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Lab Classes Combined for Intensive Experience

A new intensive laboratory class was unveiled for biochemistry students at Michigan State University this summer.

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A new intensive laboratory class was unveiled for biochemistry students at Michigan State University this summer. The biochemistry and molecular biology course, BMB 473, integrates the coursework from two capstone laboratories and adds longer labs utilizing new technology.
 
“MSU biochemistry and molecular biology graduates have a great reputation and very high success rates because of our rigorous program,” lab manager Neil Bowlby said. “The new lab, like the two current labs, will focus on teaching laboratory techniques and record keeping skills that make them better scientists and researchers. Yet the new lab will be more intensive and provide greater focus as students gain hands-on experience designing their own experiments.”
 
MSU requires 16 hours of laboratory credit for graduation, the highest in the Big Ten. This creates a challenge and strains the class enrollments as more students select biochemistry as a major. Following a national trend, enrollment in science majors at MSU has increased nearly 30 percent over the past six years, and the increase is proportional in biochemistry. Currently, there are more than 400 undergraduate students majoring in biochemistry, Bowlby said.
 
“The graduating classes increased from around 40 students to around 70 or 80, so the new class will help accommodate the increase while maintaining the quality of the program,” said Tom Sharkey, chairperson of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
 
The new class will meet three times a week for six hours a day. With these long and intensive time frames, the students will be immersed in the experience. Students learn laboratory techniques, design their own experiments and learn record keeping skills.
 
“All the graduates I get feedback from say two things,” Bowlby said. “First, the courses were extremely difficult. Second, they say that having completed the classes they are much better suited to do whatever they are doing now. It is kind of like ‘hell week’ in football; it is really hard to make it through, but when you’ve finished, knowing you’re prepared makes all the difference in the world.”
 
The success of biochemistry students reflects on the success of the program. In three of the last five years, a biochemistry student has been awarded an Udall Scholarship. For the last two years, biochemistry students have won the grand prize at the University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum at MSU.
 
“We have top notch students,” Bowlby said. “This year we sent students to Berkeley University, Yale University Medical School and Harvard University.  Almost all of our students who want to go to graduate school or medical school do, and all of them who want to go into private industry do because we put out top quality students.”

Source: Michigan State University