By Megan Doherty
Photo by Robert Kozloff
Christine Andrews coordinates labs for courses in evolution, ecology, and biodiversity. She also teaches two courses in the pre-med sequence for non-majors and a fall lecture course in Evolutionary Adaptation. Andrews also guides students in their curriculum choices as a senior adviser in the Biological Sciences Collegiate Division.
What does receiving the Quantrell Award mean to you?
It's such an honor to receive this award. It’s gratifying to know that the students think I’m doing something right!
What is your philosophy of teaching and mentoring?
At the University of Chicago, there are plenty of fantastic students, who make it a pleasure to teach here. The quality of our undergraduates, however, brings with it the temptation to reward the abilities a student comes to class with rather than those he or she learns along the way. I want all of my students to see a grade of A as an attainable outcome—not only the student who comes in prepared to write a publishable paper, but also the one who arrives with less experience and fewer tools but who works super hard to master new ideas and new skills. This means I need to be willing to work extensively with them, so I do my best to get to know my students and to be responsive, approachable, and available.
What is the best thing about teaching UChicago undergrads?
The undergraduates here keep me on my toes—I know they’re going to hold me to a high standard because they have high expectations for themselves. Students with a wide range of interests enroll in my upper-level course, Evolutionary Adaptation, and they teach me a great deal as they explore whatever excites them through the topics we cover in class. One of the wonderful things about teaching evolution is that it provides a framework for understanding any aspect of biology that captures a student’s fancy. It also gives me an excuse to lecture on things like sexual cannibalism in spiders—I’ve got good material to work with, no question about it.
What is the best part about teaching at UChicago?
The people I teach and the people I teach with make this a dream job. I can’t say enough nice things about my colleagues in the Biological Sciences Collegiate Division—they care deeply about teaching, are generous to their students and to each other, and throw a good party when the occasion calls for it.
What do you most hope your students take away from your courses?
Many students thank me for taking time to pick apart their writing and helping to put it back together. Some report on graduate research projects inspired by a reading I assigned or a lecture I gave, and others send me links to articles years after they’ve graduated to make sure I’m keeping up on the literature they reviewed in papers they wrote for me. More than a few carry with them an indelible image of the giant leech—harvested directly from my neck during graduate fieldwork—that I trot out every year for a Biodiversity lab on annelids. Whatever specifics students remember from my courses, I hope they all take away an appreciation for the explanatory power of evolutionary theory and for the amazing diversity of life.
Originally published on June 3, 2013.