Biophysics IGERT grant student panel

My notes in prep for next student committee meeting to provide critical feedback for improving the Berkeley Biophysics training program.

Possible objectives for core curriculum, (motivated from From IB grant: Part 1. customized core curriculum guided by IGERT mentoring teams.)

  • Working knowledge of a high level scripting language.
  • Stat Mech
  • Optics
  • Biochemistry
  • Try to assemble a list of courses under maybe 3 major training objectives

Learning through teaching

  • Instructors will become better masters of their discipline through teaching.
  • This program will give senior IGERT fellows direct teaching experience developing curricula, giving lectures, writing problem sets, interacting with students in office hours.
  • Currently available GSI opportunities offer large amounts of grading and minimal opportunity in curricular design or lecture presentation.
  • Our current program students have a wide range of expertise, especially practical expertise (coding, building, troubleshooting),

How to integrate other disciplines? — I think this happens to a large extent already, given that all our courses are in departments from ‘other disciplines’ as are all our rotation and thesis labs.  I think the bigger challenge is having some sense of something that is biophysics.
We could ask instead how many disciplines should a student/fellow interact with and how do we ensure the appropriate breadth and depth of these interactions?

Making the program more inclusive to non-biology students: since we don’t actually have requirements, I don’t feel that were especially exclusive.  I think it’s more a question of what is the ‘group’ to which one feels included in or excluded from — I believe it’s currently mostly about self perception, and predominantly social.  Individuals in the program who feel outside of the program do so largely because their research is more distant from that of their cohort (rather than distant from the program).  I think our student demographics are also heavier on the non-biology undergraduate background than on the biology background.

Educational experience outside of the classroom:

  • Biophysics Seminars are great (kindof classroom).
  • Biophysics Retreat is good — practice giving presentations/posters/explaining research.  Get to see cool things, get new ideas, build community.
  • Lab work itself / ‘academic apprentice’ is >90% of educational process for me, no question.  Might depend on lab.  Trial by fire / learn by doing / learn by error.
  • GSIing also a major learning experience — especially when able to design course curriculum, exams, problem sets, final projects etc.

Strongest features of our program:

  • Program philosophy: whatever training most helps you do the best research is the training you should take — whether that means 10 classes, 0 classes, whatever.
  • Broad base of research interests and expertise — legit interdisciplinary environment.

Weakest features of our program:

  • Sense of community is delicate — depends strongly on personality and behavior of individual students to keep it alive (rather than something that is actively constructed each year through routine program activities).

More requirements or just recommendations:

  • Keep on the safe side of do no harm — our students are pretty good at figuring out what is best.
  • More options.
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