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Beierlein named 2024 McGovern teaching award recipient

April 10, 2024
Takese McKenzie, GSA President

Beierlein named 2024 McGovern teaching award recipient

Students from MD Anderson UTHealth Houston Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences selected Michael Beierlein, PhD, as the recipient of the 2024 John P. McGovern Award for Outstanding Teaching.

Beierlein is an associate professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy at UTHealth Houston McGovern Medical School. Affiliated with the Graduate School’s Neuroscience Program, he has been a faculty member at the GSBS since 2007.

“[I am] incredibly grateful and appreciative,” said Beierlein. “To me, teaching is not a burden but an incredible privilege. While I can’t judge how good my teaching skills are, I am spending a lot of time preparing and reflecting over my teaching. It’s fantastic to see these efforts recognized.”

His research focuses on understanding the role of synaptic and local circuit dynamics in the thalamocortical system. Some of his most impactful discoveries have shown that the synaptic inputs contacting the thalamic reticular nucleus (TRN), a brain structure important for the generation of sleep-related rhythms, are unique and differ dramatically from the ones that contact other thalamic nuclei.

Beierlein's interest in science started when he was an undergraduate at the University of Tübingen in Germany, where he studied biology. During that time, he became interested in neuroscience and took field trips to the Rhine River to observe how bats use echolocation to detect prey. Through this experience, Beierlein was intrigued by how neural circuits can process information contained in the returning echo to allow bats to navigate their surroundings. This exposure set the groundwork for Beierlein to pursue his PhD in neuroscience at Brown University.

Acknowledging the pivotal role of exceptional mentoring in his own success, Beierlein’s mentoring style is highly adaptable to the needs of his trainees. He recognizes that while rigorous and creative science should be the same for everyone, the way to effectively carry it out will depend on someone’s unique scientific personality. He also emphasizes that one of his responsibilities as a mentor is to help trainees discover their unique learning strategies and then nurture those strategies.

Every year, students nominate and vote for the winner of the McGovern Award for Outstanding Teaching. The award recognizes excellence in teaching based on the following criteria: knowledge of the subject, interest in/enthusiasm for teaching, interest in and understanding of students, responsiveness to student questions and encouragement of independent thinking, and accessibility to students.

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