New online course in biomedical research lab techniques for MSU undergrads a success

  • Mar 3, 2016
  • Alumni, Faculty & Staff, Research, Students, Biomedical Laboratory Diagnostics

BLD students Shawn Marshick (left) and Desiree Stewart (right) work with BLD Teaching Specialist Rachel Moris

BLD students Shawn Marshick (left) and Desiree Stewart (right) work with BLD Teaching Specialist Rachel Moris in the newly furnished lab created for BLD 214L. The lab was made possible by a generous donation from Betty and John Schoepke.

Summer 2015 was an exciting time in the MSU College of Natural Science’s Biomedical Laboratory Diagnostics Program, as it brought a new course online—BLD 214L Biomedical Research Laboratory Techniques.

Using a generous donation from MSU alum Betty Schoepke and her husband, John, BLD was furnished with an empty research space and new laboratory equipment including biological safety cabinets, pH meters, stir plates, glassware, an inverted microscope, micro-pipettes and all the other bits and pieces that make a lab ready for business. Betty even came in to help organize the lab! The resulting space was beautifully equipped for the five students who made up the course's inaugural class.

Aimed at making undergraduates competent in basic research skills, BLD 214L is necessarily different from our other BLD labs. The goal is to develop a skill set desired by research labs on campus and beyond. To that end, principal investigators from life science research labs across campus were surveyed and their responses were used to develop the course goals and objectives. The resulting labs and lectures were designed to build independence and competency in routine laboratory tasks, while at the same time, allowing students the opportunity to make mistakes in a safe environment.

“Developing independence and competency takes practice and having the opportunity to make mistakes in a safe environment,” said BLD Instructor Susan McQuiston. “With supervision and guidance, BLD 214L students work very much on their own.”

Most teaching laboratory classes start with a station set up for the exercise the student will be performing that day, coupled with basic instructions. BLD 214L students organize their own workspace and develop their own instructions for a given exercise. Upon completion, students clean their own bench space and lab glassware. Exercises focus on making reagents and testing to ensure correct preparation; pipetting accuracy; preparation of media for microbiology; and cell culture.

Students are allowed many opportunities during the course to practice the same skills repeatedly until they are comfortable and consistent in their work.

One of the more exciting lab sessions was the pipetting contest. Mid-semester, the students matched their newly honed pipetting skills against the old pros, BLD Teaching Specialist Rachel Morris and teaching assistant, Brad Childs. One of the students won the friendly competition, a tribute to all their practice!

“It was amazing to watch the students grow in confidence and lab proficiency over the seven week course,” Morris said.

The lecture component of the class covers topics such as scientific ethics and keeping a proper lab notebook. Legal issues, lab regulations, the best ways to present data and the sources of research funding in the United States are discussed. Reading primary literature and practicing lab math are also included. The course finishes with the students presenting some of their own data gathered during the class.

The final lab project was making a buffer from the methods section of a primary journal article—no recipe books or lab manuals in BLD 214L!

Students receive a grade for the course, but they also earn a certificate based upon their competency in the assigned tasks. The certificates include earned badges in lab safety, equipment use and reagent preparation. These certificates provide the students with concrete evidence of their new skills—a great addition to job applications and work portfolios.