Jeffrey Tasker, Catherine and Hunter Pierson Chair in Neuroscience and Professor of Cell and Molecular Biology and 2009 Honors Professor of the Year.
How can Tulane faculty members support undergraduate research? How might these experiences with students outside the classroom connect back to their teaching? Jeffrey Tasker, the Catherine and Hunter Pierson Chair in Neuroscience and Professor of Cell and Molecular Biology, has perfected this balance between fostering student research and teaching, having supported many Honors students over the years both in the lab and in the classroom.
Professor Tasker, the 2009 Honors Professor of the Year, has worked with many Honors students during his time at Tulane. His experience differs from other professors who teach Colloquium courses or host Wall Societies, because he has mentored Honors students as research assistants in his lab and served on many Honors Thesis committees. He notes that there is high demand for lab experience in the STEM fields, as evidenced by his lab only having 4-6 undergraduates conducting research projects, and he has found that many Honors students have filled these roles from year to year. With several students working in his lab at any given time, Professor Tasker typically advises one or two senior theses each year, overseeing Honors senior Sandy Nguyen this year. He and his students are focused on analyzing the neurobiology of the stress response and how the brain changes under stress. Through working closely with motivated students, Professor Tasker is able to research these important topics that will shape the way we understand stress and its effects on the brain.
In many ways, Tasker’s experience with students in his lab connects directly back to his teaching. First, the students who work in his lab have usually taken his class already, allowing them to gain hands-on experience applying classroom knowledge in a research setting. Additionally, Professor Tasker finds that conducting this research on a daily basis informs his teaching and allows him to provide the class with relevant, concrete examples about some of the current research in a given area. Ultimately, he finds that the direct and personal interactions he has with Honors students in the lab has broader, positive implications within his large classroom settings.
Ultimately, Tasker’s experience with students at Tulane emphasizes one of the most important goals of the Honors Program: promoting undergraduate research and connecting intellectually curious students with faculty. Through his teaching and guidance, countless Honors students have benefited from research-informed teaching and hands-on experience working in academia.
All faculty interviewed recommend a book they find compelling and important.
Professor Tasker’s book recommendation is The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by neurologist Oliver Sacks. He finds that this book provides an interesting and understandable depiction of mental illness.