Ginger Shultz didn’t always think that she was going to be a professor of chemistry education. Now an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry she is taking the department's curriculum in a new direction.

“When I finished graduate school, I didn’t see myself being a PI,” Shultz said during a recent interview. “I knew that I wanted to be somewhere where teaching was the focus, but thought I would be a lecturer or a PI at a small college,” she explained with a smile.

As she was finishing her Ph.D. in polymer chemistry at the University of Oregon, she began searching for her next step. University of Michigan Professor Brian Coppola talked to her about doing a teaching postdoc with him. Until then, she had never even considered chemistry education as an option.

“As I started to do education research… the research ideas would bubble up and I would get excited about stuff. Because I am really interested in teaching, there was a natural curiosity about education research and it fed into what I wanted to study.”

Her research with Coppola during her teaching postdoc was extremely distinct from her Ph.D. work. “In every way, education research is different from polymer chemistry. Some people transition from one field to another when they go into their postdocs and that just means a longer postdoc, and that’s what happened. I almost feel like I did a second Ph.D.”During her postdoc, she researched how students interpret data and how students write to learn. Her current lab continues to focus on these questions and expands into collaborations with other groups.

A newer research question that Shultz’s lab is focused on is how graduate students go from being students to teachers. “I have graduate students in my lab observing graduate student instructors (GSIs) and interviewing them, but also developing test measures for this knowledge for teaching.” Teaching, she explained, “is different from content knowledge - you can be an expert in organic chemistry but maybe not an expert in teaching organic chemistry.”

Eye-movement tracking camera fits on a graduate student instructor's goggles.

In addition to analyzing data from surveys and interview, Shultz and her lab use technology such as cameras that attach to a GSI’s lab goggles . “We’re seeing the GSI’s viewpoint because they are wearing the camera, and we can see what they are looking at, what they are paying attention to, what they notice,” she explained. The research question with that project is: “what does that [data] say about how they think about teaching?”

In addition to her research duties, Shultz has taught Organic Chemistry lectures and labs during her time as a faculty member. This fall, she is starting a new class for graduate students that focuses on Chemistry Education. She is excited to interact with students who love their research fields in organic or analytical chemistry but who are interested in teaching as well. She explained that starting up a new course in chemistry education is “daunting, but super fun.”

The new class, titled Chemistry Education Research and Practice, will “prepare future secondary and post-secondary chemistry educators to translate chemistry education research into effective classroom practice,” according to the official course description.

Students will evaluate literature from top Chemistry and Science Education Journals, prepare, and test their own assessments, and practice student-centered classroom techniques.