Teaching Assistant Recognized for Work with Biology Students
From cell membranes to cancer genetics, Introduction to Modern Biology covers complex material. But students in Haris Vakil’s workshop for the course learn they can count on him for help.
Students wrote in teacher evaluations that Vakil always made time to explain tough concepts despite his busy schedule as a senior applying to medical school.
In return, Vakil was honored with a UT Dallas President’s Teaching Excellence Award for a teaching assistant. He received the award during the Honors Convocation in May.
As a TA, Vakil led a weekly workshop for the course. He worked for Dr. Uma Srikanth, senior lecturer in the Department of Biological Sciences in the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. This fall, he will work as a TA for a biochemistry lab.
His students’ appreciation shows in their evaluations.
“(Haris) went above and beyond to make sure every student in his workshop section understood the material, whether it meant staying after for another 30 minutes to further explain some of the concepts clearer or break down the concepts into simple examples which made understanding the material easier,” a student wrote.
Vakil said he invited active participation in his workshop sessions.
“I would continually allow students to fill in sentences as I stressed a concept or even had group reviews to recall important facts,” he said.
Vakil, who is minoring in health care studies and expects to graduate in December, said he aspires to become a physician specializing in sports medicine.
In addition to his TA work, Vakil has been working toward that goal by serving as president in the pre-health student organization Molding Doctors.
Vakil also has worked in Dr. Sven Kroener’s Cellular and Synaptic Physiology Lab from the fall of 2012 through this summer. The lab studies the functions of the prefrontal cortex and their relation to schizophrenia and drug addiction. In 2014, he earned second place in the Undergraduate Research Poster Contest for his Characterization of Behavioral Changes in a Developmental Ketamine-Treatment Rodent Model of Schizophrenia.
Srikanth said that Vakil’s depth of understanding of biology (he got an A in Srikanth’s class) and chemistry, combined with exceptional communication and time management skills made him a successful TA.
“The way he goes about explaining even the most difficult concept, with a smile, was one of the highlights of his workshops,” Srikanth said. “The most beautiful way to explain any concept is to simplify it. Haris was able to do this and his students were very impressed. They want to follow in Haris’ footsteps. So he definitely inspired them.”
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