Tuesday Ten: 10 questions we ask L & T experts

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Katharine Fraser (Kate) is a lecturer in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Bath. Kate teaches Computational Fluid Dynamics and Medical Engineering to the final year students and her research is in cardiovascular engineering, with a focus on the design and development of artificial hearts. This year, Kate won the University's John Willis award.

What can you see outside of the window?

The mechanical engineering quad which has a big tree with a few magpies in it.

What does your average day at work involve?

This morning I marked a final year student’s project report, then had a meeting with a company in Paris via skype, and went to the lab to do a bit of sorting out. We then had research group meeting where the PhD students updated myself and the other cardiovascular engineering lecturer, Dr Andrew Cookson, on their progress. That involved discussion of results and issues surrounding experiments and numerical simulations. This afternoon I have a meeting with my personal tutees and will spend the rest of the time marking final year projects. I also need to spend a few minutes preparing for a trip to Stockholm on Sunday/Monday to meet a company I am collaborating with.

Why do you think teaching at your university is important?

The next generation are going to take the world forward in bigger and better ways, we’d better teach them well so they do a good job!

What do you hope the impact of your teaching will be?

I’d like all the students to know more about the subjects I teach than when they started, and for at least some of them to be inspired to take the subjects further, for example in their project or career choices.

Who has inspired you most in your teaching career?

I’ve seen some great lecturers while I’ve been at Bath, but overall, I’d say the most inspiration has come from the students.

When did a lecture go wrong and how did you overcome it?

Last year I’d arrived early for a lecture as I had a slightly complicated MATLAB demonstration and a TurningPoint quiz to set up on the computer. Having got everything working, I switched on the projector and went to dim the board lights, only to discover they would not dim at all. (They worked perfectly for every other lecture.) The contrast was so bad it was impossible to see anything on the projector screen. After a few (well meaning, I’m sure) students had also attempted to dim the lights, I had to explain the whole lecture using only the handouts and the white board. (I did the MATLAB demo and quiz in the following lecture.)

“I’ve seen some great lecturers while I’ve been at Bath, but overall, I’d say the most inspiration has come from the students.”

Recommend a book, film or album from the past year.

I managed to progress beyond “Zog” to “Zog and the Flying Doctors” (both Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler) but I’ve not had  a lot of time for books other than children’s books. I did read “The Matter of the Heart: A History of the Heart in Eleven Operations” by Thomas Morris which I really enjoyed, and watched “Hidden Figures” which was excellent.

What is the biggest change that you've made to your teaching since you started your career?

I go through derivations at what sometimes feels like a mind numbingly slow pace. I didn’t think students would want that, but it turns out they do.

What piece of advice would you give to someone just starting out in teaching at your university?

Make time to go and watch a range of academics teach, don’t try to be too adventurous too soon, and keep in mind the KISS acronym, oh, and check the lighting as soon as you arrive, and don’t skip over the derivations.

What three things would you take to a desert island?

Snorkel, sun cream… and laptop (with a solar powered charger.)


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