April 13, 2017
Instructor Snapshot: Geneticist Jody Hall
Course instructors are passionate about their subject areas, and that passion and dedication to student learning is at the center of the Summer@Brown experience.
Coming from Brown's faculty, graduate students and visiting faculty, Summer@Brown instructors bring to the program a diverse range of backgrounds, experience and knowledge that they are eager to impart to their students each summer. In this Snapshot series, we check in with some of these instructors to find out more about how they approach teaching at Summer@Brown and what students can expect to take away from their class.
In this post, we talked to Jody Hall, a geneticist who has been teaching for Summer@Brown for 23 years. This summer, Hall will lead two 3-week sessions of “Techniques in DNA-Based Biotechnology,” which examines the modern tools and techniques researchers in molecular biology are using to understand our genes and the factors controlling their expression.
For more information on this course and others like it, browse the Summer@Brown catalogue offerings in Biology and Medical and Health Sciences.
When I came to Summer@Brown, the program was very small and looking to build course offerings in the sciences. I really wanted to offer a course that was based primarily in the laboratory, and there were lots of students who seemed to be interested in just that.
I think molecular biology and biotechnology are fascinating. The practical instruction I offer in my Summer@Brown course focuses on themes within research and applications in these fields. What's really more important, though, is that the skills students acquire are generally translatable to all areas of scientific inquiry.
My course is primarily lab-based, with lectures and discussions to support the work students do in the laboratory. By the third week, students have developed sufficient proficiency and confidence to plan and execute projects on their own. The nature of these projects has changed significantly over time in order to reflect developments in research.
For example, last summer, I shared my genetic profile with students. Working in teams, they selected non-medically relevant traits: a cilantro aversion and photic sneeze reflex. Each team researched the DNA sequence associated with their variant of choice, then designed primers to selectively amplify the relevant region of DNA. Once each team came to consensus regarding sequence, they had their primers synthesized and tested their efficacy by performing polymerase chain reaction. Of course there were failures, but there were successes, too. I'm pretty sure that the excitement for students was that regardless of the outcome, they owned the process - right down to purifying their own DNA to use in the testing process.
I think students enjoy my class because I introduce scientific questions that are currently being asked. At the same time, I provide the opportunity to use tools that help scientists answer those questions. Students work very independently, so they do experience some failures along the way. The upside is that when they have successes, they own those successes completely.
It has been my experience that Summer@Brown students are highly motivated. They arrive expecting a heavy workload. It's nice to see the excitement they experience in meeting other people who share their interests and are similarly motivated.