Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Serendipitous, Cross-Generational Story that Lead Me to Coursera

Copied from:


While working towards my Ph.D. at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, I took an advanced graduate seminar entitled “Photobiology”, taught by Prof. Dov Koller. I knew very little about the subject, and registered for the course probably as much for its fitting my schedule, as for any other reason. Little did I know then that this 2-point seminar would have a lasting influence on my life, and even connect me to the Coursera course I am offering this fall entitled What a Plant Knows. 

Dov KollerDov was a large man, with a ready smile and an inherent ability to convey his fascination with the ways in which plants sense and respond to light signals. His research dealt with photo-tracking – the ability of certain plants to reposition their leaves or flowers to the position of sun in the sky. But Dov’s course was not primarily about his own research. Rather he introduced us not only to a biophysical description of light, but to the cutting edge research, being done around the world, on plant responses to light. 

I found this class so interesting, that I decided that for my postdoctoral research I would look for a lab studying light signaling in plants. In consultation with Dov I identified the best labs doing relevant research, and finally decided on the laboratory of Xing-Wang Deng at Yale University, where I would spend over three years studying the biochemical and genetic basis of photomorphogenesis – the plant’s morphological response to light signals. My publications during this time enabled me to get an academic position at Tel Aviv University in 1996. During these years and after, I enjoyed meeting Dov at seminars and conferences and in updating him on my work. 


So where’s the connection to Coursera? When I was asked this past Spring by Tel Aviv University to prepare their inaugural Coursera class. Several weeks after agreeing to do this, I was asked by the vice president of Tel Aviv University if I would meet with one of the founders of Coursera, who would be visiting the campus. This cofounder is Daphne Koller. Only after several minutes did I make the connection that Daphne is Dov’s daughter.

So as I start my course next week, I will be thinking of the Koller family, without whom I would not be teaching a class on plant senses (including plant responses to light). Without Dov, I would not have been exposed to the scientific field that became part of my life’s work, and the subject of my Coursera course. And without Daphne I wouldn’t have the opportunity to present to so many people the wonderful world of plant senses that so enthralled her father.


This is a story about the closing of a circle; a story that spans three generations and goes around the globe. My father, who passed away 6 years ago, was a lifelong educator, who cared passionately about teaching. He taught and inspired his students, and influenced the life of many, including Professor Danny Chamovitz. He also taught many, including myself, the love of learning and knowledge; my work on Coursera is a testament to his memory. It is a wonderful twist of fate that allows Danny to convey the ideas developed in my father’s research, via Coursera, to thousands of students around the world. I hope that they too continue to pay it forward, and propagate their knowledge and passion for learning to many others. [Pictured here are Daphne, her parents and her older daughter Natalie].

No comments:

Post a Comment