Diana Horrigan may be a born teacher. It’s in her genes and she’s been doing it since she was a kid.
“I used to play school with my friends all the time,” she said. “My father was a teacher. Several members of my family are teachers. I used to go into school with my father all the time and I’d see him interact with his students. He really enjoyed what he did.”
Horrigan clearly enjoys it, too, and after teaching at Bridgewater State College and Assumption College in Massachusetts, she’ll now get to teach at Brown where she earned her Ph.D. in biology in 2006. As part of her studies, Horrigan did a lot of research in the lab of Professor Anita Zimmerman, focusing and publishing on the function of proteins involved in vision. But ultimately her heart lies in manipulating a dry-erase marker more than a micropipette.
“When you are doing science, you can get really caught up in a single protein or a single molecule and focus on that, like I did, for five years,” she said. “That’s great and you learn a lot. But I get more satisfaction out of teaching other people and seeing that light turn on and knowing that I played a role in flipping the switch.”
This fall Horrigan will flip the switches of students in BIOL 0800 “Principles of Physiology,” a high-enrollment course normally taught by John Stein who will be on sabbatical, and for which she was a teaching assistant when she was a graduate student. The class is mostly populated by juniors and seniors looking at careers as health professionals.
She’ll also give lectures in other physiology courses including BIOL 2170 this fall and BIOL 2940A and BIOL 1100 in the spring.
Teaching at the college level is important to Horrigan, which is why she pursued a Ph.D. But it wasn’t something she had always been set on.
“As an undergraduate I did train to be a secondary education biology teacher,” she said. “I got my certification and did my student teaching at the secondary ed level.”
She enjoyed it, but lamented being able to touch only briefly on interesting subjects and ideas. She wanted to teach in more depth and with a sense that she wasn’t separate from the practice of the science she was teaching.
“I was helping students, I was seeing them get excited about science and opening their minds to new things, but I knew I liked science enough that I wanted to pursue it further,” she said. “I wanted to have the tools to answer my own questions and not just tell students what other people had done.”
What brought her to Brown for graduate school in 2001 was a sense that the people here would allow her to explore the field without taking the fun out of it.
“When I had my interview I remember it just being less stressful than other interviews I had been on,” Horrigan said. “People were a little bit more laid back. It was more of an open conversation than an interrogation.”
In turn, she likes to present an engaging style to her students. Rather than drag students through a gauntlet of isolated facts (this week the nervous system, next week the circulatory system, etc.), her style is to describe the relationships among the facts so that students can understand how they all fit into the bigger picture.
“Science to me is like a story,” she said. “That’s how I make an attempt, at least, to tell the story.”
To make sure her story as a Brown lecturer has a great beginning, Horrigan spent the summer on campus working hard to prepare every lecture, placing animations and analogies in her Powerpoint slides with great care. The passion, effort, and training she’ll bring into the classroom make it easy to imagine that the students who spend the semester with her will become as inspired about science as she is.