Last year I prepared a post for the Juneau Icefield Research Program (JIRP) blog. In the end it was not published, as understandably its better to hear from students. I can also say that students write much more interesting pieces than I do, and I encourage you to have a read of the blogs if you are interested in JIRP. Nevertheless, what my unblogged post from last year says is this:
I’m really grateful for the chance to come back here and be a part of this program.
I’ll tell you why: Because I get to learn so much.
JIRP is an intensive time for students, but also for teaching staff. We need to try and give lectures and classes that are engaging enough to still be fun for students who have spent the day out doing hard physical fieldwork.
I need to try and be on my game 24/7 as there is so much to do. As well as my lectures, we do exercises together to try and cement the lessons of the lectures, and check that the most important concepts have gone in. Working through these together lets the students see how I solve problems. Good in some ways as it reminds me that I can do it after all, and how far I have come as a scientist over the last 10 years. Intimidating in other ways, as it also puts me on the spot.
One of my favourite things is being able to give impromptu explanations of processes and features that we come across on these day-to-day activities. Being embedded in the glaciated alpine landscape offers a wealth of examples and features to discuss and an initially throwaway observation or thought can easily spill over into a little lesson in a way that is natural and fun.
What I like most though, is the questions. JIRP students are very willing to ask questions. These are often coming from a different angle than I am used to, as the background of the JIRP students is broad. Students can ask pretty much anything at pretty much any time of the day! It is from this that I learn the most, as it exposes where I have explained something poorly in a lecture, or where the limits of my own knowledge are, or where I am holding an assumption which I cannot actually back up … and so it goes on, and its fascinating for me to find these holes and then go about trying to fill them in for myself and in conversation with the students and other faculty here at JIRP.
In short, I owe the students of JIRP a big thank you for the way they continue to school me into becoming a better teacher and scientist. Good times indeed my friends.
And here I sit. Trying to prepare and improve practical exercises in glaciology that can be done with no more than paper and pencil, and ideally even with less. Gulp. Always a challenge. Interesting as here in Innsbruck I am currently learning from my colleague Fabien Maussion how to better use Jupyter-notebooks to make cool interactive practical exercises for our students when everyone has a computer to hand. Moving from one extreme to the other means its impossible to be lazy. Some exercises do not translate between the two formats.