Tag: science teaching
As a microbiologist, it is easy to look at the image of Gram negative rods at left and see uniformity in shape, metabolism, and genetics. Each cell like the other. I think sometimes, particularly at big schools where majors are as plentiful as the bacteria in the micrograph, students can encounter faculty who see their students in the same way. Major, classification, ID number, career goal. It can be easy to miss the uniqueness of each individual and their journey to graduation from college.
I mention this because it is hard to believe the fall semester is so far gone that it is time to start looking to January. This week marks the advising period before spring registration begins on Monday. Students are meeting with advisors, looking at short term and long term scheduling of courses, and seeing the conclusion of their college careers begin to take shape.
I am back on campus for this event, taking a temporary break from my sabbatical to allow me to spend time with my advisees. Like most faculty, advising consists of two separate but equally important facets: what does the total four-year degree package and career goal look like, and how can the next semester best contribute to that plan. In the past few days, I’ve met with a good portion of my advisees and our conversations included the following:
- A sophomore student working to graduate in three years (MANY BIMS majors finish in 3-3.5 yrs) and trying to get some key courses taken this spring to help prepare her for the MCAT in May. Human Physiology or Microbiology? ( Because of courses she has taken and emphasis in the MCAT, we decided on Human Phys).
- Another sophomore student planning on the 3.5 yr plan and trying to best schedule courses this spring to enable management of biochemistry, molecular biology, physics, and other science courses next year. Can we squeeze in a minor in Spanish and the two semesters of Human A&P as electives. (Depends on whether you want a Biochem minor and Immunology).
- Three junior students all planning on writing Honors Theses next spring and interested in how to position themselves to complete their research and all other Honors requirements before this time next year. (It is possible if literature search begins this spring and research begins this summer. And one expectation I have for Honors students is that they submit their work for publication in addition to writing their Honors Thesis).
- A freshman transfer student eager to find ways to maximize the contributions of credit already earned elsewhere toward completion of her BIMS degree, all the while looking at how to best prepare for PA school. (We will have to petition for a course substitution to keep her on course).
- Another student whose road to teacher certification in the sciences is being charted, using courses transferred from junior college. Our goal is to take her unconventional course selection and timing and translate it into student teaching next fall. (Depends on whether she can get four Education courses completed this spring and summer).
In each of these situations, unique personalities, skill sets, career goals, and personal journeys have contributed to tailored and intentional advising. McMurry is not a place where students are shoved into a cookie-cutter plan for their degree and left to fend for themselves. We see advising as a cooperative effort between student and faculty to accomplish the goal. It is one of our greatest teaching/service accomplishments, as we look at the person and imagine and vision how best to help dream become reality.
I am honored and blessed to work with other faculty who are as intentional in their dedication to personalized student success as I am, and who routinely go beyond adequate to be excellent in their contributions to student achievement and success. I fully expect that from this group will come at least three doctors, two PAs, a graduate student in a biomedical science, and an exceptional middle school science teacher. After all, that is what we are working toward.
Our third guiding principle for BIMS research projects is “Keep it Meaningful“. There are plenty of ways to approach involving students in the enterprise of research. One approach is to do quasi-research, projects that are original to the student but for which the outcome is known. Repeating the work of others as a way to teach students the mechanics of designing, conducting, analyzing, and reporting a research study is a standard process used in teaching. I’d bet everyone reading this has been in a lab at one time or another where the goal was to do an “experiment”, record the results and analyze them against the known outcome for that work. That is a legitimate means for teaching skills, but we don’t believe that is an exposure to research. An exercise of skills rather than an experiment to learn new knowledge. There are plenty of courses at our school and others that take this approach. We choose not to make this the sum total of their learning experience.
A second common approach to exposing students to research is to engage them as individual workers with their own modest component of an on-going project. Dr. Jones is working on characterizing an enzyme’s sensitivity to chemical and environmental changes, and Student Johnny is given the task of testing divalent cations in the process. Unlike the first approach above, this is truly research that reveals new knowledge. However, it is science as an “assembly line” process. Researchers in this type of compartmentalized research serve as workers doing their portion of a project with little knowledge of anything beyond their small part. In reality, BIG science is done that way; each scientist and lab pitches in their findings to give a more complete portrait of the problem and its answers. As with the exercise approach above, we do involve our students in projects like this in some courses (or in portions of courses). However, we also want our students to see more than the toenail of the elephant.
We choose instead to involve our students, at some point in their BIMS experience, in designing, conducting, analyzing, and reporting on a project of their own creation. Not an exercise repeating work previously done. Not as a cog in a machine. A compartmentalized project of short duration with unique and unknown outcomes. Typically, this is their capstone project, designed in collaboration with BIMS faculty. The benefits are huge. Planning an experiment requires consideration of all variables rather than a pertinent subset. It requires scheduling and preparation, background research on prior work done in the field, discipline in conducting work, discovery and repair of flaws in design, the deep thought needed to analyze and explain findings, the exacting nature of scientific writing. Where the other approaches teach skills and how to work in an active research setting, this approach gives students the added skills of leadership and project management. Ideal projects lead students to integrate learning from a variety of courses as they complete their work.
We believe “keeping it meaningful” means students will see the more global view of how research is designed and conducted so that no matter their future, they have the skills to face the unknown around them with confidence in their approach and toolbox for success.