Duncan, Ravit

Assistant Professor
My Story: 
The first thing that set me on the science path was a series of twelve life-science books that I received when I was five. My parents used to read them to me over and over again, and when I learned to read they were a staple in my library. There were books about monkeys, insects, plants, and venomous animals. Their beautiful illustrations captivated me and the descriptions of strange and scary organisms filled me with awe. The books are since out of print but they sparked a life-long interest in the life sciences. 

During middle and high school I participated in science enrichment courses offered by the Weizmann Institute of Science, a few blocks from my home. These courses allowed me explore biology at a greater depth. Among other things, I learned how to perform surgery on mice, extract DNA, and transform regular cells into cancer cells by introducing new genes into them. My first dream was to become a vet, specifically a vet at a large zoo working with cute and cuddly exotic animals. I soon realized that there were not a great deal of opportunities for that sort of work, and the prospect of ending up as a "regular dog-and-cat" vet was not enticing enough. The dream morphed-- I wanted to become a research scientist, a molecular biologist to be exact.

I received both my Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Biological Science. I worked in several research labs as an undergraduate, and even completed a thesis in molecular genetics. However, while I loved biology very much, I found that I did not excel at, nor did I enjoy, bench work. Test tubes, centrifuges, and gels bored me. I lacked the precision and patience needed to do good empirical research in molecular biology. I slowly realized that it was unlikely I would become a molecular biologist; the dream began morphing again. 

In addition to my love for biology, which had not waned in and of itself, I rediscovered my love for teaching. As a teenager I had worked with young children in summer camps for several years and taught courses in the outreach programs I had taken as a student. I had also taught in the Israeli army. This was my first formal teaching experience and probably had the biggest influence on my choice to enter the field of education. As an instructor and commander in the army I had to develop, implement, and assess a challenging curriculum; I was thus able to experience many aspects of teaching. I found that the aspects I enjoyed the most involved the planning and designing of instruction. I therefore decided to pursue a graduate career in education, rather than becoming a schoolteacher. 

I completed my PhD in Education in 2005 in a field called the Learning Sciences. My dissertation work focused on the development and study of curriculum materials for high school genetics. I was able to combine my love of biology with my growing expertise in conducting education research-- I felt that I had found my calling. 

I have been at Rutgers since 2005 and my research agenda has expanded and diversified. I still study student learning in genetics, but now I also study teacher preparation and the design of web-based learning environments in ocean sciences. I have found many excellent colleagues to work with at Rutgers and enjoy working with several dedicated graduate students on my various research projects.

Throughout my career in both science and education, I have not personally experienced any discrimination due to being a woman. I do believe that there are additional challenges that women face in trying to balance family and work. I think that if one wishes to have a family it is important to select a graduate school and/or academic faculty position at an institution that understands and values family life. Similarly, one's support networks at home and at work are critical to ensuring a well balanced and less stressful existence. My husband's support, encouragement, and the sharing of day-to-day responsibilities at home have made it possible for me to learn, participate, and succeed in education research.

Transcribed from an interview with Christina Leshko, with edits by Lauren Miller
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