Chem Prof started out with arts
Published: Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, May 1, 2012 01:05
Prof. Claudia Novack (CHEM) can teach you more than balancing redox equations, finding oxidation states and using valence shell electron pair repulsion theory. In her multi-disciplinary educational trajectory, she has learned something more important than holding the perfect pitch and calculating Gibbs free energy. “Don’t fight your niche” is perhaps the best way to put it.
JustNews: Can you tell me of a story that you would like your students to know? For instance, what brought you to Brandeis?
Claudia Novack: When I was young, I had many loves. I could not choose between horses and music. I loved riding horses, playing the flute and singing. I grew up wanting to be an equine veterinarian, but at the same time, music was calling pretty hard. In high school, I was torn between practicing music and riding my horse. I would ride my horse and then run to practice music. When I went to prep school, I sold my horse because music was such a passion. I was brought up with the idea that music wasn’t the way to get ahead in life—my father was a surgeon and was very unsupportive of a performing arts career.
There is no question, it is hard to make a living with performing arts. For higher education pursuits, I chose the New England Conservatory/Tufts University dual degree program where I pursued my academic schizophrenia, in that I had the rigorous musical training that a conservatory would provide and the liberal arts degree one would expect from Tufts. I didn’t want to choose, but there was no room for pre-medicine. After that, I pursued academics at Brown [University] where I got my Ph.D for Slavic Linguistics, but after completion, there were just no jobs. The demand for Western Slavic Language Semanticists was low, and I turned to teaching private voice lessons at Brandeis University as I was married to a Brandeis theater professor at the time.
I realized I loved teaching but when the recession hit, I didn’t want to give up my dream of being a veterinarian and entered the post-bachelor program here at Brandeis. At the time, I also began practicing yoga for personal reasons and then became a yoga instructor. Shortly after, I was invited to teach general chemistry lab sections and there was no room for pre-medicine once more.
JN: Clearly, teaching has come up several times in your story so far. Why teaching?
CN: I told myself: “Maybe I am finding my passion for teaching.” There’s a reason I’ve ended up teaching everything I love. And I always wanted to be a part of an academic department. As a Slavic Linguist, I wasn’t able to do that, but here, even with my lack of science Ph.D, the chemistry department has welcomed me. Teaching for me was a form of a social set with students.
JN: So are you still riding horses and singing?
CN: When I get the opportunity, I try to ride horses and hope that in the future I will have a small horse farm. I only sing to my son.