Dr. Jackie Stewart’s academic path began right at home, graduating from the Department of Chemistry at UBC with her undergrad. Wanting to stay in chemistry but not necessarily in the department for her master’s, she went to the faculty of Forestry (still at UBC!) and did her master’s in wood science. Her research included looking at the structure of lignin in trees and how that affected their pulping capabilities - still chemistry but in a different environment, so there’s some interdisciplinary there! Many of her group members were doing more molecular biology kind of work, while Dr. Stewart would analyze things like their transgenics; they would grow trees with different genotypes and put them down before she analyzed them. After her master’s, she started teaching right away, doing teaching and learning enhancement in the chemistry department and working with faculty to improve their courses. Dr. Stewart continued on to receive her PhD in educational psychology from SFU. Currently, her research is in chemistry education. Dr. Stewart appreciates having two different degrees in different areas!
Sarah: How long have you been involved in Integrated Sciences (ISCI)?
Jackie: I’m not sure, four years?
Sarah: How do you think ISCI has changed, or have you tried to change it at all?
Jackie: It’s definitely grown, I feel like we have a lot more students now. I have not tried to change the program but I think I’ve finally figured out a little bit more about being a mentor. I think I was a really bad mentor at first, poor Rik! We would submit all these applications and he’d be like, “This person doesn’t have this and this credit” and I’d be like “Sorry I don’t know!” So I think now, I’m finally getting up to speed on like “Okay, here are the requirements” - I’m a bit better at figuring things out.
Kathleen: Is there a reason why you decided to become an Integrated Sciences mentor?
Jackie: There was no reason, and I don’t try to make students feel bad about this, but I do tell some of my students who are asking me to be a mentor, “You know we don’t get anything for doing this, like it’s just extra, so if I take a week or two to get back to you, please don’t be mad!” I like doing this, and I want to do it, but it’s usually not the highest on my priority list. And they’re like “Okay that’s fine!” So I’m not sure, I think I do it just because the programs are interesting and at the time, when I became an Integrated Sciences mentor there wasn’t anyone from Chemistry (now we have Pierre Kennepohl as well) so that was a big reason too, that Chemistry should have a presence in this program, and of course, it’s always fun talking to students and stuff.
Sarah: Have you noticed any common characteristics of someone wanting to go into ISCI?
Jackie: Well that’s an interesting question because you’re all so different, but I think what would separate, or at least be a defining feature of Integrated Sciences student, would be that they’re very driven. It does take extra work to decide what you want to do and get it approved so I think usually people have very good reasons for why they want to be in Integrated Sciences.
Sarah: What do you think is the most rewarding part of being involved in ISCI?
Jackie: When students graduate! I look at the list sometimes, and I’m like “how many since have graduated?” and it’s not very many. So graduating and getting an application through, all the rigorous process that goes through after some hard work put in by the student - I think that’s very rewarding.
Sarah: Have you ever had anyone start an Integrated Sciences program and then leave for a different program?
Jackie: I don’t think so, maybe one, but I don’t really remember - if anybody’s really left. I think some people don’t end up actually completing the application but I think once people are in, they stay in.
Kathleen: In general, do you have any advice for students who feel lost and don’t know what major to pursue?
Jackie: Yes, I think some of it does have to do with career goals, but I think some people don’t realize there’s many paths towards a particular goal, like medicine or something, so I think keep that in mind. Definitely pick what you’re interested in - finding that one thing that you really want to understand. With many students, especially those ones who are talking about the pharmacology and microbiology thing, it’s some disease they want to understand. And they’re like, “Okay, well then how am I going to go and figure this out and understand it?” Finding the one specific thing that interests you is important.
"Finding one specific thing that interests you is important."
Sarah: If you were going to advertise Integrated Sciences, who would you target and how would you do it?
Jackie: I think it’s important for all students to know this program exists. Announcements in first year and second year classes is, I think, very important. I think advertise to everyone! If we really wanted to increase our number of seats, which I’m not sure if Integrated Sciences is able, I think getting the pre-meds is always good! Then, I think, get students that want to go on and do some interdisciplinary research and become scientists. In the Faculty of Science, we want to prepare future scientists and get them ready for grad school. How to go after those students who we can guide towards the interphase of two things rather than one thing, how to find them, I’m not sure. That’s a hard one.
