I teach plant developmental biology in the Master’s Programme in Integrative Plant Sciences as well as molecular and cellular biology in the Master’s Programme in Molecular Biosciences.
Plants are interesting as such, but I think the molecular and cell biological processes that regulate plant development and function in a changing environment are even more interesting. Conveying this knowledge to students and seeing their faces light up with insight as a result is the most rewarding thing about teaching. The greatest challenge is students’ different backgrounds, which sometimes makes it difficult to adjust the demands of a course, especially in the introductory sections.
It is an interesting time in that the amount of knowledge in all fields of knowledge is growing at a dizzying rate. In plant sciences too, information accumulates rapidly, and just to keep up with the developments in plant developmental biology alone, my own field, is difficult. This is why I have to carefully choose what to teach my students. When I was a student, there was less information available and we had to learn many things by rote. These days the vast amount of information makes that impossible, and actually unnecessary, as you can quickly find the details you need online. Consequently, I aim to emphasise understanding and applying biological processes instead of learning things by heart. I haven’t quite reached my goal due to the time it takes to redesign my courses accordingly, and the challenges associated with drawing up and grading examinations. Luckily, there are pedagogical experts at the University of Helsinki offering assistance in this. I always collect oral feedback from students in the last lecture, and anonymous feedback on Moodle.
My research group investigates the process through which cambium forms xylem and phloem, or wood and inner bark, on the molecular and cellular level. The tree trunks in the forest are produced by the dividing cells of the cambium, making it important to understand how cambium functions. Cambium also produces xylem and phloem in plants smaller than trees, which is why our model plant is the small thale cress. Thanks to its excellent genetic and genomic features, thale cress is globally the most extensively studied plant species. In my teaching, I often present examples from my own research and that of others. I think understanding biological processes can be promoted by describing them through research findings.
I teach in Finnish and English. On the master’s level course, roughly half of the students are from outside Finland, making it necessary to provide courses in English.
The climate is changing because more carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere than is bound by the soil and plants. In addition, the changing climate makes many land areas a challenge for cultivating crops due to draughts and torrential rain. Therefore, understanding how plants function and cultivating them to withstand the changing conditions is now more important than ever.