After 30 years living all over the United States, Shiladitya "Raj" Chaudhury is happy to call Auburn home. A native of Calcutta, now Kolkata, India, he came to the U.S. to attend Vassar College, which at the time had only been coeducational for a dozen years. The transition from Vassar to University of California Los Angeles, where he completed his master's and Ph.D. in physics, was not an easy one, but it taught him an important life lesson for surviving graduate school - perseverance in the face of adversity. Starting with his post-doctoral fellowship at Kansas State University, Chaudhury has focused his research program on the application of advanced instructional technologies to help students learn abstract concepts in science. His research lab at Norfolk State University, where he was a faculty member in the Department of Physics for 10 years, was aptly named the B.E.S.T., or Bringing Education and Science Together, Lab. Interdisciplinary collaborations to tackle tough instructional challenges is work he continues to this day as the associate director of the Biggio Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning.
1. How did you find your way to Auburn?
Well, it starts back in 2003. I had been a physics faculty member doing research on undergraduate STEM, or Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, for more than a decade when I learned about the world of Ernest Boyer, Lee Shulman and others espousing the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, or SoTL. Fortunately, I applied for and was selected to be a Carnegie Scholar for 2003-04. Through that program I met and collaborated with a wonderful group of faculty from all over the country and Australia who were from different disciplinary backgrounds, but were all invested in a scholarly pursuit of interesting research problems related to their teaching and their students' learning. When the opportunity at the Biggio Center presented itself to do this kind of work on a larger scale, campuswide, at a prestigious research university, I took the plunge and joined as associate director in 2009.
2. Tell us about your work with graduate students through programs like Preparing Future Faculty and others.
Working with graduate students was one of the aspects of the job that drew me to Auburn. I had worked successfully with undergraduates in many different capacities for a long time and I was eager to renew contact with a group of students who were preparing for the life that I had led in moving from post-doc to assistant professor to associate professor to full professor. Preparing Future Faculty is a yearlong cohort based program that gives senior doctoral students with an interest in academic careers a chance to learn about all aspects of faculty life. We talk about job searches, teaching techniques, institutional missions, designing research programs, serving on committees - the whole gamut of topics that are rarely covered in Ph.D. programs. With the support of the Graduate School we have expanded the program in the past two years. The historical enrollment had been about 15 and we now run two sections of 15 each! In spring 2012, we are excited to launch a new program for graduate students with a focused interest in being outstanding teachers, the GTA Fellows program. We already have more than a dozen doctoral students enrolled and the program starts in January. These programs will help Auburn University provide a well-rounded education beyond research training to those graduate students who seek it.
3. You are a man of many talents. You began your academic career teaching physics. Now, at Auburn you are director of the Indian Music Ensemble. How did that come about?
First, let me invite everyone to our Indian music recital on Wednesday, Nov. 30, at 6 p.m. in Goodwin Recital Hall. Physics, music and sports have always been my passions. I trained in North Indian semi-classical and classical music for nine years while growing up in Calcutta. Later, when I came to the U.S., music was a primary venue to maintain a link to my native culture. While I was a graduate student, I had the opportunity to be the student vocal director of the Indian Music Performance Group in the Department of Ethnomusicology at UCLA. I learned from the founder of that program, Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy, how to conduct an ensemble and teach music to non-natives of the culture. This experience has helped me design an approach that seems to work well with American college students. I have deeply appreciated the generosity of the Music Department at Auburn, allowing me to start the Indian Music Ensemble here last year. I believe it is the department's first foray into ethnic music. The students have been wonderful and we have also made connections in the community. I am thrilled to be able to provide a venue where Auburn students can add a semester of learning about and performing Indian classical music as part of their college education.
4. You are head of the Distance Learning Program and acting director of the Biggio Center while James Groccia is out of the country on a Fulbright award. What is a typical day like for you?
A typical day includes a lot of walking! With the Biggio Center offices in the library and the Distance Learning offices in Foy, I usually make two or three trips between locations for meetings with faculty and staff. Recently, our instructional feedback services for faculty around mid-term have led the whole Biggio Center staff to be trekking to classroom buildings all over campus. In Distance Learning, we are consulting with faculty in order to help them design effective courses, working with Budget and Finance to make sure tuition allocations are accurate and serving on university committees to ensure that distance education standards and guidelines are followed in course delivery. Finally, if it's a Monday, I'll be off to Goodwin to teach my music class and on Thursdays we are either at Spidle Hall or Ross Hall for Preparing Future Faculty class.
5. What do you like to do in your spare time?
My family and I love to travel, so there is always some trip to plan during the holidays. There are also community musical events to prepare for, usually two a semester. Finally, I referee soccer both locally and regionally. It's a fun way to get exercise, gets me away from the desk into fresh air and especially in the Auburn recreational leagues, gives a way to connect with faculty and staff who have children playing on local teams.