Heather J. Billings, Ph.D.
Graduate School, Degree(s): Rutgers University, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Fellowship(s): Reproductive Sciences Program, University of Michigan
Special Clinical/Research Interests:Pediatric cardiac anesthesia / Pediatric cardiac and pediatric pain and sedation
Is there a particular population of students (e.g., ethnicity, spiritual, sexual orientation) that you would particularly like to advise?
1) Reproductive neuroendocrinology – especially the role of neurokinins in generation of the pre-ovulatory GnRH and LH surge in females.
2) Developing effective and innovative approaches to teaching anatomy and physiology. Most recently, I am developing video laboratory guides for the undergraduate anatomy labs, and analyzing their efficacy compared with traditional teaching methods.
What does a typical day in the life of an academic include?
My appointment is primarily as an educator of health professions students from undergraduates through medical and dental levels. A typical day involves giving lectures followed by teaching in laboratories, meeting with students, grading assignments, and preparing new lectures and course materials. During the semester, 16-hour days are typical in order to fit in some time for research, grading assignments for the undergraduate laboratories, developing course materials, attending various committee meetings, and still keeping up with reading the literature to maintain up-to-date knowledge in my field for teaching.
Briefly describe your teaching philosophy.
I approach teaching from the perspective that an educator is best measured not by the performance of their best students, but by the performance of their weakest students. At the university level, the best students have usually developed their study skills sufficiently to succeed regardless of the quality of teaching. The students who are still developing their learning and study skills are the ones who most require the guidance of a teacher for their success. University students should be developing into independent, life-long learners.
Do you have any summer opportunities for students in your laboratory?
While I do not have a laboratory, per se, I do work on cadaver prosections in the summer for which medical students experienced in dissection are welcome to participate. The availability of funding varies with the project. I also periodically have volunteer opportunities for teaching anatomy to high school groups.
What advice would you give to a student starting medical school?
Attend all of your classes; it is tempting to rely on the recorded lectures, but there is a lot to be gained by non-verbal communication in the classroom that won’t come across on the recordings. Begin studying on the first day of classes; the amount of new material and the pace it is taught is more than you’ve ever experienced before, so it’s just not possible to wait until the week of an exam to start studying and still do well. Most importantly, don’t hesitate to ask for help if you begin to feel overwhelmed. Medical students tend to be very independent and unaccustomed to needing academic help, and your faculty understand this and are willing to offer that help if you seek it. That said, build some “down time” into your schedule for things that are fun and help you unwind.
What kinds of help and information can you offer to medical students during their pre-clinical years?
I can offer help with a variety of study skills and time management issues. I also have an assortment of skills from my days working in residence halls, including things as varied as conflict resolution and crisis intervention to creating attractive bulletin boards, running quirky ice-breaker exercises and organizing activities for large groups, so if you need help with random things that seem too strange to ask anyone else about, try me.