Greg Novak

Postdoctoral Researcher, Paris Observatory


Student Supervision

Supervised Andrea Negri, Ph.D. student at the University of Bologna, during a three-month stay at the Paris Observatory in the spring of 2013. The project was to add self-consistent stellar dynamics for rotating galaxies to my AGN code in order to study the effect of AGN on spiral galaxies.

The Universe, Princeton University, 2011


Physical Cosmology, Princeton University, 2010

Introduction to Astrophysics, Princeton University, 2009

Physical Cosmology, UC Santa Cruz, 2007

Teaching Statement

I have more experience in the classroom than the majority of my peers. I had full responsibility in the role of professor for the winter 2007 undergraduate cosmology course at the University of California at Santa Cruz. I designed and implemented every aspect of the course, from selecting the textbook to writing and grading the final exam.

As a Postdoctoral Research and Teaching Fellow at Princeton, I served as co-instructor for one undergraduate course per year. My role was as a peer with the the professors with whom I shared responsibility for the course: helping to design the syllabus and problem sets, as well designing and delivering the lectures. I co-taught three classes at Princeton: Physical Cosmology, Introduction to Astrophysics, and "The Universe," a class on astrophysics for non-majors.

The crucial thing in the classroom is to interact with the students. Every professor's dream is to have a classroom full of students who ask interesting and relevant questions that, through each lecture, each week, each month of the course, inexorably move the discussion to some grand conclusion. Although this happens in movies, it never happens in real life.

Therefore if my goal is to have a meaningful interaction with students, I must ask them questions. I insist on receiving answers—the questions are not rhetorical! This can mean several minutes of silence in the classroom as students ponder a conceptual question or perform a brief calculation. I then encourage everyone to commit to an answer by voting as a class. The discussion at this point can take many forms, but one of my favorite techniques is to say "Find one of your neighbors who disagrees with you and discuss the question with them." I can then eavesdrop on the conversations to see what arguments students are using to try to convince one another.

This has a tremendous effect on the classroom. It helps me as an educator by giving immediate feedback about whether the students are with me. It forces students to "turn on their brain" during lectures and determine whether or not they understand something. Even more importantly, it gets them into the habit of asking themselves questions such as "Do I understand this? How do I know whether or not I understand this?" Finally, it gets students accustomed to discussing the course material with one another.

Even so, this technique is not magical. There are many details that make a particular attempt succeed or fail. Are the questions too easy or too hard? How does one ensure that all students participate, not merely a few in the front row? How well does this scale to large classrooms? Is it possible to apply it within the context of distance-learning? My thinking on all of this has been influenced tremendously by Professor Eric Mazur at Harvard, Professors Ed Prather and Gina Brissenden at the Center for Astronomy Education at the University of Arizona, as well as a course on inquiry-based science education taught by Professor Doris Ash at UC Santa Cruz.