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Faculty Spotlight: Beatrix Büdy

March 27, 2012

By Sean McEntee ('14)

Beatrix Büdy, professor in the Department of Science and Mathematics, said the decision that led her to teach at Columbia was based on a gut feeling.

After receiving her doctorate in clinical-bioanalytical chemistry from the Cleveland Clinic at Cleveland State University Joint Program in 2003, Büdy interviewed for a teaching position at a Catholic university in Chicago. She was required to instruct a class as part of the interview, and through this experience, she said she discovered where she belonged.

"That was the moment I realized I was called to teach," Büdy said. "I just had to find a place where I could teach in a very free way."

After teaching for a couple of years, Büdy said she wanted more freedom academically and to teach to a smaller group of students in a more creative way. In 2005, she said she decided to check if Columbia had a biochemistry position, just for fun, and it just so happened that it did.

In fall 2006, Büdy became a professor at Columbia.

"This is my dream job, I made the right decision," she said. "When I go in front of the class it's like the biggest joy every time I teach. I don't know how to describe it. I'm a very happy person because of that."

Büdy isn't a traditional science teacher. She said she teaches biochemistry to students who have had zero experience with chemistry or biochemistry, and added that her students have high-level skills not traditionally exploited by science teachers, such as visual and audio pattern recognition.

"Columbia students have so many other skills," Büdy said. "They have a lot of courage to be themselves and all of these qualities that could make them 'the thing' to use to teach them."

Making students "the thing" was exactly what she did. Büdy said she collaborated with the Theatre department and had students create their own characters based on core learning objectives for the course, and near the end of the class, the students put on a play to tie the lessons together.

"I learned so much to be a better teacher by presenting the material through performance," Büdy said.

Although the work isn't watered down and can be difficult, Büdy said students here get to explore biochemistry in a unique, artistic way.

In fact, it was a creative approach that helped Büdy learn the English language.

Originating from Transylvania, Romania, Büdy didn't know much English when she came to the United States in 1998 to attend graduate school. Rather than learn from tapes or books, she said she wrote a novel in English to learn the language.

She admits the novel wasn't great, but said it helped her uncover another side to herself: a writing side. Büdy is currently working on a second novel and hopes to have it published.