Courses provide foundation, not full education
Published: October 2, 2015
I am currently preparing to attend, and present at, the American Society for Cell Biology annual conference this December, and amidst the applications for travel awards and work preparing an abstract and poster, I quickly realized that going to a conference requires a lot of planning.
However, despite the additional work, presenting research at a national conference and watching others present their work is the best modern embodiment of the scientific experience. While presenting my work, I will face scrutiny from experts in the field, which will test my understanding of the research itself.
The conference only reflects a small subset of my time in the lab. I perform procedures that can last up to ten consecutive hours, in addition to daily maintenance of cell cultures and spending my Tuesdays as a teaching assistant for Cell Biology lab. However, I do not see these commitments as things that I “have” to do; my commitments are things that I want to do.
Students should find activities that are as engaging for them as research is for me so that they can make the most of their undergraduate experience by gaining further exposure in their chosen fields.
For students who conduct research in laboratories, work at the bench composes only one piece of the research experience; running experiments either supports or refutes hypotheses that we propose outside the lab. When I read primary literature pertaining specifically to my research, I am educating myself at the frontiers of humanity’s understanding of the microtubule doublet and eukaryotic flagella. When I lead journal club discussions, I test both my understanding of these topics and my ability to explain the given topic. When I attend journal club meetings led by lab mates, I learn about fascinating discoveries and techniques at the borders of our current understanding of topics ranging from molecular docking in computational biology to specific cellular pathways implicated in retinoic acid signaling in neuroblastoma.
However, my experiences in the lab are just one example. All students, not just science majors, should attend presentations from guest lecturers at The University.
Last year, I learned about behaviors of ants at a lecture hosted by the biology department. I learned about special properties of glass and the direction of a subset of materials science at an Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers meeting. I attended these lectures on my own volition, as an eager undergraduate should. Students should not have to be bribed with extra credit. As members of a Jesuit University, students should remember that striving for excellence in their education requires involvement in extracurricular activities that truly expand upon their normal curriculum.
If you are already involved in research or some extracurricular activity related to your major, try to learn a bit more about some courses that may be classified as “cognates” on your CAPP report. If you are a chemistry major, stop by an IEEE meeting.
If you are a mathematics major, see what the Association for Computing Machinery meetings have to offer. If you are a physics major, attend a lecture from the biology department, and if you are a biology major, stop by a presentation from the mathematics department. These events never take more than an hour, and the worst that will happen is that you will learn something new about a field related to your own. You never know, you might find a latent interest to explore further.
Students should choose activities that supplement their courses because education does not end in the classroom. Education begins in the classroom.