The Wilson Story


Teaching Assistant (Biology 1,Botany 1, and Genetics !)

    Biology Laboratory

    As a senior in college I was awarded a half time assistantship which paid the paltry sum of $900 for the year but it was a very good experience.  My major was experimental biology and I assume that Dr. John D Spikes helped me get the position. My first assignment was to work for Dr. Louis Nelson in the biology 1 program.  This was good because I had been forced to take biology 1 as an undergraduate even though I had passed the entrance test and should have started in biology 2.  I had earned a very high grade in biology 1 so I felt good assisting in the laboratory.  The assistant got credit for three hours per week per lab while the instructor got credit for 2.5 hours of work,  0.5 for preparation and 2 for the two hour lab.  I think that I assisted in three labs thus requiring me what I thought would be one hour a week extra work but not according to Dr. Nelson.  Since we didn’t have lab the first or last day of the term and I had a nine hour assignment each week he calculated that I had 28 hours of non teaching time to make up during the term.  Ten for the first and ten for the last week and one hour per week.  Thus I had to work 13 hours per week for my ten hour assistantship.  Boy did he extract the last full measure for the state.  I remember being an assistant for Bing Ho a graduate student in Zoology.  When he gave assignments and quizzes I had to grade them.  Some of them were easy but many were very time consuming.  The two quiz questions I remember most were: "Name a disease caused by a bacterium", and "Name a disease caused by a virus".  The students had no idea on this question so they guessed wildly on the bacterium and then on the final they guessed another disease as a virus.  I remember these questions for two reasons.  One, I had no idea what were viral or bacterial disease so I had to look up each one.  Oh would I have loved google those weeks.  I actually bought a book on bacteriology to grade these wild answers.  Secondly, when I took the graduate record examination in biology I was able to answer ten questions in bacteriology because of this assignment.  That really helped my score.  As an Experimental Biology major this examination was very important because the seniors two years ahead of me had scored very high.  The lowest student had a 92 percentile and many of my friends such as Gail Pollock and Tony Brooks had received 99 percentile scores.  As a senior when I went to get my scores I apologized for probably not carrying the water like those guys had.  Dr. Spikes in his first complementary action to me said that was not the case.  When all of the biology chairs met as a group in faculty meeting I had saved the face of the department by getting the highest score of anybody in the university.  I had 99 percentile and my raw score was ten points higher than Karen Woodbury Cook in genetics.  Oddly enough both of us would start work in Dr. Vickery’s lab the next year, which Dr. Spikes didn’t like.


    When I went to check on my TA assignment for winter quarter I found that Dr. Nelson had scheduled the TA meeting for a time during my course in engineering mathematics. Since math was taught only one time he said that I would have to drop it or give up my assistantship.  This was a crushing blow.  They wanted me to get advanced math but not if I wanted to get paid.  Dr. Nelson said “no exceptions”.  As I was leaving the biology building heading up to the parking lot I ran into Neal Anderson.  He asked how things were going and I said not to well and then explained my dilemma.  He said that was neat because Dr. IBM (Irving Bill McNulty) needed someone for general botany.  I said do you think I can do it!  You know I got a C in the course.  He said that he was sure that I could do it.  Dr. McNulty was a super teacher and the assistant didn’t seem to do much but pass out specimens for viewing.  I was saved by Dr. McNulty because he really needed an assistant.  I really studied and worked harder than I had in the course.  I remember one day a student had located something really strange on his slide, which I thought was an abnormality.  He raised his hand and I went and gave my interpretation of the slide and then he waited until Dr. McNulty was close and ask him about the slide.  Dr. McNulty said that my analysis was correct and he didn’t want to have to check my work anymore.  That did two things it built my confidence and sustained me, thus preventing Dr. McNulty from having to answer everything himself.  I learned a lot in that class especially by grading the examinations.  When I ended up teaching Botany at Miami University I really knew the material.


    Spring term was great because I got to assist in the genetics laboratory.  I was assistant to Mohammed T. Alam and also had my own laboratory to teach.  The first activity was to see that there were adequate props for the class. Unfortunately,  there was a problem and all of the strains of fruit flies were not available for lab.  The best lab was to count kernels of corn.  We did have a neat series of labs and assignments.  One was to work on your family (genealogy) tree and follow some trait.  I remember one blue eyed girl that had two blue eyed parents worrying about her brown eyed brother.  My answer was that there could be some modifier genes that could change things and that she should not disown her brother.  Another assignment I had ask students to read Mendel’s Laws, not just the simple short hand version in the book.  This one student had all of the right ideas but it was in terms that just didn’t seem right.  Since he seemed to be a very good student I asked about it before giving him his grade.  He had served a mission in Germany and had done as I had suggested read the original paper in German.  

    Assisting Alam was an interesting experience.  He was so much afraid of the students that he would not correct them.  He must have assumed that the students were of a higher social caste or class.  On one occasion he had a student cheating during a quiz and would not correct the student.  This was extreme cheating, the guy had his head so close to the paper that the girl could not see her paper.  Alam told me that I couldn’t accuse him of cheating because he would loose face.  I went and set with the student and held his hand so the young lady could answer the exam.  I was the grader and saw to it that his paper was harshly but fairly graded.