Patangi K. (Chari) Rangachari
I was lucky that I grew up in India, a statement that may raise serious concerns about my sanity but is nevertheless true. I did not suffer summer camps, obligatory sports clubs, or orchestrated social activities. There was a delightful sense of freedom. I doubt if I would have survived a North American childhood without serious counselling. I was a true JD. At the age of 10, I found myself wandering parks rather than attending classes, since we had no truant officers cross-checking our whereabouts. My parents were quite distraught, but fortunately that delinquent phase passed, and I quickly morphed into a bookish nerd just as I reached high school (more in Adv. Physiology Educ 35:323-9, 2011)
I drifted into a medical school, though I had little or no social skills, had no desperate desire to help people or save the world, largely due to a series of muddles that derailed my attempts to get into a chemistry programme at Delhi University. Fortunately, I entered the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi (1966), which was then the very best medical school in the country. I had excellent teachers (Paintal and Anand in Physiology, Talwar in Biochemistry) who showed me the excitement and fascination of scientific research. Following my internship, I went to the U. of Alberta in Edmonton to complete my Ph.D in pharmacology with Drs E.E.Daniel and D.M.Paton. Alberta was not the most inviting of places and with a Ph. D in hand, I moved onto the Cardiovascular Research Institute in San Francisco to work with Richard Durbin in 1972. The Nixon-Kissinger-Watergate years were exciting times to live in the US, particularly in California and the Durbin lab was exhilarating. But in those days a J-1 visa was a limiting factor and my wanderjahres continued –Hopitaux Necker and Bichat, Paris, Delhi University, Beth Israel Hospital and Harvard, Boston till I finally settled at McMaster University in 1983, which has been my sanctuary for more than half my professional life.
My scientific research has dealt largely with ion transport across both symmetrical and polarised cells. The Intestinal Diseases Research program brought together physiologists, pharmacologists, immunologists and clinicians and proved an exciting place to work. Before coming to Mac, I had never heard of problem-based learning (PBL) and was both amused and sceptical of what I thought was a ludicrous approach to teaching. That changed when I saw tutorial groups in action and realized the enormous promise of letting students take charge. My professional life underwent a phase transition as I became more involved in teaching. I adapted the essence of PBL to a variety of situations ranging from basic sciences to the liberal arts and to classes ranging in size from 20 to 200.
In all my courses, I have sought to: (a) promote student-centered learning; (b) stimulate students to take responsibility for their own learning; and (c) encourage students to seek, synthesize, integrate information from a variety of sources and share that information with others. Further, I try to maintain a balance between instructional and expressive outcomes. I feel quite strongly that students who are motivated, enthusiastic and involved would learn better. True GRIT will make pearls. To that end, I have tried as far as possible to give students an opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned in a variety of ways (writing essays, book reviews, oral examinations, writing stories etc).
Though I am by profession, a basic bio-medical scientist, I have sought to bridge the two cultures (the sciences and the humanities) by actively designing courses that attempt to span this gulf or encouraging students to express their learning through more creative outlets. My courses have linked toxicology with creative writing, taste receptors with anthropology and my students have used archival material to deconstruct the antecedents of medical technology.