Published: June 23, 2021
Niki laughing with a dog

Niki Konstantinides is a 3rd year PhD student studying Integrative Physiology. Her research focuses on sports injury and concussion trends in the Pac-12. Niki was recently awarded a Teaching Excellence Award based on her teaching philosophy and dedication to her students. We asked Niki a few questions to learn more about her as a teacher and get to know her better. Read more below!

What is your favorite part about teaching?

My favorite part about teaching is really the moment where it just "clicks" for my student. They'll be struggling with a concept, and maybe we have been trying different ways to help them understand it and suddenly there will be the "ohhh" or "I get it now!" That's the moment that I love the most, when the teaching works, the problem is understood, and there is this little twinkle in their eye because they feel successful in that moment. That's what I teach for, that moment.

Please tell us a bit about your pedagogical philosophy.

When I was a young kid, I remember distinctly my father telling me, "Niki, if you do not know something, don't pretend. Just ask." From then on, that has been my absolute philosophy both in how I learn and how I teach. I tell my students constantly that they absolutely can always ask questions, but not just to me, but to also ask each other. I believe we learn best not from our teachers, but from our peers. Therefore, I try to make the class as much of a community as possible. Where lectures are more of a Socratic Seminar in which we have a discussion about the answer rather than saying "well, this is right and this wrong." Asking a question in front of a class can be intimidating, but when we create an open forum in which all questions are valued and discussed, it all becomes less intimidating. The first step of the Scientific Method is to ask a question, but we must also learn how to discuss, how to debate, how to work with each other to find the answer--if there even is one.

Is there a particular story from the classroom you would like to share?

When I was teaching physiology lab, we had two labs happening at the same time. At the time, we were working on some experiment, and my lab--being the discussion based community that it was---was just absolute controlled chaos. I remember distinctly how everyone was standing up, two of my students were across the room from each other but discussing an answer to a question, another student was at the board drawing a diagram with another student, and the Professor for the class walks in and just starts laughing. Apparently, the lab next door was completely silent, and was so opposite from what was happening in our lab she couldn't help but laugh. That moment basically defined my labs--always controlled chaos, always a lot of discussion, always a lot of fun.

What is a favorite teaching resource you would like to share with other graduate teachers?

I do not have a particular resource that I use, other than other graduate teachers. We can always learn from each other about has "worked" and what has "not worked." I have learned from other grad teachers and Professor what topics most students struggle with and what to emphasize in my lectures. It's often good to reach out to those with experience in teaching what you are teaching because they know all the tips and tricks!

What are your recommendations for continuing or increasing student advocacy and engagement?

I have realized that students often do want to engage in class, as long as they feel comfortable in doing so. Speaking up is incredibly intimidating, and so I think it is most important to make the learning environment as comfortable as possible. Often times, students are more likely to ask questions or answer questions if they feel supported by their peers. Therefore, I always try to make my classroom peer-oriented. Whether it is building a discussion board for them to work together online, or taking moments during class where everyone breaks out into small groups--each time different groups than the last-- if a student feels that they are respected not just by the one who is teaching, but by those around them, they absolutely will engage! Not only that, but creating a peer-centric environment helps our students meet each other, make friends, and find people they can study and work with--which eventually will help them succeed even more in not just one class, but possibly future classes. When the class knows each other, they work together, they engage together, and they succeed together, and they have a great time doing it.

Tell us a fun fact about you that is not related to your teaching and research.

I taught yoga sculpt for about 4 years before starting graduate school, and just love all things fitness!

What is a good book you have read recently and why did you enjoy it?

Trevor Noah's "Born a Crime." It was not only such an interesting book about what it was like to grow up in South Africa during the apartheid, but also so funny. As I was reading it, I felt that I could hear Trevor talking to me. It was as though he was just telling me the story of his life, all the good, the bad and the funny.

If you could have dinner with anyone (living or dead), who would it be and why?

Michelle Obama! I just feel like I could learn so much from her--about life, having a career etc. She just seems like such a wonderful person to be around, and thus a perfect person to have at dinner!