Teaching While Learning from Students

Michael Deem

April 18, 2023

Michael W. Deem Research Group
Michael Deem

Michael Deem

Michael W. Deem | Teaching While Learning from Students

As a scientist and professor, first at UCLA and then at Rice University, I always had a passion for teaching. In fact, it is one of the things that drew me to academia in the first place.  Over the years, I taught countless students–over 10000 undergraduates–and I have learned just as much from them as they have from me.

One of the things that I loved most about teaching was the opportunity to work with students one-on-one.  Every student is different, with their own unique strengths, weaknesses, and perspectives.  This diversity of thought and experience is what makes teaching so rewarding, and it is also what made it such a valuable learning experience.

One of the biggest lessons I have learned from my students is the importance of communication.  As a scientist, it is easy to get caught up in technical jargon and complex theories, but at the end of the day, it is the ability to communicate these ideas effectively that separates successful scientists from the rest. Working with students has taught me to simplify my language, to explain complex ideas in simple terms, and to focus on the key points rather than getting bogged down in details.

Another lesson I have learned from my students is the importance of curiosity and creativity. One of the things I loved about teaching is seeing the spark of curiosity in a student’s eyes when they learn something new or come up with a novel idea. This sense of wonder and creativity is something that I strove to instill in all of my students, and it is something that I draw upon in my own research and scientific endeavors.

Another valuable lesson I have learned from my students is the importance of adaptability. In the fast-paced world of science and academia, things can change quickly, and it is important to be able to pivot and adjust course as needed.  Working with students taught me to be flexible and to approach problems with an open mind, always looking for new solutions and ideas.  This adaptability is even more important to me now as a venture capitalist, helping others invent the future.

Perhaps most importantly, working with students taught me the value of mentorship.  As a professor, I had the opportunity to shape the minds and careers of the next generation of scientists, and it’s a responsibility that I take very seriously.  My students are not just my pupils, they are my colleagues and my collaborators, and I am constantly learning from them just as much as they are learning from me.

Of course, teaching is not without its challenges.  Every student is different, and it can be difficult to find the right approach or teaching style for each individual.  It can also be challenging to balance the demands of teaching with the demands of research, writing, and other academic pursuits.

But despite these challenges, teaching was one of the most rewarding and fulfilling aspects of my academic job.  It was an opportunity to share my passion for science and to help shape the future of the field.  And the lessons I learned from my students are invaluable, shaping my own thinking and approach to science in ways that I never could have imagined.

In conclusion, teaching is an essential part of what I do as a scientist, venture capitalist, CEO, and professor, and it is a responsibility that I take very seriously. Working with students has taught me the importance of communication, creativity, adaptability, and mentorship, and these lessons have had a profound impact on my own thinking and approach to science. It is my hope that through my mentorship, I can help to inspire the next generation of scientists and make a positive impact on the world.

Michael Deem

Michael Deem

Michael W. Deem has received a number of awards, including Fannie and John Hertz Fellow (1991-1994); Senior Research Scientist, CuraGen Corporation (1994-1995); NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship in Chemistry (1995-1996); Assistant and tenured Associate Professor, UCLA (1996-2002); NSF CAREER Award (1997-2001); Northrop Grumman Outstanding Junior Faculty Research Award (1997); Visiting Professor, University of Amsterdam (1999); A Top 100 Young Innovator, MIT’s Technology Review (November 1999) (Profile and Original Profile); Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow (2000); Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award (2002); John W. Cox Professor, Rice University (2002-2020); Allan P. Colburn Award (2004); Editorial Board Member, Protein Engineering, Design and Selection (2005-present); Fellow, American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (2005); Member, Board of Directors, Biomedical Engineering Society (2005-2008); Fellow, American Physical Society (2006); Member, Rice University Faculty Senate (2006-2009); Vaughan Lectureship, California Institute of Technology (2007); Member, Nominating Committee, Division of Biological Physics, American Physical Society (2007); Member, Board of Governors, Institute for Complex Adaptive Matter (2007-present); Fellow, Biomedical Engineering Society (2009); BMES Representative on the FASEB Publications & Communications Committee (2009-2012); Professional Progress Award (2010) (Profile); Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science (2010); External Scientific Advisor, Princeton Physical Sciences-Oncology Center (2010-present); Associate Editor, Physical Biology (2011-2018); Edith and Peter O’Donnell AwardThe Academy of Medicine, Engineering & Science of Texas (2012); Founding Director, Systems, Synthetic, and Physical Biology (2012-2014, raised $0.5M seed funding); Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar (2012-2013); Chair, Department of Bioengineering (2014-2017, raised $12M in external startup funding for new faculty); Editorial Advisory Board, Bioengineering and Translational Medicine, (2016-2019); Donald W. Breck Award for zeolite science (2019); and NACD Board Leadership Fellow and Directorship Certification (2020).  Michael W. Deem has developed widely used computational tools for zeolite structure solution and a large database of predicted zeolite structures.


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