Sarah: What is the most unusual integrated sciences program you have seen?
Jackie: The most unusual one may be one of the coolest ones, the program is winemaking, or viticulture. It includes microbiology and immunology, some ecology and some chemistry. A winemaker uses multiple parts of science so that was really cool! Recently, a student just got his application approved for ecology and neuroscience -which, don’t seem to go together at all. The ones that aren’t your standard disciplines and can really set you up for an interesting career are really interesting.
Sarah: If a program like Integrated Sciences had been available to you, would you have taken it?
Jackie: I don’t think I would have. I picked chemistry mainly because I had a really amazing high school chemistry teacher who set me up to do chemistry from the beginning. Remembering my time at UBC, I’m not sure I would have come into contact with the people who would let me know this program existed. I was very focused on my little world, and I didn’t have a very broad view. I think for those two reasons I was pretty dead set with chemistry, and so I don’t think I would have. Not because it’s not an awesome program though!
Kathleen: Although you wouldn’t have taken ISCI yourself, have you mentored a program that you really liked or would have taken?
I think chemistry integrated with anything else I would be fine with taking. Especially the programs where students are not taking my least favourite chemistry classes! , I think some integrated sciences students feel this way, they’re like “If I integrate these things, maybe I don’t have to take that” you know “quantum chemistry class”, or things like this. Not that those aren’t really important topics but just not something that comes easy, or that people immediately see the relevance of. I think linking something between chemistry and life sciences would have been really interesting, so I could see myself doing something like that.
Sarah: Which chemistry classes were ones that you didn’t like that, and which ones did you really like?
Jackie: When I was an undergraduate, I did not really connect well with physical chemistry. To no fault of my instructors or anything like that, but I remember sitting in one class, and just staring at the chalkboard, and the instructor writing a bunch of stuff, and just saying over and over in my head, “I hate this class, I hate this class, I hate this class”.
I think the problem was, for me anyways, that some classes are taught in a very mathematical abstract way and it’s very easy not to get the concepts at all, and I didn’t seek them out. I’m sure if I would’ve gone to the instructor and said like “Why are we doing this?” they would have said something useful. I liked math, I just didn’t really like chemistry math. I just didn’t get the purpose. And so now looking back, I would’ve loved to go and take my whole undergraduate degree again, because I think I would learn way more. For example, I’m rewriting our first year chemistry right now for Chem 121, and of course, there’s quantum chemistry in that and I think this stuff is all very interesting! Ten years later, I can see the usefulness of it, but as an undergrad, I didn’t. So those were the courses that were not my favourite. I liked synthesis more, like organic and inorganic, and spectroscopy was my favourite class!
Dr. Stewart has received the Killam Teaching Award twice, as well as the Science Undergraduate Society (SUS) Teaching Excellence Award in 2010.
Sarah: How many times have you won it [the Killam teaching award], and why do you think you have?
Jackie: I’ve won twice, in I think 2006 and 2010. Since then, I’ve actually been on the committee, so I’m usually nominated for the award but I don’t accept the nomination. When I originally won in 2006, it was because the course I was teaching had not as friendly people teaching in it as me? So I really think people were just like “Oh she’s so nice! I like her! I’m going to nominate her!” I really don’t know if there was anything amazing I was doing in the classroom. At that time I lectured, and it was only my second year, I’m sure it was fine, but I don’t think I knew as much then as I do now about student thinking. I think that I was nice, friendly and enthusiastic and it was kind of like “Yay chemistry!” And then in 2010 I think I was probably moving a little more toward things like active learning and was trying to get students more engaged in the class, so that may have been a reason. They always write a little blurb about us when we win, I should dig that up and look at the reasons. I think another thing that students appreciate from my teaching is that I do think that everyone can learn organic chemistry! I think all UBC students who have least met the prerequisites have the core capability. Things happen that make some students not be able to be successful but everybody CAN be successful. And I think that comes across to my students and also, I try to be as available as possible to help them.
