38 - Optional Interview with Dr. Robert Gamacheدوره: Coursera – Learning How to Learn / درس 38
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
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
was also the dean of the University of
School of Marine Sciences for close to a
Dr. Gamache is also clearly a very active
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
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
has two children, Justine and Peter, and a
very clever dog, Newton, who helps
Gamache to explain Newton’s laws to his
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
Can you talk a little bit about that
bilingual background and how
it might inform your learning in both the
sciences and, and overall?
There are a few interesting points of my
study of French.
I’ve had the opportunity to work in France
and early on I decided I would learn the
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
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
and spend at least 15 minutes on every
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
So, why is it we can speak English without
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
If you study it every day, it’s just there
brain and you don’t have to do a lot to
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
the Sciences, you stumbled across some
particularly effective techniques.
Can you tell us a little bit about those
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
became fascinated with the fact that you
take equations, you could take simple
rules of physics.
And with that, you could derive other
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
So, I noticed that problem solving in
other courses at the same time became
It was later in graduate school that I
there was research and this repetition
actually hard-wires your brain.
So in my case, I hardwired my brain to
I, I think it’s almost like again, like
learning an instrument.
By practicing continuously, you can bring
those parts of a melody to mind instantly,
and, and play them
and fit them together in new ways more
and that can be a very effective technique
Can you talk a little bit about how
some of these techniques which you applied
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
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.
I think it’s very similar to the kinds
of techniques I used when I was learning
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
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
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
And start studying some more.
And often I would get stuck on, on
concepts or stuck on problems then I had
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
suddenly the answer would just pop up in
And at the time, I would run off and write
like I was going to lose it if I didn’t do
But the gears are always turning in
My wife used to joke that I had two
Now when I get stuck, I deliberately take
break and try to do something just to
know, almost thoughtless, it can be as
simply as bouncing
a tennis ball off the wall or something
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
One thing, I love that you mention your
family on your website.
It’s clear your family is very important
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
scientist involved in research, you’re a
little like a professional athlete.
Every day you have to get up, and do
going to make you a little bit better than
Young faculty members at research
live by the mantra publish or perish.
However, this, you know, this is
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
playing with my dogs has, has always given
me a chance
to relax my mind to refresh my mind so
when I do go back to work, I can be
Has this balance shifted from your early
Do you, do you have any particular advice
students who are at various stages in
their life’s careers?
Well, the shift from the early days to now has
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
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
back, and the time that I spent was
Now I work as hard but, you know,
I have experience so things that, things
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,
a career that you can do something that
When you love something, it’s always
easier to learn.
I’ve been really lucky in my 36 plus years
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
just can’t accomplish what you can when
you refresh yourself periodically.
Well, I think that’s just fabulous
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
an apple on his head, but my wife wouldn’t
I also have a picture that I use of a
dog, Chaos, who was a 96 pound Irish Wolf
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,
or science is so easy even a dog can do
Of course, the next step is to choose
examples that can give students a real
for the subject, and let them realize how
simple Physics, or science in general, can
And, and that’s the real art of being a
Choosing these examples that, that make it
We have to remember, we’re not born
and that includes us, knowing these
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
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
Seldom, do I get a number that’s below a
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
So, using examples in the classroom where
they can really latch onto it is
Because that’s what helps drive deep
That is, really the ultimate example of
kinds things that we’re talking about in
So Dr. Gamache, I cannot tell you how much
appreciate your taking the time to be with
us here today.
And thank you so very much.
You’re very welcome.
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