Introducing New Biology Students to Research

Introducing New Biology Students to Research

Prof. Martha Cyert

Instructors: Prof. Martha Cyert and Prof. Tim Stearns
Department/School: Biology / Humanities & Sciences
Course: Core Molecular Biology Laboratory (BIO 44X) Autumn 2012
Schedule: One lecture and one lab section per week
Audience:  Undergrads, mainly sophomore biology majors
Teaching and Learning Approach: LectureLaboratory

Goals: Cyert wants to get students excited about biology so they want to take more.  For this course, her goals, with co-teacher Tim Stearns, were to:

  • give students an authentic research experience
  • let the students own their own data
  • emphasize critical thinking, data analysis, and communication

Approaches: To achieve these goals, Cyert and Stearns decided to give up exposure to many different lab techniques.  Since most students were pre-med, they chose a project related to cancer, which the students would find relevant.

Teaching & Learning Strategies: Lecture, Lab Experiments, Papers, Projects, Presentations, Team-Based Problem Solving

Lessons Learned:    Also, assessment showed that the students gained confidence.  Cyert said, "The students learned, not lab techniques, but how to think like a scientist."  They learned the an experiment needs to be repeated, that you need to use proper controls, to be critical of data, that science isn't linear but more "web-like," and that scientist learn even when the experiment didn't work. 

Also, teamwork among the instructional staff was critical for success to help the students complete their project in a 10-week quarter.


For Cyert, the best way to become a scientist is to do science. She works daily with students in her lab, discussing and troubleshooting their experiments, a learning process that she says allows her to remain a perpetual student.  Read her story.

In this lecture, Cyert discusses large introductory research-based laboratory classes, and how to design them to challenge students to create and share scientific knowledge.