Fellowship funds research-enriched teaching experience

This semester, post-doctoral fellow Eric Eyolfson (Christie Lab; pictured) is teaching the undergraduate course MEDS 410 thanks to a President’s Fellowship in Research-Enriched Teaching from the University of Victoria (UVic).

This fellowship offers UVic PhD students and postdoctoral fellows the opportunity to integrate research and teaching. The impact of this award is two-fold. Not only does it help better prepare individuals for careers that involve teaching, but it provides undergraduate students at the university access to enriched research-focused learning experiences.

As the Spring semester comes to an end, we sat down with Eric to learn more about his course and his passion for teaching.


Eric EyolfsonCan you tell us a little bit about the course you’re currently teaching?

The course is MEDS 410: Functional Human Neuroanatomy, and it explores how brain damage affects various cognitive, behavioural, and affective processes.


The fellowship you received is specifically for research-enriched teaching. Could you tell us how you are integrating your research into your course?

Integrating my research into my teaching style takes advantage of the many benefits of research-enriched teaching. This allows me to impart first-hand knowledge and hopefully inspire students to pursue careers in my field of neurotrauma. However, neuroscience is quite a broad field, and UVic is home to a number of world-class researchers with multi-disciplinary interests, which I cover in my course. Incorporating broader concepts will introduce students with diverse scientific interests to new areas of neuroscience that they can further explore. I believe it is essential as an instructor to utilize these resources to enhance the accessibility of research for students.

The other aspect of research-enriched teaching is having the students learn through active participation. Sure, I could lecture for three hours a week about different aspects of neuroanatomy, but that sounds painful for students and myself. Through small-group and class discussions, my goal is to have students learn material at their own pace and in their own way.


Is this your first teaching experience?

My teaching journey I began during my PhD when, through the psychology department, I was afforded the opportunity to become a teaching assistant. After being a TA for a couple semesters (and post candidacy) I applied to become a sessional instructor and was able to teach a  fourth-year psychology course on adolescence. I rounded out the final year of my PhD with two other psychology courses, Developmental Psychology and Human Neuropsychology. When I came to UVic for my current postdoctoral fellowship I wanted to continue developing as an instructor, so I reached out to the psychology department. They were in need of a sessional instructor, and I am thankful they gave me the chance to teach three additional courses, Human Neuropsychology (which I taught twice) and Introduction to Mind and Brain.


How did you get interested in teaching, and what inspired you to apply for the fellowship?

My interest in teaching initially began somewhat selfishly as a means to enhance my CV for future academic pursuits. However, as I am now teaching my seventh course, I think this transcends CV-building and has become a genuine passion. I was also inspired by both of my sisters, who are elementary school teachers in Calgary. The interest in applying for the fellowship stemmed from a previous trainee of Dr. Christie, who had gone through this process a few years ago. I saw this as a valuable opportunity to expand my teaching repertoire, explore innovative engagement strategies, and move beyond conventional lecture formats as a means to enhance my effectiveness as an educator. 


How has the teaching experience been so far? Could you see yourself continuing in the future?

So far, I believe the teaching experience has gone well. In the past I found it difficult to balance conducting research, writing papers, and teaching. (And this new course has an added layer of difficulty: parenthood!). I experimented with a few different teaching methods and the results were pretty hit-or-miss. However, I believe it is only through those experiences that I was able to develop and make this current course the best experience possible for the students.

I do believe this is something I can see myself continuing in the future. I have an idealistic view of education and teaching whereby I believe that there is an inherent value in learning. The diversification of beliefs, opinions, and ideologies that are obtained by education are priceless. Yet, I also understand that the majority of people now view post-secondary education as a means to a better, higher-paying job. I feel that my role as an instructor is to provide students with the skills they need to be successful in the course and their future occupation while also engaging and exciting them.