Julia Bowsher, associate professor of biological sciences
Published January 2019
Julia Bowsher wants to be more than just a lecturer. She wants her students to be active and get their hands dirty, to learn through discussion and engagement. It’s a philosophy that helped her become a popular and respected teacher.
Bowsher teaches a variety of biology courses, including classes on evolution. She’s also a major part of a successful NDSU team of faculty and student researchers studying bees. One of her projects, which looks at bee winterization, recently received a $2.9 million National Science Foundation grant.
Bowsher studied at Yale, University of Canterbury in New Zealand, and Duke University.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT TEACHING?
I love the moment when an idea “clicks” for a student after a period of struggle. Learning is not easy, and the struggle is required for students to deeply understand and retain an idea. Once a student has made it through to that level of understanding, a new way of looking at the world is revealed. The college classroom is a special place where students get to experience that moment of revelation. It is much harder to find that environment after college. I love the fact that I still get to experience that feeling through my students!
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CLASS OR TOPIC TO TEACH?
I love teaching evolution. At its core, evolution is a simple idea: variation is selected over time to change populations. But how this simple process plays out in different contexts and over different periods of time results in the amazing diversity we have on this planet. It’s one simple idea, but even after spending a semester exploring the ramifications with students, I only feel like I have touched the tip of the iceberg.
WHAT IS THE MOST COMMON TRAIT OR TRAITS FOR SUCCESSFUL STUDENTS?
The most successful students are not afraid of sharing an idea, even if that idea turns out to be incorrect. Most students do not want others to observe them making a mistake. This conservatism makes them cautious and less likely to fully engage with the material. A cautious student doesn't raise their hand in class, or try out different ideas with group members, or ask questions because they are worried someone might think they are unprepared or not smart. My advice is: don't be afraid to be wrong sometimes. It is better to try and fail than to not try because you are afraid of failing.
WHAT IS SOMETHING EVERY STUDENT SHOULD EXPERIENCE BEFORE THEY GRADUATE FROM NDSU?
Every student should take a course in a discipline that is completely different from their major. I know that every student is required to take such courses as a general education requirement, and those courses can fill this role. But, quite often, I observe students gravitating to particular general education courses that are perceived as “easy” so that they can “get this requirement over with.” Instead, I think it would be great if every student would choose a course just because they were excited about the topic, and this course would expose them to a different way of thinking about the world. College is a special time in which you can take course on ancient history, studio art and poetry. Take advantage of it! After graduation, it will be much harder to get access to these amazing resources.