June 9, 1994
Vol. 13, No. 20

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    Martha McClintock: Professor in Psychology

    Faculty Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching: Martha McClintock, Professor in Psychology

    Martha McClintock, Professor in Psychology, says her laboratory is intended to be a place where students can learn from each other.

    "I try to create an environment that is multidisciplinary," she said. "My students come from a wide variety of backgrounds, and each brings to our work a different strength."

    She said the variety of viewpoints helps establish an atmosphere of creativity in the laboratory -- an important aspect of her approach to teaching graduate students to build their own unique theoretical contributions.

    "We have weekly meetings in which the students discuss their work, and the students get challenged from many different perspectives. They joke that once their work has passed the review of their peers in the lab, there aren't any more questions that they haven't already answered," she said.

    McClintock said she is delighted to be a recipient of the Faculty Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching. "I am more thrilled about receiving this award than any other award I've received. I've tried very hard to establish a certain approach to teaching in my laboratory. The recognition of this award feels wonderful," she said.

    As a graduate student during the early 1970s, McClintock decided that she would approach graduate training differently if she were to become a professor herself.

    "At that time, when you entered graduate school, you were told to look to your left and look to your right, because two of the three of you would probably not be there after three years. Only a third of the students were expected to survive the experience.

    "As a result of that attitude, graduate training was very competitive and also isolating," she said. McClintock left the program she originally had enrolled in and entered the University of Pennsylvania, where she found a more collegial atmosphere.

    McClintock discovered she could learn a great deal from other graduate students at Pennsylvania. As she developed her own laboratory at the University of Chicago, she sought students who would share her approach to collegiality.

    As a result, students from biopsychology, human development, evolutionary biology, organismal biology, neurobiology and history work side by side.

    "I think science should be a collaborative effort," she said. "For example, we have one area of study that looks at how rats can bias the sex ratio of their litters before the offspring are born. We have one student from evolutionary biology who is interested in why that would have evolved and another student whose background in anatomy has led her to wonder how the physical structure of the uterus enables the sex bias to take place."

    Both perspectives are essential and contribute to our understanding of the phenomenon, McClintock said.

    In another project that seeks to understand pheromonal communication, four students bring to the work perspectives that complement each other. One is gifted in creating computer simulations, another is talented in critically assessing the literature and taking a life-span perspective, another is exceptionally good at gathering hormonal samples and a fourth has valuable insights on measuring subtleties of behavior. Together the students learn from each other, McClintock said.

    "The cross-fertilization of ideas that comes from all these perspectives makes the laboratory a creative place where students can enjoy their work," she said.

    McClintock has been a faculty member at the University since 1978. She received her A.B. in 1969 from Wellesley and her M.A. in 1972 and her Ph.D. in 1974 from the University of Pennsylvania.

    -- William Harms