This year Maija Rumaka, assistant professor of the Department of Human Physiology and Biochemistry, Faculty of Medicine, won the best lecturer award at Rīga Stradiņš University. Her students admit that Assist. Prof. Rumaka is responsive and forthcoming and at the same time strict and demanding.
The Student Council nominates candidates for this position and determines the award winner by summarising students’ opinions obtained via electronic questionnaires. This year, 15 lecturers were nominated for this award.
“This appreciation of students is the highest award for me! I don’t think that I deserved it,” says assistant professor Rumaka pointing to the award.
She conducts lectures and practical classes in physiology for students of the Faculties of Medicine, Rehabilitation and Dentistry. “Students need to be able to think logically when mastering physiology. Learning by heart is not enough. They must be able to justify logically the correlation between factors,” the assistant professor emphasises.
Maija Rumaka has been working at RSU since 1998, when professor Līga Aberberga-Augškalne offered her a job at the Department of Human Physiology and Biochemistry after graduation. Although she was planning to pursue residency to become a doctor, she stayed with the Department and devoted all her energy and knowledge to teaching.
She was a student at RSU (called Medical Academy of Latvia at the time) herself once. “Studies were tough. I couldn’t afford partying all night long, as I would lag behind other students,” says the assisting professor recalling her studies.
In her leisure time, the assistant professor loves reading books, picking mushrooms, orienteering, although she has very little free time: “I have a lot of work at the university – numerous lectures and classes are a visible part of my work. The rest is invisible for the others – lectures do not appear out of thin air, they have to be prepared. Moreover, I have to correct students’ papers, plan and prepare courses for e-studies. That is a huge amount of work!”
What qualities must a teacher have to be good at his or her job?
You should ask students about it. In the long-term, of course, the value of a teacher depends on how demanding he or she is, as we remember only teachers-tyrants, who forced us to study.
Which teachers do you remember from your studies?
I recall several good teachers. I certainly liked my teacher of physiology professor Arnolds Valtneris. In internal diseases I liked professor Jūlijs Anšelēvičs – his lectures were very well arranged. There were many of them…They devoted much attention to the structure of their classes. Lectures were systematic and students could apply the obtained knowledge and skills in their further studies.
Is it true that you are a demanding lecturer?
I wish students did not muddle away their time. Of course, we can sit and talk about life – who doesn’t like to talk about these things, but it is important that they learn something from their classes. Therefore, I must be demanding. I don’t deny that I am a tyrant in certain way. However, I am trying not to be too harsh on them. Everything depends on how much each student has learned. I can’t afford to be too strict, as they won’t be able to say anything during their classes because of fear.
During my own studies, I enjoyed answering questions and being able to ask them. In such case the time was priceless.
What do you expect from students during their studies?
I think that any teacher expects his or her students to be prepared for classes. Because only then you can talk to them, add something new and let them see things they have learned from other angles.
Do your students cheat?
I don’t allow cheating. I am against cheating! Cheating is prohibited as stipulated by RSU Internal rules of studies, and students are aware of this. Nevertheless, they sometimes do cheat and then the student is expelled from the classroom. Cheating is not allowed! Cheaters receive better grades than those who study decently and do not cheat, and that is unacceptable!
How are today's youngsters different from those of the past?
The national system differs and youngsters are different as well. Back then teachers were like gods – decisions were indisputable. Nowadays, teachers and students are seen as equals, and I find it good, as there is no communication gap between students and teachers.
Local students have become more open. Before they rarely asked questions. Whereas, international students are extremely open and occasionally they want to set their own rules.
Name your life's milestones.
A great milestone was commencing work at the department. I face milestones every day, when I learn or come across something new.
What would you like to master?
Physiology. You can go deeper and discover new things in it. Physiology has no limits. The more you know, the more you become aware that you know nothing. Though, I don’t have much time for that right now.
I would like to have a more profound knowledge of physics and astronomy. Right now, the way of thinking about the universe is changing, therefore, I would like to get a deeper insight into it.
Who taught you life lessons?
Undoubtedly, those are parents, because they lay the foundation. All people we face are our teachers.
What are your research interests? You’ve already mentioned before that you have little time for research…
I have, indeed, little time for research, because I devote all my time to teaching.
Today, I am neglecting research, but I analysed and studied physiology of breathing in my doctoral thesis once. It was about changes in the breathing function of swimmers and winders. We had cooperation with the Sports Academy, where all the students had to learn to swim. For example, we observed how functions of the respiratory system change, when people don’t know how to swim, and after that, when they have learned to swim – how respiratory volume, muscle rate, flow rate changes. In winders, we checked how the respiratory system adapted to playing their musical instrument compared to swimmers.
Currently we (I and my colleagues at the department) are studying driver drowsiness. The aim of the study is to develop a drowsiness inspection test that is shorter than the currently available test that last for 11 minutes.
Together with a PhD candidate we continue studies related to changes in the body resulting from motor activity and during physical stress.
I will devote more attention to research in summer, when I don’t have to work with students.