Meet a Local Scientist: December 2017

Dr. Kimberly Bell

Dr. Kimberly Bell

Where do you live?

East Northport.

Where do you work and what is your position?

I work at Stony Brook University in the Center for Excellence in Learning & Teaching (CELT). My position is Postdoctoral Associate/ STEM liaison.

Describe your work.

The main goal of my position in CELT is to help improve undergraduate STEM education by helping instructors be more effective. Some of the things I do: lead and develop workshops for faculty, postdocs, and graduate teaching assistants related to teaching and learning, organize graduate teaching assistant training, conduct teaching observations and provide feedback to instructors based on evidence from STEM education research, meet with departments, chairs and faculty to see how our center can help them, help instructors determine if a technology or education innovation is appropriate for their the classroom and if so, how to make it happen, and collaborate with STEM faculty on education/technology related grants and research projects.

Where did you go to school? Describe your path to your current position.

My path is... creative, to say the least. I always wanted to be a scientist and teacher. I did my undergraduate work at Stony Brook University, finishing with a B.S. in Psychology, minor in Biology. From there I went to the University of Massachusetts Amherst where I planned to get a PhD in Neuroscience & Behavior, until my advisor retired in my third year (oops) and I realized the program wasn't right for me, so I finished with a M.S. instead. I then worked as a lab technician at Cold Spring Harbor Lab for 4 years, doing research on fruit fly learning and memory and human and fruit fly RNA sequencing, where I developed a strong interest in genetics and molecular biology. I went back to school at Stony Brook University (again) to get my PhD in Genetics. However, during my time at UMass and CSHL I had several years of teaching experience, as a teaching assistant and as a private tutor with Kaplan Test Prep. I knew I wanted to lean my career towards teaching when I went back to school. While I was doing my dissertation research on how genes related to human cancers get activated in early development (hooray for fruit flies!), I also worked on a project related to teaching assistant training. In addition, I was taking classes offered by the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, and became very interested in Science Communication. When I finished my dissertation, I didn't want to do a research postdoctoral fellowship, I wanted to work in science communication or education. I was lucky that a position opened up while I was finishing my research, and I worked as the Alda Center's Workshop Supervisor for a year, coordinating details for 150 workshops. It was a great experience, but I knew it was time to do some more science teaching, so I joined the Undergraduate Biology Department at Stony Brook as an adjunct faculty, teaching General Genetics and Introductory Biology Lab. I started to apply for lecturer positions and was interviewing to teach Biology, when my current position- this unique postdoc opportunity- became available. It isn't a research-only position, so I get to work on many projects. So far it has been a great opportunity to further my own training, and it gives me the chance to pursue education research and teaching on a tenure-track faculty path if I want to. Right now, I don't think I will pursue research when the position ends, but apply again for full-time faculty/ lecturer positions or full-time positions in Faculty Centers at other campuses. I look forward to teaching a 1-credit seminar I developed on Science Communication next semester, it will be the first time I have been able to choose all the materials and assignments for a course.

What is the best part of your job?

The best part is seeing that I am able to help an instructor so they can be more comfortable and effective in their teaching, which of course will help their students. I have been interested for several years in getting TA training to be the norm on campus, and now it is part of my job to do so. I only started the position recently, and have been able to make some small steps.

Describe a typical day at work for you.

My position appears to be your typical office job: 9-5 Monday-Friday, in a cubicle (though rather large), but it's far from it. A typical day involves a mix of things; so far, each day has been different. I could: have meetings with coworkers about our workshops and project plans, e-mail or meet with faculty and associates on campus, conduct teaching observations, attend workshops, do research/ background reading for a project, or teach.

Why do you love science?

We all share a love for science when we are first learning about the world; observing nature, being fascinated by the moon, by leaves changing, by different types of animals, by the ocean. I never wanted to stop learning about science, so I didn't. There is fact in science, you can see it right in front of you, everywhere. Science as a whole is continual discovery and challenging what is accepted. Although there are many different ways you can be a scientist, what they all share in common is that you have to be open minded, persistent, to keep learning, and question. It's always been my way of looking at the world.

What advice would you give to people interested in a career in science?

Be persistent, if you ever have doubts, remember why you started in the first place - you love science! It is ok to not want the "traditional" career path- do different things, explore all of your interests, try something you never thought you would (I tried: improvisation for scientists). There are increasing opportunities to learn about alternative career paths including seminars and local groups on campus (such as the PhD Career Ladder Program at Stony Brook). Ask other people, in a variety of job positions, for advice.

What is your favorite scientific fact?

We have about 6 feet of DNA in each of our cells!

Tell us a bit about yourself that is not related to science.

I live in East Northport with my husband Greg and 3 cats Minerva, Samson, and Aphrodite. I like to sing in the car (and at karaoke), read, cook, make jewelry, and explore Long Island, especially if it involves a winery.

What is your favorite thing about Long Island?

The many nature preserves/trails. You get to see forests, beaches, marshes, ponds, often all in one relatively short walk.