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.
This spring Colin will walk the stage to end his college career with a handshake and diploma, and thus beginning the next phase of his life. In many ways, Colin represents the very best of a college education at a university where students are more than ID numbers and test scores.
Colin came to McMurry a number of years ago and found mixed academic success. Frustrated, he left and joined the Marines, serving his nation admirably. Upon completion of his active service, Colin returned and rededicated himself to success in preparing for medical education.
Something is different this time around, and I believe I know what it is. Colin has involved himself in research-rich experiences. He began working several years ago with Dr. Carol McClelland, an adjunct faculty member (PhD from Colorado State and former student in my microbiology course at Texas A&M) who wanted a place to hang her hat and continue in her NIH fellowship research. Carol is an Abilenian originally and wanted to be close to home while her husband was deployed with the Air Force. She got Colin involved in hands-on research and suddenly things started to click. Later, when Carol’s family moved to California, Colin jumped into research-rich courses to work with other BIMS faculty. The result has been something to pin his knowledge on, something to translate theoretical into concrete. Now he “gets it” and he’s prepared for life after McMurry.
I saw Colin this week and he informed me that he has been accepted into a graduate program in molecular pathology this fall. Another success story.
More and more students will experience the same success in the BIMS program because the research-rich curriculum picks at a student’s curiosity and engages them in learning in ways that differ from seat time in a lecture course, or canned experiments conducted in the lab. The “BIMS Way” works!