A Day in the Life...
BIMS 1300 is a bit of an unusual course to start the BIMS major out on. The title is “Introduction to Scientific Research”, and yet we spend the majority of our time playing and designing games, with only limited time spent discussing the scientific method, the structure of a scientific paper, and the importance of ethical and moral behavior in the sciences. So it might come as a shock that one of the key features of the final exam is the analysis of a scientific paper taken from the Journal of Invertebrate Pathology.
All semester long, I have been telling the 33 students in the class (mostly freshmen) that our approach to learning how scientific research is conducted is taken from “The Karate Kid” – we do things seemingly unrelated to science to learn about science. So we played games to learn about variable and constants, how to use deductive reasoning to isolate variables in order to win the game. The mid-term exam included a simple Sudoku! We read excerpts from “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman” to learn about observation and controlled experimental design. I give them an article called “Delusions of Gender” that is a great example of how inductive reasoning can go awry if taken beyond the limits of logic. We ran through examples of research misconduct and discussed the high costs of research and played “The Lab” at the NIH-ORI website.
And their final exam included evaluation of a scientific paper. They told me which paragraphs fit into each part of an IMRAD format paper. They evaluated logic used in the Results and Discussion section. They identified variables and constants in the table and figure. Then, on page two of the exam they looked at a flawed study, pointed out the mistakes and designed a better approach. And they explained how the games their groups created use these same methods and approaches and skills.
How did they do? As students in the course have done over the past four years, they were able to show me they “get it” about how we use the tools of science on a daily basis as we go about our decision-filled lives. And I am certain the experience of this class will help our students approach their sophomore classes, including organic chemistry, genetics, and human physiology from a more critical and thoughtful perspective.
In Micro, we teach techniques through student projects. Early in the semester we studied Gram negative rods from foods to learn the basics of aseptic technique, pipetting and viable counts via pour plates, staining, microscopy, selective media, bacterial testing and identification, etc. Our most recent project needed to center on Gram positive cocci, so our four groups in lab chose where to do their sampling. We stayed away from places dangerous bacteria might be easily encountered, and then we sampled like crazy to see what we might recover and identify. Whether credit cards or cell phones or feet or fingertips, the groups all found Gram positive cocci and began their characterization. The result was nearly 40 unique isolates for us to investigate.
Identifying bacteria can be a long, laborious and expensive process. My students do some basic tests to get a feel for how the process is done. But we never go test-by-test, day-by-day to definitively identify our isolates. Instead, we use BD-BBL Crystal (R) Rapid ID panels. Students inoculate the panels with their culture, snap them closed, and then toss them in the incubator overnight. For Gram positive cocci, we use the GP panels, good for a wide range of cocci and bacilli. Each panel is designed to give answers for 30 separate tests useful for identification. We have manual readers that students can use to interpret test results (based on color charts provided). But when we renovated labs a few years back we built into the budget an automated panel reader that interfaces with a computer and provides two important functions: reading all 30 tests and interpreting their results to generate an identification. It was well worth the expense.
Today I came in and read results for over 1000 biochemical tests and identified over 30 bacteria in less than half an hour. When my students come in Tuesday, they will be able to add that information to their lab reports (research posters) and analyze that information to complete their posters. Sure beats having to make the media for those tests and wash the sterilized remnants later!
One great thing about our interstate highway system and the growing number of tollways and freeways is that they feature limited access. It is easy to keep the wheels rolling forward when cross traffic cannot interfere with your progress. Instead of the stop-and-go interruption of traffic control signals, a plan was devised to allow overpasses to support cross traffic and on- and off-ramps to allow entrance and exit from side roads.
In some ways, education works in the same way. We begin with an entrance ramp into an educational program in high school or junior college or a university or graduate school, and the completion of one program provides the exit ramp from that course of study. For instance, my undergraduate degree was not in science, but I was able to enter the “science freeway” as a graduate student and complete my masters and doctorate in microbiology. Others I know completed a science undergraduate degree and then left science to pursue graduate work in law, communication, and even “dean of students” type stuff. Suffice it to say that a healthy educational program possesses flexibility in entering and exiting at various endpoints along the way.
I mention this because McMurry’s BIMS program is always looking for articulation agreements with other programs. Notable examples are our Dental Early Admission Program (DEAP 3+4) with UTHSC-San Antonio Dental School (which allows a BS in BIMS and DDS degree in seven years), and similar programs with Hardin-Simmons School of Physical Therapy for the Doctor of Physical Therapy degree and Texas Chiropractic College for the Doctor of Chiropractic degree. Others with a variety of additional professional programs are in the works, giving McMurry’s BIMS students quick entry and preferred admission for programs in various medical fields. This, in and of itself, gives students choosing McMurry a huge advantage over those attending other colleges!
But the most interesting articulation program may be the one in development for biotech education in Abilene, and this truly puts the freeway exit ramp example above in proper perspective. Cisco College is a two-year community college with campuses in Cisco, Texas, and Abilene. They offer a certificate program in Biotech that is even newer than the BIMS program. Its first “graduates” are about ready for the workforce and further education. McMurry is developing an agreement that will allow some of the training they have received to count toward hours in the BIMS program. As Cisco moves toward an Associates Program in the field, we will work to make an easy transition into our BS in Biomedical Science program so that those so inclined can work toward a BS in BIMS. Such a step would mean higher pay, more responsibility, greater opportunity for advancement. Abilene’s growing biotech industry will be but one of the beneficiaries. At the same time, a MS in Biotech program offered by Texas Tech is also coming to Abilene. McMurry will work with TTU to develop an articulation allowing our students quick and easy entry into their program. Who knows – maybe a PhD in the field will be coming before long!
So, students interested in biotech, forensic science, or any of the other fields that rely heavily on molecular biology, microbiology, and genetics can come to Abilene and get on the Biotech Freeway. There will be exits at the certificate, associates, bachelors, and masters (and perhaps doctoral) levels of preparation to take them onto side roads important to their future. McMurry becomes the key connection between entry-level workers and biotech managers and entrepreneurs. We are excited to get on that freeway!