A Student Perspective on Authentic Course-Based Research at BC

A student in a white lab coat

An Interview with Miranda Cook, a current Molecular Biosciences student who has taken both ComGen courses (BIO211 & BIO275) at BC.

When did you first become interested in science?

I guess like most kids, when I watched Jurassic Park, in my dinosaur phase, I thought science was really cool.

Why did you start pursuing a degree in science?

I actually came to BC to study art and do 3D animation so I could work at PIXAR. I took art classes and realized how difficult the courses and this career path would be for me and I came to the conclusion that art was a hobby for me and not a career. During my first year here, I took the interdisciplinary course which is a hybrid of a biology and anthropology course and it had a small genetics component where we took saliva swabs to compare our mitochondrial DNA to the rest of the world and people in the class. It was very exciting to me. It showed me how close and how far away you could be to people, genetically. The girl sitting next to me in the class had only one difference from me in our mitochondrial DNA; we found out we shared a substantial amount of genetic history. That course got me interested in genetics and led me initially to pursue my Lab Tech Associates degree. After I got my associates, I worked for a bit until deciding to come back to BC and pursue a bachelors in the new Molecular Biosciences program. From being out in the workforce, I realized I need a job where I could continue to learn, even after I had mastered the techniques. Science and genetics, in particular, are constantly changing, and scientists are constantly learning. I want to work in that type of environment.

Entering BIO 211: Biology Majors Cellular, what were your first impressions?

BIO 211 seemed like a lot. It is already a science class with a lab that is known to be hard, especially because of all the new vocabulary and how many major concepts are introduced in that course. That, plus the ComGen laboratory work and then journal club is a lot to take on. Up until that point I had not taken laboratory courses where the lab was used for anything other than a way to support the lecture. You go to lab and just follow the directions and the lab activity is used to demonstrate something the teacher talked about in lecture. BIO 211 is different. It is a lab where you actually got to learn things. Cellular biology, in general, is a very technical course and I found that having a big project that went throughout the whole lab allowed you to really learn the technical aspects. Also, a lot of processes in cell biology are so important to see like growing cultures, gel electrophoresis or the isolation of a plasmid. In the ComGen lab you can see and do every step. 

But, it is hard. You have to find your own procedures and be more independent than other science classes. You work with a lab partner and are dependent on them. You are learning and teaching each other at the same time.

Why did you take BIO 275: Laboratory Methods in Genomics? What is it like? What skills do you need to be successful in that class?

Because I want to do lab work and like genetics, BIO 275 was a chance to understand how to do my own lab work and be more responsible as well as go deeper into genetic laboratory techniques. In that class you are only responsible for yourself but you do have to be careful not to procrastinate as it is easy to fall behind. You learn a lot about time management and you might have to go back and do things again so you have to constantly adjust. You learn a lot about organization from maintaining your lab notebook. Each day you are given just enough guidance to get started and on the same page in lab group meetings and it is very collaborative—you get to know everyone. I took science classes with the same people several times and never have talked to them. In this class you really get to know everyone and you learn a lot from the other students.

I think you have to be curious in this course to be successful. You have to be willing to ask the questions and troubleshoot them. If you are not asking questions and problem solving you will get lost or fall behind.

Is it important to offer courses like ComGen?

It is really important to have science courses like ComGen. The combination of having limited guidance and lots of independence makes you feel responsible for the work you are doing. In other lab course you are given everything and don’t have to figure anything out. In ComGen you have to understand what you are doing. You know where you are trying to go but you have to figure out how to get there.  

What is the biggest lesson you learned from taking these courses?

I learned a lot of things. I think the biggest thing is I have the confidence to answer a question that doesn’t have an answer in a book, figure out a problem or to learn a technique without someone telling me how to do it. I know I can figure it out. For students that haven’t taken courses like this they just read the lab and stop digging. I look online, watch a lot of YouTube, or read articles and I learn so much more that way.

I learned I can read primary scientific literature from Journal Club. It is actually a skill to read like that and analyze them critically.

I learned how I learn. I realized I have only tried learning one way from taking mostly lecture based courses, but I really prefer to learn things visually. Because I had to learn things on my own in ComGen I found videos really helped. Looking at a chemistry book, nothing moves, but actually in chemistry everything moves so now in organic chemistry, I watch YouTube all the time.

I like people more than I thought I did. BIO 275 and the close lab environment made me make friends and talk to people that I never would have before.

Last Updated December 18, 2017