Profiles in Teaching
Thursday, March 16, 2017

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James Forney, Professor of Biochemistry

"I think teachers can teach in all kinds of different ways and still be inspirational." - James D. Forney

Profiles in Teaching focuses each month on an individual whose work reflects Purdue Agriculture's commitment to learning.


About the Professor

Professor Jim Forney has always been interested in biology—particularly molecular biology.

"My Ph.D. was in molecular biology, and when I was looking for jobs, I got an offer here at Purdue," Forney says. "I liked the fact that it was a biochemistry department because of the focus on the molecular aspect of living systems."

With the intention of doing research and learning from his new colleagues about biochemistry, Forney took the job at Purdue and happily stayed.

Even though teaching was not his primary career goal all along, he has come to enjoy it, he says.

"I enjoy interacting with students and learning new things—for instance, teaching about the medical aspects of biochemistry, I've had to read a lot about and talk to physicians about the actual clinical aspects of some diseases."

Since starting at Purdue, Forney has taught a number of different classes, including general biochemistry and experimental design. Currently he is teaching a new course with the temporary name of medical topics in biochemistry. The goal of the class is to introduce topics in biochemistry relating to clinical medicine that are not covered in general biochemistry. He also teaches biochemistry to first-year medical students for the Indiana University School of Medicine each fall.


Teaching Philosophy

"When I teach, I always hope that I am able to express my passion and enthusiasm in the topic," Forney says. "Hopefully, if I convey that it is important, students will think some of it is, too."

In all his courses, Forney finds it most effective to show the relevance of biochemistry through its impact on human health. He likes to motivate students by doing less talking and lecturing and more assigning and answering of questions in class.

"The idea is that you need to practice thinking about these things," Forney explains. "I keep some of that time in class with the hope that it will make a little more sense and clarify more difficult topics."

Like many professors, Forney bases some aspects of his teaching on his former teachers.

"I remember there was an organic chemistry professor I had—and that was a difficult subject for me. He was able to present it in a clear and simplified way," Forney recalls. "That was really impressive to me, even as a student. I had other professors I liked a lot because they would give examples and details and lots of interesting information."

Though he admires the techniques of former professors, Forney acknowledges that teaching today is different.

"I think one thing that is a little difficult right now, for myself and for other faculty, is that we're changing the way we teach," he says. "When I was in school, most of the courses involved showing up and listening to a lecture; then we were given homework to do outside of class. Now, we're trying to do more courses where students prepare a little bit in advance with a writing assignment or video, and then we start working on questions in class."


Student Outcomes

Forney says what he hopes for most in his students is the realization that biochemistry can be an interesting subject that is relevant to what happens to our bodies every day.

"In these classes that showcase the medical aspects of biochemistry, I try to connect the fundamental principles of biochemistry to the clinical aspects of biochemistry," Forney says. "I want students to come away with the idea that these things that are happening in our own bodies are all about biochemistry."

By Emma Hopkins

Purdue Agriculture Teaching Profiles are written by students majoring in Agricultural Communication.

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