Robin Hirsch-Jacobson, Associate Professor of Biology

Associate Professor of Biology

Living out a childhood dream

Biology has always been my thing. I started out wanting to be a marine biologist. When I was at the University of California – Santa Cruz, my first major was Marine Biology and I did that my first two and half years. I finished my Marine Biology degree and added Environmental Science. The reason was I wanted to be a biologist, but that Biology program was getting away from organismal biology like animals and going more towards molecular genetics and cellular in biochemical which is important but not my jam. At that point, more of the classes I was interested in were in the Environmental Science department. So I drifted over as I had two more classes while adding the Environmental Science degree.

Becoming a Biology Professor

When I was getting my PhD, I thought I would want to do research and be more like a research biologist. I enjoyed the field of research a lot, especially with the wildlife. I love doing the outdoor activities with different types of animals, which traditionally involved working with birds and learning about them. While I did my PhD, the way I paid for my education was by serving as a teaching assistant for ornithology and ecology classes. I realized that as much as I enjoyed the research, I did not need to lose my ability to continue to study, observe and learn about the world. What turned me on was teaching, learning about the world and interacting with students who may or may not have the passion. Midway through my PhD, I switched my career goals to wanting to teach.

Coming to WWU

I was set to graduate in spring or summer of 2011. Throughout 2010 and early 2011, I was applying for jobs and trying to be selective. My son was three at the time and I did not want him to bounce around too much. I did not want to get a post doctorate, which would mean one or two years here and one to two years somewhere else. I wanted to get more of a permanent position and in a place that I would want to raise a kid. I was selective in where I applied, but William Woods was the place that hired me. I was in Columbia and it was not a big move for me.

Going from teaching at a big school to a small school

I have attended large schools. I went to UC Santa Cruz, which was a large school and I got my graduate degree at Mizzou, which is also a large school. For me, teaching in a small school was much more fulfilling. The two biggest differences between a big school and a small school are the size and resources. Though WWU has less resources in many ways, we can still access needed resources while also being creative in many ways. At WWU, the access to students is greater. For any given semester, I am teaching around 80-100 student contact students, which is different from 80-100 in one class. I know every single Biology major we have and building those kinds of relationships and helping people in that more personal way is different and fulfilling.

Having fun teaching students

The best thing about teaching is how independent I get to be in my curriculum, with nobody encouraging me to teach one way or another. If I am doing a good job, I get to do what I want with what is best for the students. I am trusted enough to build my classes and create my labs in a way that I think is both entertaining, exciting and fulfilling with no additional hoops. I enjoy the creativity I am allotted within the curriculum. At a small school, I love the interaction with students and watching them come in as freshman. Then seeing them grow through the years, succeed to get the positions that they want and then keeping in touch with them after they are gone while their professional lives take off is personally fulfilling. I know that I am a part of that process, which is rewarding. Now that I have been here for more than four years, you see the people you saw come in as freshman graduate. You can reflect on their progress, their trajectory and their journey. Plus, I also get paid to catch frogs, snakes and birds with students, which is just fun!

Teaching Biology with a passion

I think Biology is interesting. Anytime you are passionate by something it is a lot easier to share that passion with others than if you are just going through the motions. I make it interesting by being interested. I try to keep it relevant. There are always current examples in the news, and I try to keep that going as well. When I am in front of classes and have my adrenalin going, I am charismatic enough for students to watch the train wreck or to get something out of it whatever it may be. It is fascinating stuff.

Advantages of having Biology Degree

I always say with any profession that getting a good undergraduate degree regardless from the field, as long as it comes from a reputable institution and your GPA is solid, opens the world to you. I think we do a good job as a university of preparing all undergraduate students regardless what their degree is. Biology is no different. Some of our majors don’t end up having a career in Biology. If students go off to do something in communications, business, chemistry or whatever it might be, I think a good advantage is the undergraduate degree and learning how to succeed in that context. I think more specifically, though, with a Biology degree the world is still open because it is such a broad degree. People go on to a whole world of medical programs, research, or further professional school. Students with Biology can do basically anything from a conservational ecologist, working in a lab, pharmacologist, nurse, doctor, vet, and more. I believe students should major in Biology at William Woods because it is fascinating and they want to have a fulfilling career in what is their passion. Biology is for those who are interested and engaged in Biology and the infinite careers that Biology can prepare you for. Our department does a good job in preparation. For a faculty of three, we have a diverse array of classes that our Biology majors can take and a wide array of experiences. The department is hands on, whether it is with molecular things, vertebrates, different plant communities or even going to Costa Rica to learn tropical rain forest ecology. Students will have all those opportunities in the Biology program at WWU.

Traveling to the tropics

I love the tropics. I have traveled through central and south America and I have travelled through Southeast Asia. Getting to Southeast Asia takes a long time when a class only has 10-11 days to travel. I loved the travels I have done in Central and Southeast Asia. The ecology and wildlife are so similar in some ways, but strikingly different in others. There is a completely new suite of animals and plants to learn and observe. Plus the food is so delicious!

Life after Biology

Combination of travel and environmental activism. As someone who has a kid and someone who feels like environmental protection is important for the existence of humanity, I am involved with non-profit organizations. I will continue that after here. I love traveling. When I am a biologist, I love to travel and like to check out the wildlife in tropical areas so will probably do more of that once I retire as well.