Sarah: Do you think that this understanding of student thinking has really helped you as a mentor? Does being a mentor come naturally, or do you have to think about it?
Jackie: I think for the chemistry stuff it came naturally and a little bit from my own experiences of not understanding, maybe some of my colleagues don’t have that experience and everything came perfectly to them and all the theory was magically in place. But for me, it was not like that. So I remember starting with certain things, “I don’t know what this is.” And so the idea that students can have misconceptions or be thinking about something in this other way that’s different than how maybe an expert would think of it is totally normal and expected to me. I think it helps in mentorship. I don’t think I contribute very much when people come to me and they have a big, clear plan, they say “I want to integrate these 2 or 3 things, what do I do?”, but I think where my mentorship really comes out is when a student doesn't really know what they want to do. I like talking through it with them and helping them realize they can make up a new discipline name or they can make this into a new thing. I help them by telling them they need it to become more concrete and empowering them to really just go and figure it out, because they can figure it out!
"Everybody CAN be successful."
Sarah: If you see a program that could be cool but they’re torn between that one and a more standard one, are you ever tempted to like lean one way?
Jackie: I don’t think I’ve ever experienced that, I would definitely lean toward the cool way though? Occasionally, I do have students come and they say, “oh I want to do chemistry and biology” and then I really try to push them into one of our existing programs. You can kind of see when a student isn’t really thinking “Integrated Sciences is definitely for me,” but they’re more like “I like a couple things, and I know I don’t want to take certain courses, maybe I’ll do Integrated Sciences!” That’s an easy way for me to say “How about Chemical Biology?” Because we have a program that is that, that fits their needs, which I think is great.
Sarah: What is chemical biology?
Jackie: Chemical biology is a joint chemistry and biology undergraduate program and there’s certain sets of core courses from each discipline. We’re rolling out a few new programs in the fall which have a Majors version of these formerly Honours only programs. Right now we have majors programs that will exist in chemistry and biology, chemistry and math, and chemistry and physics, the big advantage to them is that we’ve tailored the chemistry courses to be the ones that somebody interested in say biology, would want to take or somebody interested in math would want to take. These are great programs, not trying to take away from Integrated Sciences, but if somebody is like “Oh I kinda like these two things, but I’m not sure” these programs are a good option.
Find out more about chemical biology here: www.chem.ubc.ca/programs
Kathleen: That’s separate from combined sciences?
It’s separate from combined majors in science, which is a program where students take three topics, so three packages of courses they call them. It’s like a more structured general science, and I would say these programs I’m talking about in chemistry are a bit different because there’s only two disciplines maximum so you would be able to go a little bit deeper. I think the chemistry version of the programs I think you’d be fine to get accepted into say, a chemistry graduate program. CMS, the combined majors in science program, not so much. Because they’re just so few upper level courses that a student takes in a discipline, it’s going to kind of limit their options after, I would say.
Sarah: We were wondering about the impact you think your research has had, and what applications undergraduate students would see from it?
Jackie: Well that’s easy for me because I do research on undergraduates! So these maybe aren’t the research projects that I’m most excited about, but every year, when we do something, say in Chem 233, which a lot of undergraduates take, we attempt to evaluate it. So we might look at how students are approaching a certain topic, and what their responses are at the end of term surveys, and we make changes. So that’s more evaluation, less research I would say? But I think students would experience kind of our different guidelines for online homework, and how we set that up in the course, in terms of, percent penalties for wrong answers or how many questions we give them, and when they’re offered and things like that. Definitely in my class, I’ve used this technique using carbonless copy paper, where students will try a problem in class on this paper and they’ll hand in one version and then they’ll correct their own. Some people hate it, and it’s funny how much when I say, “we’re going to do a carbonless copy paper!” a lot of the class groans now, and they’re like “oh, we don’t want to.” But I’ve really been looking at how student’s responses change based on the first one, and their original one, and I really do think it has an impact on their motivation. Because if we didn’t have that, and I just said okay, try this problem, MANY students would sit there and wait and not think at all. That’s what I would’ve done as an undergrad. So I think having some of these things built into the class provides a little more motivation. One thing that I hope will have more impact on students soon is an online software program for students to do organic chemistry problem-solving that I’m developing. It kind of has the same correct your own mistakes feel, so I’m hoping that would have a good impact on undergrads soon.
