Where teaching and learning are all in a day's work

Leslie Coonrod

Editor’s note: Duck of the Week is a section in Around the O Workplace that highlights UO employees and their work, and helps build community by learning more about our co-workers. Each story features an interview with one employee, in his or her own words, with light editing for clarity and length.

This special edition is a collaboration with the UO Take our Children to Work Day Event. The annual university event will be offered virtually this year from April 28 through May 27. Duck of the Week will feature university employees who will be profiled during event and leading online activities for the children. 

Leslie Coonrod
Senior lecturer and associate director
Knight Campus Graduate Internship Program

How long have you worked at the UO?

I came to the University of Oregon in 2006 for graduate school. I worked as a graduate employee while getting my doctoral degree in biology. After graduation, I stayed to continue teaching within the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact Graduate Internship Program. 

Tell us about your work.

I work in the bioinformatics and genomics track at the graduate internship program. Essentially, I teach students to use computers and computer programming to study biology, with a focus on genomics and analyzing DNA sequencing data. We use these techniques to learn more about tumors, newly identified organisms, viruses, bacteria, the microbiome and much more.

What does your typical day look like?

I wear a lot of different hats, but my primary focus is working directly with students in workshops and classrooms, and developing the curriculum needed for students to complete their graduate degree and launch successful careers.

Bioinformatics is such a new area of study that I like to say I have never taught the same class twice. To keep pace with this ever-evolving subdiscipline of biology and computer science, course curriculum has to be updated and adapted so our students are learning the most current and relevant information to be successful during their paid internships.

I also work directly with program partners, including industry, academic and government labs, who hire our students in paid internships as part of the graduate program.  

What do you like about working at the UO?

I love that I get to keep learning all the time. I am one of those people who loved being in school. Working at a university lets me continue my own learning while also teaching others.

What keeps you motivated?

I love watching the students learn and seeing them master a new skill or technique through “aha” moments. Witnessing students start our program, complete their internships, begin their careers, and then return to the program as partners is one of the most gratifying aspects of my job and keeps me motivated.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?

Make as many connections as possible and build your professional skills. I focused on my technical skills and education in my field. In my work now, I understand the importance of other professional skills such as networking and communication.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

I wanted to be an elementary school teacher. As I got older, I pursued math and science and drifted away from teaching but reconnected with my passion for teaching in grad school. I ended up being a teacher after all.

How did you find yourself in your current line of work?

When I was in the second grade, I had a teacher who used hands-on experience to teach science, and that’s where my interest in science was first sparked. I took a lot of science and math classes in high school and pursued chemistry and math in college. I had the opportunity to work in a biochemistry lab and discovered bioinformatics as it came onto the scene. Then, an opportunity came along to teach in a summer program. That’s where my connection to teaching bioinformatics began, and my current role at the Knight Campus grew from there.

Do you know someone who should be Duck of the Week? Nominate a UO employee.