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Focus on the Faculty: Paula Lemons

Associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology Paula Lemons conducts research that aims to improve science education across the nation while helping students at UGA develop independence, teamwork and problem solving skills:

When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?

In 2007, during a transition in my career, I met Peggy Brickman, Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professor of Plant Biology, at a conference. She told me that UGA might be hiring a new biology education researcher. I said, “Great! Let me know what happens!” I thought I would never hear from Peggy again, but she wrote me a few months later to let me know about the search. I applied and got an interview. At the interview, I liked what I learned about UGA, and I had a charming visit with professor Dan DerVartanian, who continues to be a good friend. In particular, I was drawn to the opportunity to pursue biology education research on the tenure track alongside a fantastic group of colleagues and a well-regarded College of Education. I started my position in 2009. The move to UGA was a great decision; the opportunities continue to amaze me.

What are your favorite courses and why?

I teach two courses, and they are both my favorites. When I teach “Introductory Biochemistry,” I use case studies, and peer learning assistants help me facilitate student learning. I genuinely enjoy the content and skills we focus on in the class, and seeing students learn energizes me. Moreover, the students and I connect well, because they like science and show maturity and savvy in their approach to learning. I also teach “Laboratory Research in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.” In this course, I mentor undergraduate research assistants. Working with students as researchers, I see the diverse experiences and skill set each one brings to the lab. I am able to nurture their learning about the nature of science, primary literature, and how research is done. I get to help them develop independence, teamwork and problem solving, which are skills they can use in any profession.

What interests you about your field?

My field interests me because of the opportunity to generate new knowledge that can help solve societal problems. Many important problems are facing U.S. higher education. For example, the college-educated STEM workforce may be insufficient to meet the projected demands of the U.S. economy for jobs in areas like health care and research and development. And the diversity of the STEM workforce does not represent national diversity, resulting in a lost opportunity for innovative problem solving. Educational research can be used to address these problems. I conduct discipline-based education research. That is, I mix my deep knowledge of science, i.e., biology content and the scientific enterprise, with expertise in social science research to address important research questions. For example, why is it difficult for students to learn “non-covalent interactions”? Or, what motivates college faculty to persist in changing their teaching? Through collaboration with other discipline-based education researchers, cognitive psychologists and organizational psychologists, I can contribute to the production of new knowledge that will benefit our educational system.

Like we say, the best people. Lemons' scientific understanding and expertise in social science is producing important research and great leadership on fundamental quesitons about learning. Our faculty are more collaborative and self-critical about thier teaching effectiveness than they have likely ever been, a testament to thier commitment to learning outcomes for our students, as well as their own professionalism. It's just one of the things that makes this campus such a great place to be for everyone.

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