biology course strengthens research skills and autonomy of underclass students | Now


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

The subtle advice that students gathered outside Room 202 of the Papadakis Integrated Sciences Building last Wednesday aren’t about to enter a conference is that there are lab coats and safety glasses. which are removed from backpacks and thrown away.

When entering the classroom, student teams also begin to don latex gloves and find their place behind large microscopes. Laboratory assistant Olivia Pagán, a recent graduate in biological studies, rolls in a cart with hundreds of small vials in which thousands of tiny fruit flies and larvae move. Each team receives a box containing almost 100 of these vials.

Students diligently begin today’s task of collecting data on the effects of various enzymes by measuring and recording the movements of larvae and adult flies. Throughout the class, there is a vigorous tapping sound as the students rush the adults to the bottom of the vial to see if they can climb back up in 18 seconds.

Some teams chat quietly throughout the process, discussing allergy season or asking their instructors about upcoming presentations. Some just sit there without a word, focused on the task at hand. But what is remarkable is that these students know very well what they are doing – each individual fulfilling their important function – as they move forward phaselessly as a few escaped fruit flies buzz around the room.

“As we only meet twice a week, we try to simulate a real laboratory or research experiment,” said Edward Waddell, doctoral student and assistant professor in the department of biology at the University’s College of Arts and Sciences. Drexel. .

Waddell was appointed Assistant 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 outside as a program director for the National Science Foundation in Washington DC. Advancing Excellence in STEM Teaching and Learning (CASTLE).

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

This is a real elective course for all those young students who want to familiarize themselves early with practical research.

“It’s a really great experience for them because one is building their resumes, and two is giving them a more in-depth look at how science actually works,” Waddell said. “Concept building, thinking about problems, making their own hypotheses, testing – these are skills you won’t get in a lecture-style classroom. “

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

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

That inspiration is certainly taking hold of the class of students this term. Alyssa Rae Massa, a first-year biological sciences student, said she hadn’t seriously considered research as a career path, but upon learning this course, she figured she should try it.

“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 has helped give her more confidence in a future career in pharmaceutical research.

“Since I only have one partner and we have to present our data, I have become more confident with what I am proposing,” 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 that I come up with and all that I believe in.”

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

“I was like, ‘I have to do this,'” she recalls. “This is a great opportunity for me to start to understand the research environment and to be collaborative.

As teams complete today’s tasks one by one, they wash their hands and undress, packing their gear in their backpacks. Once they are done, they are 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 freshman in biological sciences, as she mimics what it would be like in a research-based job opportunity.

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

For her teammate Therese Mathew, a freshman in biological studies, this is an opportunity to do this meaningful new research so early in her academic career that she thinks it 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

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