Graduate Teaching Award: Justin Lopchuk

June 10, 2014 by Grad Forum

Justin Lopchuk is one of the winners of the Graduate Teaching Award this year. Lopchuk recently defended his dissertation in chemistry and is currently a postdoctoral associate in the Department of Chemistry at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, working with Professor Phil Baran.

Lopchuk is originally from Clifton, New Jersey and completed a double major in chemistry and biology at Muhlenburg College in Pennsylvania. At Dartmouth he worked with Professor Gordon Gribble in the Department of Chemistry, conducting research on organic synthesis. In particular, his research was on heterocyclic chemistry. Cyclic compounds are those compounds in which atoms are connected to form a ring. A heterocyclic compound contains atoms of at least two different elements. Lopchuk explains, “Heterocycles are ubiquitous in nature and medicine, and increasingly in materials science.” His work focused on developing new methods for the synthesis and functionalization of compounds used to make pharmaceuticals. In particular, Lopchuk worked to increase understanding of a specific synthesis process, which resulted in a new, scalable way of making a cholesterol-lowering medication.

Lopchuk chose Dartmouth because he wanted to work in a department that would allow him to focus on both teaching and research. He was also attracted to the small size of lab groups at Dartmouth, which allows professors to dedicate more time to each student. During his time at Dartmouth, Lopchuk was a teaching assistant (TA) for four chemistry classes. As well as being a TA, he also gave lectures in organic chemistry classes and mentored nine undergraduate students in the research lab. Above all, he enjoyed the moments when he saw a difficult concept “click” for students. He appreciated working with students one-on-one and in small groups, which gave him an opportunity to “find out some of their interests and learning styles.”

As far as advice for other graduate teachers, Lopchuk recommends trying not to “limit your teaching style to what is easiest for you to present or to what was easiest for you to learn from.” Rather, he recommends trying to become familiar with different methods of learning and teaching since students “master classroom material in a variety of different ways, be it written or spoken or hands-on, sometimes by example or analogy or hours of practice problems.” For difficult required courses, he also recommends trying to “bring the textbook material to the real world, and/or find translatable skills which can catch the students interest and give them additional motivation.” An example that has worked well for him in organic chemistry is explaining to students which of the reactions that they are learning are actually used in making common, over-the-counter, or frequently prescribed drugs.

Lopchuk’s postdoctoral work focuses on the synthesis of complex natural products from simple starting materials. This research will eventually contribute to the making of new drugs in the future. Ultimately, Lopchuk’s goal is to become a professor at an academic institution with a graduate program.

We thank Lopchuk for his dedication to teaching at Dartmouth and congratulate him on winning the Graduate Teaching Award.

by Elizabeth Molina-Markham

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