Sarah: What big changes will you make with you online software?
Jackie: Well, I think it’s important for people to reflect on their mistakes, I really want people to stop and think of the fundamental reason why something was not right. So the program will reflect that.
Kathleen: I have a question about your education psychology stuff - in bio, in first year, we’ve been trying this flipped classroom model thing - would that work for chem, or is it different?
Jackie: Well, we’re doing that in organic chemistry as well, and we’ve done it for two terms now! But anyways, so chemistry is exploring this, not experimenting. For me, I think, as an instructor, it’s a gradual transition for me. In 2005, when I started it was mostly lecture, and then I started used clickers, and then I started using worksheets, and then some carbonless copy paper - these things in classes that break it up and make it not 100% lecture.Now we’ve gone pretty extreme in one direction where I would say we really don’t lecture at all and we do problems most of the time. I like to think, that at least in my classes, I bring that student thinking aspect, that when students are working on a particular problem on a worksheet, I can imagine what the difficulties are and we can discuss them. That’s a really important skill if you’re teaching the flipped classroom.
I’m not sure if keeping organic chemistry 100% flipped is the best way or not, I think it’s good to help students think during class but it’s always a balance with students’ time. Because if you had five flipped classes where you had to watch a 15-min video in all of them, 3 times a week, that would be really time-consuming. So I think as a university, we’re still trying to strike the balance.
So, that is a long explanation, but is it working? You know, students’ performance is very similar to what it was before. I think as a student, I would like this more, but learning is hard no matter what kind of form it comes in - right, flipped, or traditional, or a mixture. It still requires a lot of energy from the student’s point of view and the instructor’s point of view. So, yeah, there’s no magic pill. If there was for learning organic chemistry, I would give it to you and it would be amazing!
Sarah: What do you do for a thesis [in an educational psychology PhD]?
It’s a little bit different. In chemistry you would do your 4-5 years lugging it out in the lab, doing reactions every day - you have a big goal working toward either making this molecule or advancing this theory or whatnot. In education, it can be very broad. Mine was in educational psychology – I observed how students were working with their online homework and related that to some theories. You’re still trying to advance theory and you might be doing experiments but you might be just observing and understanding how people learn, so there could be lots of different kinds of research that you do.
For me, it was definitely different than being in a lab every day, because there’s a big time when you’re planning what you’re going to do for your data collection and there’s a short time when you’re collecting data. There’s a very focused data collection time and then there’s the six months of analysis, where I wasn’t interacting with the students who participated in my research anymore but I had to sift through all the data.
Sarah: Did you expect to have to do so much data sorting?
Jackie: I don’t think I fully understood how much it would be until I was doing it. I definitely have an optimistic personality where I’m like “oh that’ll be fine, that’ll be easy!”. And then sometimes I say to myself, “that was not as easy as I thought it would be”. But you trek through it anyway. So I prefer to be that way, because I still get into things and do them, but it’s still surprising in the end how difficult things are.
A huge thank you to Dr. Jackie Stewart for sitting down with us for this interview, and for being an ISCI mentor!
RECOMMENDED READS: CATEGORIES "MENTOR SPOTLIGHTS" AND "ALUMNUS INTERVIEWS"
About Me: My major is Integrated Sciences; I'm integrating physiology and psychology, and completing a minor in kinesiology. The movie 'The Imitation Game' blew my mind, and every piece done by the artist Alex Cherry is spectacular. Also, if you look up the definition of a bookworm, you'll find me.
Integrating Physiology and Neuroscience!
I like hanging out at Tower Beach but you can usually find me studying at Ponderosa even though I don't live there.