2012 Life Technologies Education Award: Gareth Denyer

School of Molecular Bioscience, University of Sydney

I'd like to describe my career with reference to those who have provided inspiration and guidance along the way. In doing so, I can also give an insight into how my own teaching philosophy has been shaped.

In 1980, I was lucky enough to win a place at Oxford to study Biochemistry. Initially I struggled, particularly with calculations in practical classes, but a kind tutor from the antipodes, Dr Greg Cooney, built my confidence in the fundamental concepts through patient and clear explanations. Greg continues to be a mentor, but his skill at creating ‘light bulb' moments encapsulates what I aspire to as a teacher.

By 1987, I had completed my DPhil with Professor Sir Philip Randle (working on the phosphorylation of pyruvate dehydrogenase) and was offered a postdoctoral position in Sydney by Professor Ian Caterson, where I also got to work with Professor Len Storlien and learn the euglycemic clamp technique which sustained my research into insulin sensitivity for a decade. Over the last 25 years, Ian has presented me with diverse opportunities, most notably creating the nutritional analysis tools that were part of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.

In 1990, I was offered a lectureship in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Sydney and quickly found teaching the most enjoyable and rewarding aspect of the job. The Head of School, Professor Gerry Wake, saw that I had energy and enthusiasm for course development and for experimenting with teaching methods and gave me the freedom to do so. As I have moved into a teaching leadership role, I have tried to emulate Gerry's approach. In our current project, we are combining ePortfolios and electronic lab notebooks across a range of courses, and what has really struck me is how important it is to harness the pride that each coordinator feels for 'their' units of study.

During study leave in 2001, I saw an opportunity to bring my course organisation skills to the analysis of microarrays. In this surprising ‘teaching to research' turnaround, I recognised that scaling class results and integrating an individual's performance across courses were analogous to transcriptome profiling. The tools that I created have led to some wonderful collaborations and the opportunity for me to reinvent myself as a molecular biologist.

At the University of Sydney, I have been fortunate to interact with two exceptional teachers. Jill Johnston is exemplary in pastoral care and has taught me the value of treating each student with personal attention and sensitivity. Dale Hancock has taught me that the most effective teaching strategies instill understanding of fundamental concepts and get the students to extrapolate. Above all, I have learnt from these role models that good organisation is everything to a course. Without it, student confidence is quickly eroded, regardless of the enthusiasm or innovative spirit of the instructor.

Given these examples of sensitive and inspiring educators, the modern trend to judge teachers largely by scholarship and pedagogic research is unfortunate. Therefore, I am really grateful to ASBMB for choosing me for the Life Technologies Education Award. I hope it will encourage others who want to enjoy and be effective in their teaching through creativity, experimentation and reflection.