MLS Instructor Highlight: Alma Novotny

Alma NovotnyAlma Novotny has been teaching for the MLS program since 2008. She is also a faculty lecturer in the department of biochemistry and cell biology at Rice. A favorite with MLS students, Dr. Novotny has really seen it all in her courses – how many times have you seen a live chicken in the classroom? She shared some of her most memorable experiences with MLS students and teaching for the MLS program with us.

stuffed animals

Plush microbes Dr. Novotny used in “Plagues and Populations.”

What are your favorite courses you’ve taught for MLS?
Asking me to pick my favorite is like asking me to choose my favorite granddaughter. There are commonalities, but each is unique and equally dear to me. I first taught “DNA: Human Origins and Identity” in 2008. We had so much fun that the students and I cooked up a second course which would allow us to reunite. In 2009 I taught “Plagues and Populations.”

Can you please share a memorable moment or experience from your MLS experience?
Because the concept of modeling is so important to the development of scientific theory, classes do a homework assignment in which students bring in some sort of model and compare it to the real thing. Some highlights (I foresee having to apologize to various members of my class for not including their examples):
• A live chicken (for comparison)
• A musical performance compared with the sheet music
• An “anatomically correct” male doll
• A paper sheet from target practice showing an outline of Tom Ridge drilled with bullet holes
• An “upside-down” earth map, pointing out the arbitrariness of our current view of the planet
• Strategic football play diagrams
We also do an exercise in group problem solving that tasks the students with discovering the hidden rules for an acceptable balloon. Failed balloons get popped, resulting in a raucous and messy evening.
Another peak moment was the Valentine’s Day my husband showed up in a tux bearing candy and a boom box with romantic music.

What do you enjoy about teaching for MLS?
Of course, the best part of teaching for MLS is the students. Every teacher wants to have a class of people who are interested, motivated and present for the pleasure of learning and largely without hidden agendas. Where else but MLS can you find such a class? Having classes like these lets me experiment, knowing that if one experiment doesn’t work out exactly as planned, we’ll find a way to get something interesting out of it. Also, MLS students eat really well and are always sharing goodies.

To learn more about the MLS program please join us Wednesday, January 22 at 6:30 p.m. for our information session. You will have the opportunity to meet instructors and alumni. For details or to RSVP visit

Laura Bailey


Laura Bailey, Marketing Coordinator

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