Biology classroom builds research skills and self-reliance for subclasses

This piece is part of the new DrexelNow series featuring “A Day in the Classroom” for some of Drexel University’s most interesting and impactful classes.

The subtle hint that the students gathered outside Room 202 of the Papadakis Integrated Science Building on a past Wednesday are not about to enter a lecture is that there are lab coats and goggles security that are removed from backpacks and discarded.

Upon entering the classroom, teams of students also begin donning latex gloves and finding their place behind large microscopes. Laboratory assistant Olivia Pagán, a recent graduate in biological studies, rides in a cart with hundreds of small vials in which thousands of tiny fruit flies and larvae move about. Each team receives a box containing nearly 100 of these vials.

Students begin diligently with today’s task: collecting data on the effects of various enzymes by measuring and recording the movements of larvae and adult flies. Throughout the classroom, vigorous tapping can be heard as students push the adults to the bottom of the flask to see if they can crawl back up within 18 seconds.

Some teams chat quietly through the process, discussing allergy season or asking their instructors for upcoming presentations. Some sit wordless, focused on the task at hand. But what’s remarkable is that these students know very well what they’re doing – each performing their important function – as they move forward without phase while a few fruit fly escapees buzz around the room.

“Since we only meet twice a week, we try to simulate a real lab or research experience,” said Edward Waddell, doctoral candidate and adjunct professor in the Department of Biology at the College of Arts and Sciences. ‘Drexel University. .

Waddell has been appointed Adjunct Professor this term to teach this course, BIO 213 — “Drosophila Neural Research” — in the absence of his mentor, Daniel Marenda, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Biology. Marenda works externally as a program director for the National Science Foundation in Washington DC. The opportunity to teach the course also applies perfectly to Waddell’s position within the PROFESS (Pedagogical Readiness Oversight For Future Educators in Stem Subjects) program offered by Drexel’s Center for the Promotion of Excellence in Teaching and STEM learning (CASTLE).

The course is only offered to first and second year students studying biology and is limited to 15 students per term. The objective of the course is to introduce students to the basics of directed research in Drosophila genetics and neurobiology. Although conducted in fruit flies, the students are testing potential genetic modifiers associated with neurological diseases in humans, in particular CHARGE syndrome.

This is a real choice for one of those young students who want to get their hands on research early.

“It’s a really good experience for them, because one, it helps them build their resume, and two, it gives them a deeper insight into how science actually works,” Waddell said. “Developing concepts, thinking about problems, coming up with their own hypotheses, testing them – these are the skills you’re not going to learn in a lecture-type classroom.”

What makes BIO 213 even rarer, Waddell said, is that it’s not a “cookbook-style lab” where students simply go through the steps and are already aware of the results. These tests, he said, facilitate potentially publishable future research. In fact, the class has been named in articles published in the past.

“We might find something really interesting or we might not find anything at all,” he said of the student tests. “It’s the nature of science and so it’s really cool that we can expose students to this at such an early stage of their undergraduate career and hopefully inspire them to become more involved in science. research at the University.

This inspiration certainly grips the class of students this quarter. Alyssa Rae Massa, a freshman in the biological sciences, said she hadn’t seriously considered research as a career path, but after hearing about the course she thought she should give it a try. .

“It was actually really cool,” she said. “I’m starting to think a little more differently about what I want to do, just because it opened my mind to the possibilities.”

For Taylor Lifer, also a first-year bioscience student, the class helped give him more confidence in a future career in pharmaceutical research.

“Because I only have one partner and we’re supposed to present our data, I’ve become more confident with what I post,” she said. “I think it’s important because when I’m doing research I’m going to have to be able to stand up for all the data I find and everything I believe in.”

Lifer is also taking nearly 20 credits this semester because she didn’t want to miss her chance to take this lab.

“I was like, ‘I have to do this,'” she recalled. “It’s a great opportunity for me to start understanding the research environment and being collaborative.”

As the teams complete today’s tasks one by one, they wash their hands and undress, packing their gear into their backpacks. Once they’re done, they’re free to go. No need to check with Waddell or Pagán, or have their work reviewed.

This autonomy means a lot to Krisna Mompho, a first-year bioscience student, as she mimics what it would be like in a research-based job opportunity.

“They ask how we are, but it’s not like they’re coddling us,” he said of the instructors. “We have that level of independence that is needed in the workplace because your superiors will want to see that initiative, which I feel like this class definitely provides.”

For her teammate Thérèse Mathew, a first-year biology student, it’s an opportunity to do this novel, meaningful research so early in her college career that she thinks will be of real benefit to her future.

“It’s an open environment,” she says. ” You do what you want. You are responsible for your own data. It makes you feel like an adult. … We need more research courses like this at Drexel.

Paul N. Strickland