinds

of techniques I used when I was learning

Russian.

I, I tried to do a lot of the additional

practice exercises so that I could stretch

my brain a little bit and become much

more comfortable with the things that we

were learning.

Let me ask you this now.

What kinds of techniques did you develop

to handle matters when

you found yourself getting stuck in

problem solving in your studies?

Again, I have to say my discovery was

serendipitous.

When I started at UMass Lowell, I was

entering a new field.

And the, the early, early stages of that

meant I had a lot of studying to do.

So, I would come home from a full day at

work, and I would immediately sit down at

my desk.

And start studying some more.

And often I would get stuck on, on

concepts or stuck on problems then I had

to

take a break for dinner or a few times I

had friends come over just to say hello.

And what I found was while eating dinner

and conversation,

suddenly the answer would just pop up in

my mind.

And at the time, I would run off and write

it down

like I was going to lose it if I didn’t do

it immediately.

But the gears are always turning in

the background.

My wife used to joke that I had two

brains.

Now when I get stuck, I deliberately take

a

break and try to do something just to

relax, you

know, almost thoughtless, it can be as

simply as bouncing

a tennis ball off the wall or something

like that.

After five to ten minutes, I tend to go

back to the problem with the answer.

And sometimes, I have to sleep on it.

There are many mornings when I wake up and

suddenly, I have the answer in my brain.

Isn’t that funny and, and that kind of

technique is so useful for so many

different areas.

One thing, I love that you mention your

family on your website.

It’s clear your family is very important

to you.

How do you balance your family life and

your work life?

Well, that balance has always been

important to me.

I tell my students and my post-docs that

as a

scientist involved in research, you’re a

little like a professional athlete.

Every day you have to get up, and do

something that’s

going to make you a little bit better than

the competition.

Young faculty members at research

universities

live by the mantra publish or perish.

However, this, you know, this is

tremendous pressure.

But, if you’re working all the time it

tends not to be productive.

And as I just explained that downtime can

be very beneficial.

The gears are always turning.

So being with my wife, playing with my

children, or

playing with my dogs has, has always given

me a chance

to relax my mind to refresh my mind so

that

when I do go back to work, I can be

productive.

Has this balance shifted from your early

student days?

Do you, do you have any particular advice

for

students who are at various stages in

their life’s careers?

Well, the shift from the early days to now has

been noticeable.

When I was in graduate school, I was in

two programs at the same time.

So I was basically a study machine.

And that down time with my wife and my

daughter, also

playing ice hockey in the winter, tennis

in the summer time.

That gave me a chance to, I used to say,

you know, get the steam out.

It, it refreshed me enough where I could

go

back, and the time that I spent was

productive.

Now I work as hard but, you know,

I have experience so things that, things

happen faster.

But, I do realize that the down time is

important, and now I actively seek it out.

My advice to students has been, you know,

choose

a career that you can do something that

you love.

When you love something, it’s always

easier to learn.

I’ve been really lucky in my 36 plus years

here at

UMass, where, you know, I can’t remember a

single bad day.

And I’m sure I probably had one, but I

can’t remember it.

So, you know, the key point is do

something you love, work hard at it.

But it’s important to have that down time.

That down time keeps you refreshed and you

don’t have to worry.

The gears will turn in the background.

But working all the time you get burnt out

and you

just can’t accomplish what you can when

you refresh yourself periodically.

Well, I think that’s just fabulous

advice.

And one thing I, I agree heartily with is

do something you love, but also

realize that sometimes it takes a little

longer to learn to love certain subjects.

So sometimes it’s good to be patient too.

I do have a last question for you.

How does your dog Newton help your

students to learn more effectively?

Well, I use Newton and my previous

dogs to lighten up the classroom.

A picture of Newton, you know, watching a

tennis ball fall.

I was actually going to do a video where I

dropped

an apple on his head, but my wife wouldn’t

let me.

I also have a picture that I use of a

previous

dog, Chaos, who was a 96 pound Irish Wolf

Hound mix.

Sitting at a table with an Advanced

Atmospheric Dynamics book open.

He’s got glasses on, and he’s punching

numbers into a calculator.

And then I say to my students, you know,

see, Physics

or science is so easy even a dog can do

it.

Of course, the next step is to choose

examples that can give students a real

feel

for the subject, and let them realize how

simple Physics, or science in general, can

be.

And, and that’s the real art of being a

professor.

Choosing these examples that, that make it

easy.

We have to remember, we’re not born

and that includes us, knowing these

disciplines.

science, or any other course.

so, you know, when, when we’re doing this

work we, we, we

have to lighten it up, but we have to

choose these examples.

Science is compounded by the fact

that people are very uncomfortable with

numbers.

I use an example where I, I pass tennis

balls around the class.

So the student can see, and feel, hold the

ball, then I ask

them, what size box could hold 10 732 balls

being in the United States?

I get the answer in feet, and I make it a

cube, so it’s easy, easy for

them to give me one number and, you

know, I get numbers in the hundreds of

thousands.

Seldom, do I get a number that’s below a

hundred.

You want to guess what the answer is?

[LAUGH] No, you go for it.

It’s four, it’s four feet.

And when I say that, you know, that just

drives home the point that we really don’t

know numbers.

So, using examples in the classroom where

they can really latch onto it is

important.

Because that’s what helps drive deep

learning.

That is, really the ultimate example of

the

kinds things that we’re talking about in

this course.

So Dr. Gamache, I cannot tell you how much

I

appreciate your taking the time to be with

us here today.

And thank you so very much.

You’re very welcome.

Thank you.

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