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January 23, 2019

Grab their interest: MS&E instructor wins teaching award

Written By: Sam Million-Weaver

Tayfun Soysal knows the secret to keeping his students captivated even as he teaches complicated materials science concepts.

Tayfun Soysal
Tayfun Soysal

“The first five minutes is very important,” says Soysal, a sixth-year MS&E PhD student and teaching assistant. “I get the students’ attention in the first five minutes to keep them interested for the whole class time.”

Soysal’s students in the freshman-level lecture and lab course MS&E 260 Materials Experience appreciated his teaching style so much that they nominated him for an honored instructor award from UW Housing in fall 2018.

He’s the first person from the materials science and engineering department to receive the honor.

“I’ve always loved teaching and the appreciation from the students and the department is really motivating for me,” says Soysal.

Originally from Turkey, Soysal always knew he had a knack for two things—teaching and science. In fact, at the beginning of his undergraduate education—which, in the Turkish system, encouraged students to specialize early based on aptitude testing—Soysal was offered a choice between selecting education or engineering for his major.

Opting to pursue engineering, Soysal excelled during his college years at Istanbul University, eventually receiving a scholarship from the Turkish government to support his graduate studies abroad.

Yet Soysal never lost his enthusiasm for education.

“I was really inspired by my instructors at university,” says Soysal.

For his first few years as a graduate student, Soysal worked as a course grader. And when the opportunity arose to step in front of the classroom himself, he rose to the occasion.

As a senior PhD student, Soysal has a lot on his plate. In addition to his role as an instructor, he conducts research under MS&E Professor Sindo Kou, and during fall 2018, he was preparing two manuscripts for publication on top of his teaching duties. And even though Soysal is becoming an expert in his field of research—welding defects that cause cracking when two metals are joined together—it had been years since he reviewed the introductory material covered in an entry-level MS&E course like the one he was teaching.

“In a way, I was taking the class along with the students,” he says.

Still, despite the hours of effort for preparation and time in the classroom away from his lab, teaching the course was not only personally rewarding, it was a boon for Sosyal’s research, in the long run.

“Teaching helps me relax, change direction and focus on something else,” he says. “When I return to my research, I come back with a fresh mind.”