The 2007 Invitrogen Education Award: Liz Johnson

Department of Biochemistry, La Trobe University

Liz JohnsonLiz Johnson began her scientific career with an Honours degree in Agricultural Science and went on to postgraduate research in the School of Biochemistry at the University of Melbourne. During her part-time PhD studies, she had her first taste of university teaching as a senior demonstrator and killed far too many rats to prepare liver mitochondria for oxygen electrode experiments. After completing her PhD with Dr Ken Gayler studying the synthesis and processing of seed storage proteins, she joined the laboratory of Professor Bruce Stone investigating the synthesis of non-cellulosic polysaccharides in plant cell walls. After a short break with family, Liz returned to La Trobe as a part-time senior demonstrator and began a very productive teaching collaboration with Dr Susanna Herd. Together they re-designed and re-wrote the practical curriculum for introductory biochemistry, developed a problem-based learning program for nutrition students and in 1999, won the Dean's Award for Teaching in the Faculty of Science at La Trobe University. This collaboration provided a very important forum to discuss teaching objectives, to objectively review current practice and to dream of new ways to enthuse students from quite diverse backgrounds. Through this period, Liz developed a strongly student-centred approach to teaching that aims to help students develop as independent learners and to give students the tools needed to explore the world of biochemistry for themselves.

Since then, Liz has used her student-centred approach to develop new curricula in medical science using case studies to build generic skills and to create links between components in a multidisciplinary subject. As well as maintaining extensive teaching commitments across all levels of undergraduate teaching, she has a very busy organisational role in the delivery of subjects and courses in the Department of Biochemistry and is almost expert at completing administrative reporting requirements. Liz leads projects to support and develop grass roots interest in teaching and learning across the Faculty of Science, Technology and Engineering at La Trobe University. She maintains an active research program working with Professor Marilyn Anderson studying the synthesis of small cysteine-rich plant defence proteins. In 2006, Liz was awarded citations for outstanding contributions to teaching and learning from La Trobe University and from the Carrick Institute.

Liz will use her ASBMB Invitrogen Education Award to review curriculum design in multidisciplinary teaching in the US and the UK through the Centre for Bioscience, Higher Education Academy.