It is a common misconception that those who teach have a summer of rest and leisure. Anyone who has taught knows that is not close to true for many. Rather, summers are times for exploration and experimentation to update and improve courses. It is when new things have to be tried out before decisions on fall orders are made. It is a time when upgrades to the curriculum are made.
With that in mind, I want to report on some of the things we are looking forward to for the fall in the Biomedical Science program.
- Summer research. One thing that moves on during summers is research, something difficult to do along with other responsibilities during the school year. The photo accompanying this post is of Heather Rawls, the first Beasley Summer Research Scholar, who has been in the lab all summer working on her Honors research project. She is not alone, as Kendra Williams also worked on her Honors research involving molecular biology this summer and Bradley Rowland continued his research internship on nanoparticles and drug delivery at the TTU School of Pharmacy. Heather’s work, centered on germination of Bacillus thuringiensis spores, has given her greater insight into the frustrations and exhilaration that define research. They, and three other BIMS students, will participate in Honors research this fall and spring.
- Medical Terminology courses. I know this is not exactly new, but it is certainly fairly new. Dr. Sharp has worked out the kinks to providing online beginning and advanced courses in medical terminology.
- Online Microbiology. Drs. Wilson and Benoit spent sabbaticals last year developing online microbiology labs and lectures for allied health majors. Though the courses will not be available until 2014, much of the ground work is done and is being tested and finalized with classes this year. This initiative is in response to mandates in some states that all components of pre-nursing programs be delivered online for convenience and cost-savings. For a sneak-peak, visit www.micro-online-complete.com.
- Food Microbiology. Dr. Wilson is offering an advanced microbiology course this year over food microbiology. Students will make foods with microbes, test foods, preserve foods, and investigate means for creating safe kitchens. A guide to safe kitchen practices for college students will be the final product of the class.
- Pre-Health Professions preparation. Based on the success of our freshman-/sophomore-level Pre-Professional (PREP) seminar, we have decided to develop a follow-up course focusing on admissions test preparation, application completion, shadowing experiences, and additional interview preparation. Our goal is to improve MCAT, DAT, PCAT, GRE, etc. scores, to further polish application essays, and to build confidence in interview skills for our students. Armed with a new endowed fund for supporting PREP activities, additional enrichment activities such as trips to visit medical and other professional schools, and the like.
- Certificate in Pre-Health Professions Studies. One idea gaining strong interest is the creation of a co-curricular certificate for students who pursue courses and experiences outlined in a pre-health professions certification program. Early ideas on this include courses in medical ethics, mental health, wellness, and the usual prescribed courses for pre-health programs… sort of a body, mind, spirit approach preparing students for the profession of meeting healthcare needs of the next generation. More on this as we better define the program.
So, it is clear we have not been sitting on the beach this summer. Much is afoot for BIMS!
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!