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Thiebaud teaches through research

Many people take the same route to being college professors: they go to school, get a doctorate, and get a job.
Dr. Robert Thiebaud didn’t. The Texas Wesleyan assistant professor of exercise science was going to be a computer science major just because he liked it, but switched to exercise science at Brigham Young University because it was taught in a more cohesive way than the computer science classes he was taking.
“I just kind of decided I wanted to switch and try something different,” Thiebaud said, “but I still liked science. I also liked exercise. I love sports. I just went to the counselor and they told me about exercise science. I loved it and just stuck with it.”
Thiebaud, affectionately called Dr. T by many of his students, said that he worked at several different physical therapy clinics, decided they weren’t a good fit for him, and then decided to pursue a master’s degree in exercise science at BYU.
As a graduate student, Thiebaud could teach activity classes and conduct research.
“I started doing it, and I really enjoyed it,” Thiebaud said. “Learning about new things is always fun. When you have questions, you can actually go and try to find the answer.”
Thiebaud said he owes some of his credit to the mentors that shaped him through graduate school.
“They got me to go to a conference,” he said, “and kind of just built on from there until I decided that, ‘I’ll do this Ph.D. and do research because it’s fun.’ I enjoyed it.”
Thiebaud earned his doctorate degree in exercise physiology at the University of Oklahoma in 2014, and began teaching at Wesleyan the same year. He said that at Wesleyan professor’s focus on teaching but are also expected to continue to do research. He combines the two and uses his personal experiments to teach students outside the classroom.
“That’s the fun part, I think, is to get students involved in the research,” he said, “so they can see all the stuff that they’re learning in class and how it can be applied to different scenarios.”
Thiebaud said research studies teach students more than just science; they also teach problem-solving skills, because no experiment can be conducted perfectly.
“Seeing them progress and enjoy the experience and then having the students actually present some of that research at conferences is exciting,” Thiebaud said.
Thiebaud finds experiment ideas through his own interests and his students.
“I always try to make [the experiment] more towards interests that I have, that I’ve done previous research on,” he said. “But the FitBit study that I did that wasn’t necessarily my area of research. It was a question some students had so I thought, ‘Hey, let’s do a project and figure out how accurate they are.’”
Thiebaud has been impacting students at Wesleyan since 2014, according to
“Dr. T has shown me what it means to be an all-around good professor,” said senior exercise major Jacey Patton. “Not only has he been an incredible teacher, he has also helped in preparation for life after graduation whether that is graduate school or working in the field.”
Patton said that assisting Thiebaud with research has taught her many things besides just research methods.
“Conducting research has been very beneficial because it also taught me about myself,” Patton said. “I have been able to apply what I’ve learned in the classroom and have seen the aspects of research that I truly enjoy. It has shown me that I would like to continue conducting research and pursue higher education.”
Thiebaud typically invites students to be lab assistants, she said. Since Patton has always loved to learn, she jumped at the chance to help conduct research.
“I knew that I would have the ability to learn skills that would carry over into other aspects of life,” Patton said. “I was able to learn the process of conducting a research study and what it takes to conduct one of good quality. I was very excited to have the opportunity to put what I had learned into action.”
Lab assistants have a lot of responsibilities like testing equipment and gathering supplies, she said.
“I also help prepare the individual(s) participating in the research,” Patton said. “This includes things like placing electrodes in their proper place, fitting the equipment to the participant, making sure that they are aware of everything that will happen, and ensuring that they are comfortable throughout the testing. I also help in administering the test. This includes time-sensitive data collection, informing the participant of what will happen next, and making sure that the equipment functions properly throughout the protocol.”
Chandler Henderson, a senior exercise science major, said Thiebaud is very intelligent and makes being in the classroom fun. Thiebaud gives quizzes and homework to prepare students for tests, and he’s always open to students stopping by for help if they’re struggling with the material.
“I like that he takes an interest in each student,” Henderson said. “I like that he cares about his students and what he is teaching. He is a great man and a great professor.”
Oscar Peña, also a senior exercise science major, said he enjoys Thiebaud’s classes because he is passionate about learning, even though he has a Ph.D. Peña.
“He isn’t full of himself despite being a pretty smart guy,” Peña said. “He’s open to learning about new things and this kind of goes hand in hand with being passionate about teaching. If a student has a question about a particular subject and he isn’t able to answer it he will look into it and follow up the next class.”
Thiebaud tries to teach critical thinking, teamwork, and science using several different methods, Peña said.
“He is open to constructive criticism and suggestions on his teaching approach,” Peña said. “In doing so, he’s made it clear that his prime objective is making sure that every student is able to thrive in his class.”
Peña also said that Thiebaud has a great sense of humor and outlook on life that shine through in the classroom.
“I enjoy that he’s caring, and that he puts in grades fairly quick,” Peña said. “He tells you what he expects, what you need to do to be successful, and helps you as best as he can. What else would you want from a professor?”
For more information about Thiebaud’s studies, email [email protected].

Photo by Karan Muns
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Thiebaud teaches through research