Professor Abha Ahuja’s list of credentials makes it difficult to picture her taking on a role outside of the teaching profession. She has a BS in Zoology from Delhi University and a Ph.D. in Genetics from McMaster University. On top of these, Professor Abha also has experience as a lecturer and postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University.
She was made for the academia – that much is clear! However, it might surprise you that Professor Abha didn’t seriously consider the teaching profession until after she got her Ph.D. In fact, she only thought of pursuing a career in the academia during her fellowship at Harvard Medical School. Professor Abha’s postdoctoral advisor convinced her to explore more opportunities and teaching caught her attention.
It’s almost serendipitous, if you think about it. So what if she found her calling a little late? Call it cliché if you must, but sometimes you can find meaningful work where you least expect it.
Mentorship that matters
In retrospect, Professor Abha’s postdoctoral fellowship was pivotal to her career. Being part of the Curriculum Fellows Program presented her with many opportunities to hone her teaching skills. She was able to experience lecturing in different settings for the local college, Harvard Medical School, and multiple short workshops. All in all, these allowed her to further develop her skills as an educator.
As a fellow at Harvard Medical School, Professor Abha also had the chance to have monthly one-on-one mentoring sessions with the associate director of the program. Similarly, she gained mentors who had similar academic backgrounds and interests as her. These people eventually guided her towards more learning opportunities and helped her improve her skills.
One lesson Professor Abha attributes fully to her mentors at Harvard is her introduction to the concept of active learning. This is an approach to teaching which aims to engage students and give them more active roles in the learning process. They are encouraged to participate and discuss, instead of just being spoonfed information.
A risk worth taking at Minerva
Professor Abha is the first to admit that taking on a role at Minerva Schools didn’t greatly appeal to her in the beginning. She wasn’t too enthusiastic about teaching at an online school. However, she gave the school a chance by researching about them – and immediately changed her mind.
“This position at Minerva is different from the positions that I had envisioned for myself, and it definitely felt like a risk at first. But I had an open mind to new opportunities, I did my research, and it definitely felt like a risk worth taking,” said Professor Abha.
Now one of Minerva Schools’ founding faculty members, Professor Abha is grateful for the experience of working in an environment similar to a start-up. She finds fulfillment in helping build the school from the ground up. Minerva Schools also has a small yet diverse community; Professor Abha views her work there as the opportunity to address inequities that are generally overlooked in higher education.
Professor Abha has put Her Ph.D. in Genetics to good use at Minerva Schools. It has helped her develop the school’s curriculum for Developmental Genetics, a course which she also teaches.
“I enjoy keeping up with the field through teaching it. Genetics asks fundamental questions that resonate with all students. Questions about how we are so similar, yet so different from each other and how nature and nurture interact to shape our behaviors and health are relevant to all students; even those who may not go on to natural sciences majors.”
How her identity has shaped her experiences in the teaching profession
It goes without saying that being a woman of color, especially in her field of expertise, comes with additional challenges. So how does Professor Abha rise to the occasion? She draws on the success of the diverse support system of people around her.
“As a minority, it was also meaningful work with advisors and mentors from diverse backgrounds throughout my career. It inspired and motivated me to see individuals with varied backgrounds succeed and carve niches for themselves.”
She extends the same mindset when it comes to teaching her students. Since they all come from different backgrounds, she likes incorporating what stories and current events she knows from India into her lessons. This allows her to foster a learning environment that has room for different experiences and perspectives.
“I think my identity is a strength, especially given our very diverse student community at Minerva, and I hope that students may relate to me in the same way I have related to mentors in my career.”