June 7, 2001
Vol. 20 No. 18

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    Aaron Turkewitz, Associate Professor in Molecular Genetics & Cell Biology

    By Jean Galatzer Levy
    Medical Center Public Affairs

    Aaron Turkewitz, Associate Professor in Molecular Genetics & Cell Biology, said the challenge in teaching the introductory graduate course in cell biology is that the amount of information is staggering. Although the class meets only four and a half hours a week, he estimates that he spends at least 10 hours preparing for each lecture, sifting through a year’s worth of new experiments and learning how the models have changed.

    “Sometimes choosing what to include in a course like this is purely subjective,” said Turkewitz, whose own decisions about what to teach helped earn him a 2001 Faculty Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching.

    “I try to cover the developments that are most significant, but I often end up teaching what I myself find most attractive. Of course, there are many dimensions of beauty in clear experiments and provocative models.”

    Whatever the criteria he and co-instructor Ben Glick, Assistant Professor in Molecular Genetics & Cell Biology, use to structure their course, it seems to be working. The course, intended as an introduction for students in the department, attracts students from the entire division. Students have found it so useful that it has been moved to the first quarter of the two-quarter sequence, where it provides a solid foundation for the coursework that follows.

    The demands of teaching take Turkewitz out of the lab, physically and mentally for a quarter, and he is always eager to return to his research, he said.

    “But I get a lot from teaching. I find new directions and new ‘loves.’ It is a great stimulus to read outside of your own area,” said Turkewitz. “The students are bright and talented and funny. I am always learning from them, especially those working in my own lab. Teaching changes how I listen and how I read.”

    Turkewitz received both his undergraduate and graduate degrees from Harvard University. He was a post-doctoral fellow at the University of California at San Francisco. While there he met fellow post-doctoral fellow Anna DiRienzo, who now is his wife and an Associate Professor in Human Genetics. They spent six months in DiRienzo’s native Italy, where Turkewitz was a research associate at the Institute for Neurobiology in Rome, before he joined the Chicago faculty in spring 1993.