Biology Professor Named One of the 300 Best Professors in the Country

April 17, 2012 | Brooklyn College

Brooklyn, N.Y.—Jennifer Basil, associate professor of biology, is among the 300 best professors in the country, according to the newest book from The Princeton Review.

The Best 300 Professors, which was released on April 3, presents the inspiring and challenging educators who make the most impact on students’ lives. The 300 were chosen from an initial list of 42,000 professors out of the 1.8 million postsecondary teachers instructing students at colleges and universities across the country.

“I was very, very surprised when I saw that,” said Basil via telephone from Israel, where she is researching animals’ brains. “It came out of the blue. I thought that it was a joke!”

Basil, who has been teaching at Brooklyn College for 12 years, finds as much inspiration from her students as they do from her.

“Students at Brooklyn College are hungry for knowledge, they work hard, they are humble, and they appreciate what you give them,” she said. “Standing in front of a class for one and a half hours can be exhausting, but I still leave the class full of energy that I get from my students.”

Among the classes that Basil teaches are zoology, animal behavior and the evolution of intelligent behavior. All of them incorporate at least four different approaches to the subject, because Basil believes that students learn through various techniques.

“Some students just listen and remember everything. Others learn by doing,” Basil said, adding that story-telling is an important component of every lecture. “After all, for much of our history we did not have the written word.”

Basil’s lectures are full of interactive activities. One of them asks students to pretend that they are a particular animal that has to return home by using just one sense, such as the sense of smell or touch.

One of the most typical forms of examination in college classrooms — the multiple-choice test — is something that Basil simply can’t do. “As a student, I was terrible in multiple-choice tests,” she said. “I don’t like to give these tests. I don’t write them well.”

Instead, Basil develops open-ended tests. She also asks students to do a series of critical-thinking activities, such as evaluating an article from the Science section of The New York Times. Basil asks students to compare the article to the original, scientific material used by the writer.

“Students catch amazing things that I don’t even see. It makes them critical thinkers,” Basil said, adding that she often gets e-mails from her former students who admit that this exercise changed their lives and that they read the Science section every day. She loves these e-mails, but reading the Times is not the best piece of advice she gives her students.

“The most important thing is to do something in life that you are passionate about,” she said. “Find what you love and do it. That’s what I did.”

The Princeton Review composed the list in collaboration with RateMyProfessors.com, the highest-trafficked college professor ratings site in the United States. The 300 best professors come from 122 colleges and represent 60 different fields, but they are not ranked.