A biweekly publication for faculty and staff

Lecturer Supports Teaching, Undergrad Research

April 28, 2014

Lecturer Carrie Menke helps students reach that moment when, all of a sudden, physics makes a lot more sense. She started at UC Merced in Fall 2008 after her husband, Erik Menke, was hired as an assistant professor in chemistry. She was promoted to lecturer with potential security of employment in 2011.

Before UC Merced, she was a post-doctoral researcher in the science department at the Getty Conservation Institute, which is on the main Getty campus in Los Angeles. There, she worked on analysis of modern paints and pigments.

What made you interested in teaching physics? What do you do as a lecturer with potential security of employment (LPSOE)?

As a graduate student teaching assistant at UC Irvine, I unexpectedly found out that I loved working with students to help them understand and appreciate physics. As an LPSOE I still teach, but also work on course development, program development and program assessment. There’s a lot of big-picture and behind-the-scenes work with the LPSOE position.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

I love helping students achieve that “a-ha” moment in physics, especially when I see their self-confidence grow in the process. The end of spring semester is always bittersweet. Students graduate and leave UC Merced, but I’m always so proud of how they’ve grown over the years and are ready to take the next step in their lives.

What new initiatives/projects/plans are you looking forward to this year?

Jess Vickery (chemistry LPSOE) and I are very excited to have gotten a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates grant. This is the first of three summers for the Applications in Modern Materials (AiMM) undergraduate research program. It’s a 10-week program that builds on the strengths of UC Merced’s research activities. I’m working on further developing and refining labs and planning pilot tests for discussion-session materials for the introductory physics sequence. I’ll also be beta testing assessment tools developed within the physics education research community. The School of Natural Sciences is developing an honors program that will incorporate the honors intro physics courses. There’s a lot going on in Natural Sciences and within physics; it’s an exciting and busy time.

What are some of the biggest challenges in your work and how do you overcome them?

I still struggle with time management, typically underestimating the amount of time something will take and trying to balance multiple projects at once. Instead of focusing on how much more work still needs to be done, it helps to take a moment to appreciate the quality of what I have accomplished. Turning off my email and chocolate also help.

Tell us something about yourself that most people on campus wouldn’t know.

I’ve spoken to Yoko Ono on the phone. A modern Japanese art exhibit at the Getty Research Institute included much of her work. One of the pieces was a phone. Just an ordinary phone sitting there. I wasn’t sure how anyone was supposed to interpret a simple telephone as art.

Then the phone started ringing. No one else went to answer it, so I picked up the receiver. A woman on the other end started up a conversation, asking somewhat personal questions. I asked if it was really her; it was. She asked about my job and then started talking about science. Her views about what science is and does were … interesting. The whole conversation was interesting, but awkward.

Through my postdoc, I learned to appreciate modern art and recognize how the observer’s experience of the piece can be integral to it. After the phone call, my husband asked me why I hadn’t asked her how it felt to have broken up The Beatles.