Charles Vigue, Ph.D.
Professor Biology & Environmental Science
Vigue's fields of interest include genetics, molecular biology, enzymology, and history of science. He received his Ph.D. from North Carolina State University and teaches courses in genetics, molecular biology, and biochemistry. Vigue served twelve years as chairman of the Department of Biology and Environmental Science and twenty years as editor of the Connecticut Journal of Science Education. We sat down with Charles Vigue and learned what he is doing inside and outside of the classroom
What do you enjoy most about teaching here at the University of New Haven?
I enjoy the quality of students and their unique personalities that we have here at UNH. We have excellent students because of the type of students that we attract to UNH. Many of these students are paying for their own education and it makes them take their education more seriously over students at public schools. It is completely different here and all for the better.
Do you see the future of teaching going in any special direction?
I see more of a multi-media approach to teaching where there is the incorporation of more visuals. I think it will become easier to incorporate these methods and it will be more effective.
What do you consider to be the newest areas of research within your field of study?
One focus today is determining how genes are controlled. The key question is what turns genes on and what turns them off. Stem cells are able to direct their genetic program down various paths. In differentiated cells, most genes are probably turned off. Molecular biologists are researching how to restart the genetic program in differentiated cells and to make them more like stem cells.
If you have or intend to participate in committees and other services to the University, if so what might they be?
I primarily serve on committees that involve issues relevant to students.
What recommendations would you give to incoming freshman?
I would recommend that they go into a field that they enjoy. Do not think about how much money you are going to make. Do what you enjoy. In our field, we have no problem placing students into the job market. I tell my students to study hard and get good grades but to also balance this with other activities at UNH. Get involved in student research, join a club or organization or participate in a play.
What is the greatest challenge you face as an instructor?
The main challenge is trying to complete all the many tasks required. For example, the preparation of solutions or materials for the lab need to take place in a timely fashion or the solutions will not work. Today I was here at 5 am preparing solutions for the lab I am teaching at 11 am. Another challenge is providing support to students outside of class. Trying to keep current is a challenge. Luckily, I have access to the Yale Library system. This helps to keep me up on information that needs to be incorporated into lectures. Lastly, it is a challenge to give all aspects of the curriculum the weight that they require.
What occurs here that doesn't occur in other schools?
What differentiates UNH from other schools is the time spent on hands-on experiences and the quality of our laboratory work. The experience students receive at UNH is an integration of practical and theoretical knowledge. We have some very sophisticated equipment such as a gene analyzer and a real time PCR thermocycler that all students use. At many other schools these instruments would be reserved for faculty and graduate student research.
Are any students involved in your research?
As mentioned above, the research that I am involved with is all student based. I advise them on their project topics and steer students in the right direction so they avoid going down a road that they should not. It is difficult for students to do research because of the significant time commitment needed. The students need time and ambition to participate in research. In experimental research, the time constraints of students limit the amount of science they can do. Student research enhances the educational experiential.
What professional development activities have you been involved in over the past few years?
I regularly attend workshops to learn new scientific and laboratory techniques.
What level of participation do you expect from your students?
Due to the lecture format that I use, I do not expect a lot of participation in the classroom but I do expect preparation.
What kind of research are you currently working on or plan to be involved in?
I am currently involved in research projects here at UNH that are student based.
What teaching methods do you use that seem to excite the students the most?
I mainly use a lecture format that is supported with PowerPoint presentations, short video/animations, and video clips of interviews of famous scientists. These video clips allow students to see the scientists whose experiments we discuss in class. I also offer study sessions for students on weekends. The nature of what I teach is exciting. I teach mainly juniors and seniors and they are ready for the content that is covered in my courses. Molecular biology and the study of DNA are very exciting.
What technology applications have you utilized in the classroom?
As I mentioned, I mainly use a lecture method in the classroom but with labs, it is all hands-on experiences.
What do you think are the most important attributes of a good instructor?
Besides having a firm foundation in what one is teaching, I think the most important attributes of a good teacher are (1) respect for the students, and (2) excitement and enthusiasm of the subject matter.
How do you balance theory and practice in your classes?
Theory is presented in the classroom and we apply it in the laboratory.
Do you have a certain field of interest?
My fields of interest are molecular biology and genetics.
What kind of college did you attend and how is it similar or different from the University of New Haven and if different why do you think it might be better at UNH?
My undergraduate education was from the University of Maine. I did not particularly enjoy the large campus at Orono, so I transferred to the smaller Portland campus, known as UMP, after a year. At the time, the Portland campus was very much like UNH was at the time I arrived in 1979. Both UMP and UNH were primarily commuter schools. I enjoyed UMP because, like UNH, it was a small campus where friendships could be developed.
In your opinion, has technology enhanced the educational process? If so how??
I do not think technology has done anything to improve teaching although it makes it easier as an aid. Technology does not make you a better teacher it actually may make you worse. It is important to use technology wisely. It can be misused. I think that teachers who are good at what they do will continue to be good with the use of technology. You need to be a good teacher first. Technology does not make good teachers, it just enhances the experience.
What exciting tracks or sub-fields within the major do you think students should seriously consider as they plan their academic careers?
I would recommend that they seriously consider cell biology, molecular biology, and biochemistry. The reason is that this is the focus of the biology programs because of the need of pharmaceutical companies for qualified scientists. Students need to know these general areas and techniques that go along with them because these are the skills that they will need when out in the job market.
What are the strengths of your department?
The main strength is the curriculum, the way it is designed and its focus. We are respected in the community. Here at UNH we do not take the easy way out when it comes to the students’ educational experiences. We are dedicated faculty, and we have dedicated students.
What is your department's reputation in your field?
We have a good reputation. Students are sought after by the community upon graduation. The community comes here because our students are so well trained in their field of study.
If you were to take a course here at UNH which one would it be and why?
I would like to take some history courses. Ever since I was a child I was fascinated by our past. I integrate a lot of history into my courses.