Erilynn Heinrichsen, Ph.D.

TA Professional Development Specialist | Center for Engaged Teaching, UC San Diego Teaching + Learning Commons

Interviews and Editing by: Alexandra Bortnick

Interview: August 2017
Transition: December 2016

1. Please list your previous department at UC San Diego and provide a brief description of the research you conducted?

As a postdoc in Dr. Gabriel Haddad’s lab, I investigated the genetic response to hypoxia adaptation and the complications that can arise from life at high altitude. One aspect of this project involved working with a gene important in hypoxia adaptation, and determining its effect on the metabolic pattern of mouse cardiomyocytes. I also studied genetic differences between those prone to or resistant to Chronic Mountain Sickness while living at high altitude, using stem cells derived from those individuals.

2. Please describe your current job profile?

Essentially, I teach teachers. I support both new and advanced graduate student instructors campus-wide—from those who are teaching for the first time to those who are preparing to teach as instructor of record at UC San Diego and in their careers. This involves developing programs and workshops to provide this pedagogical training, as well as facilitating those programs.

3. What made you decide to transition into your current position?

I have always been very interested in teaching, but always assumed it would be teaching biology. During my time in the IRACDA postdoc program, I realized how much more there was to teaching than just lecturing—and how fun it was to talk about making teaching fun and active! When I had opportunities to teach, I found myself spending hours trying to figure out how to best engage students with the material, and loving it. It was so fun to brainstorm with other instructors about simple ideas for improving their classes, and I just wished there was a job where I could teach teachers… and then there was!

As for actually making the transition to this position, it was just great timing- I had finished my postdoc funding and was already planning to adjunct teach at UC San Diego and City College. An opportunity arose to work part time with the Teaching + Learning Commons. I jumped at the chance, and was able to simultaneously gain teaching experience in Biology and develop program coordination experience in the Commons. When a full-time position opened up shortly after, I already knew I had found something I loved doing! 

4. Apart from the research you conducted, do you feel like anything in particular has helped you acquire your current position?

Throughout my grad school and postdoc years, I constantly sought out opportunities to gain teaching experience and training. As an IRACDA fellow, I participated in substantial pedagogical training through IRACDA professional development workshops, the National Academies/ HHMI Summer Institute on Undergraduate Education in Biology, and UC San Diego Center for Teaching Development workshops. I collaborated with a professor at SDSU to gain some experience in education research, and as a result was able to participate in the SABER (Biology Education Research) conference.

Beyond the training itself, by seeking out these activities I ended up immersing myself in communities of instructors that truly cared about effective and evidence-based teaching. This made a huge difference both in my own excitement and in the connections I was able to make with other educators.

The key experience that prepared me for the program development and coordination aspect of this job was my time as City Coordinator for the annual Taste of Science (formerly Pint of Science) Festival. The logistics of planning a city-wide festival, dealing with sponsorship and budgets, and managing a team of 6-8 (very awesome) organizers was actually fantastic experience in balancing multiple programs at a time!

5. Please list some of the most striking similarities and differences between your postdoc and current position?

As a postdoc, I was eager to take on opportunities to plan, such as Taste of Science—I loved dealing with the logistics and organizing with other people, and it was a welcome change from being so narrowly focused in science. Now that is the main part of my job!

Another big difference is having the chance to interact with individuals campus-wide. It has been so much fun to get to know and learn from graduate students and faculty in all different departments, from Anthropology to Structural Engineering, Biology to Visual Arts. 

6. Is there any specific challenge (during the entire process of transitioning) that you would like to highlight and, if so, how did you overcome it?

Hmm, well I’m still working on updating the work wardrobe… having to dress semi-professionally was not a regular part of grad or postdoc life. In all honesty, a big challenge has been to get over my own apprehension of not knowing enough. I know this happens in any career, and especially when you “change” fields, imposter syndrome is a very real thing. That being said, I keep focusing on the successes- the grad students who have improved as instructors by taking my classes- and the incredible opportunity I have to be developing further in a dream job that I didn’t even know existed.

7. Please describe your goals and ambitions for the next 5 years?

Create a crazy awesome program for IAs/TAs here at UC San Diego—so many plans and ambitions to improve the training opportunities, and make the CET the “go to” place for grad students who want to (or need to) teach!

8. What do you feel you could have done more, as a postdoc, to help prepare you for or acquire your current position?

I would have loved to have taken some classes in Education Studies. It wouldn’t have made sense at the time, without knowing this would be my path, but hindsight is 20/20.

9. What do you feel is the most important advice you can give to a current UCSD postdoc in order for them to obtain a position such as yours?

General advice: If you’re enjoying what you’re doing and the people you are around—keep pursuing that! Whether it’s research, teaching, outreach, business, or something completely unrelated—you never know what could develop from that interest. Seek out opportunities and get involved with activities that will allow you to develop additional skills (and perhaps new interests)… and build connections/learn from all the individuals you interact with.

Specific to my position: (see above, but hopefully the interests are related to education, teaching and program development/coordination experiences!) Also, say yes if you get a chance to teach or be involved in teaching development!

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