Teaching and Outreach

Graduate and postdoctoral training. Over the course of his professional career at the California Institute of Technology and the University of California, Berkeley, Robert Bergman has mentored over 250 coworkers, primarily graduate students, undergraduate students and postdoctoral associates. Of these, approximately 60 currently hold academic positions, many in highly-ranked research institutions and liberal arts colleges in the US and abroad. The majority of his current and former coworkers were trained at the interface between organic and inorganic chemistry. A significant fraction of them have been jointly supervised by him and another faculty member, a tradition that began at Caltech and continued after the move of his research group to Berkeley. Because his primary expertise and that of his collaborators are usually more complementary than directly overlapping, these jointly supervised coworkers leave Berkeley with an unusual breadth of training. The value of this type of training is reflected in the positions they acquire after graduation and the fact that many of them are making significant independent scientific and educational contributions.

Scientific ethics. Prof. Bergman has had a long-standing interest in scientific ethics and the causes and consequences of scientific fraud. He routinely discuss these issues in the courses that he teaches at Berkeley, and he has given several lectures on this topic to general audiences at other universities.

Course development and curriculum restructuring. Besides training professionals at the graduate and postdoctoral levels, Prof. Bergman participates extensively in both the undergraduate and graduate formal course programs in the chemistry department at UC Berkeley, and has been involved in projects designed to improve and restructure Berkeley’s course offerings. He was a co-principal investigator on a major 5-year NSF project focused on an extensive restructuring of the chemical curriculum. As part of this project, he participated in an experimental freshman chemistry course that replaced lecturing with in-class problem-solving and other techniques designed to increase active learning in the classroom and has presented a number of seminars at other institutions reporting on the results of this program. He regularly teaches the first-year graduate course in physical organic chemistry, where students are involved in substantial in-class problem solving, during which they are required to work together on problems and then present the solutions to the entire class at the blackboard. A recent innovation in this course has been a project assignment that requires students to learn to use computational methods such as DFT and carry out calculations designed to test some of the directions of the laboratory research that they are about to begin.

Community educational outreach. For the past several years, Prof. Bergman has focused outreach efforts at the local primary school level, in cooperation with a nonprofit organization based in Berkeley called Community Resources for Science (CRS). The goal of this project, originally termed “Chemistry in the Classroom” and recently expanded to “Bay Area Scientists in Schools” (BASIS) was to recruit Berkeley chemistry graduate students to develop science demonstrations, with appropriate training for the grade levels involved, and present them in local elementary public school classrooms. In the Berkeley/Oakland, CA area, the students in the targeted schools include a high proportion of minorities, and the schools have a strong need for help with their science curricula. The program began with 12 chemistry graduate student volunteers in 2004 and has since grown rapidly: in recent years it has recruited, trained, and placed more than 500 UC Berkeley graduate students from chemistry and several other graduate departments, as well as volunteers from other local organizations, to be science role models. Volunteers were involved through several different models, but the most recent (and successful) has involved volunteer “teams,” of four to ten individuals formed within research groups, who work together to develop one-hour, hands-on, standards-based lessons (see photos below of elementary classroom presentations made by team members). Following their initial presentations, subsets of each team make an average of five (monthly) classroom visits during the school year.

Figure 1. Graduate students and postdocs Andrew Tsai, Denise Colby, Jennifer Schomaker, and MaryAnn Robak participate in a BASIS presentation at Bella Vista Elementary School in Oakland, California.

Volunteers have developed a wide range of presentations, and were placed in classrooms according to teachers’ requests to enrich and supplement science curriculum. Each volunteer or team receives coaching on lesson development as needed and support for acquiring classroom materials. CRS staff members arrange the classroom placements by contacting and staying in touch with each teacher and volunteer. Over the course of this project, BASIS volunteers have made presentations in hundreds of local elementary classrooms, providing science engagement and inspiration to thousands of young students and their teachers.