Featured Teacher: Christian Reilly

Christian Reilly works at the Santa Catalina School, a small, all-girls, independent school in Monterey, California. He currently teaches a three-year research course called the Marine Ecology Research (MER) Program, as well as a senior level course in Marine Science. The MER Program starts in the sophomore year with a course in the foundations of marine science, continues with the junior year devoted to student research, and concludes with the senior year focused on scientific communication.

Question 1: Why did you become a teacher? Did you always want to teach?

Answer: I never thought I’d be a teacher. But when I was wrapping up a postdoc, a teacher friend asked me to [teach] her class so she could go on [her] honeymoon. I thought, “I have a Ph.D. in Biology, I should be able to do this.” It ended up being one of the most exciting things I’ve done. The risks and rewards of teaching are so immediate and so clear. At the end of that week, my wife said, “I haven’t seen you this excited in 10 years. You need to reexamine your career goals.” 

Question 2: What do you do to remain current and bring the latest science into the classroom?

Answer: I try to keep up by taking a few students to a research conference every year to present their work. They see what the next levels of research and communication look like, and I get a chance to see what’s coming over the horizon.

Question 3: Tell us about a hobby or passion outside of work.

Answer: I’m a terrible surfer, but being in the water is deeply rewarding. Surfing gives me time to work on my natural history in a place that’s endlessly dynamic.

Question 4: Do you have a science demo that students find particularly compelling? What makes it so interesting for them?

Answer: Just south of my campus is a steelhead stream. I take my students there and put them in wetsuits and snorkeling gear and get them in the water to observe young fish and their behavior. Afterwards, over hot chocolate, they come up with explanations for their observations, shape those into hypotheses, and imagine experiments to test those hypotheses. It’s compelling because they’re working with real animals in real environments. Some of them have never been in the wilderness, many have never put on a wetsuit, and most have never put their face in a natural body of water. It’s real exploration.  

Question 5: What are you most proud of in your work?

Answer: I’m proud of trying to give my students the opportunity to do science in real environments, with the hope that this shows them early on where the joy lies in this field.

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