Advances in experimental biology have led to an explosion in our ability to gather increasingly sophisticated biological data. These experimental breakthroughs demand a correspondingly sophisticated set of quantitative analysis methods and mathematical modeling techniques that can be used to reveal hidden features of biological data sets and tease apart the complex sets of interactions that govern the behavior of biological systems.
This project will develop a revised undergraduate program in the biological sciences that provides students at the earliest stages with training in modern quantitative data analysis and computational modeling, as well as skills in the design of experiments rather than just the performance and analysis of them. Two complementary initiatives will provide students with the real-world skills required of 21st century Biology:
First, relevant to all students in the biological sciences, we are developing a discovery-based laboratory course that will serve as a paradigm for how large introductory and intermediate-level laboratories can equip students with a hands-on understanding of the full range of research biology skills, from experimental design through quantitative data analysis and computational modeling. This is being accomplished through an introductory Neurobiology laboratory that is designed in a scalable fashion based upon multiple sections of 25-30 students each. Following a series of topical experimental laboratories with discovery-based and experimental design components, the final three weeks of the course are devoted to student-designed research projects. Projects begin with a formal student-devised project proposal and proceed with formal implementation and analysis of the project experiment. Feedback is provided between each stage of project design, performance, and analysis, and the project period is culminated with a final 'lab section conference' oral presentation and written research manuscript. These projects empower students, within the classroom environment, with a working knowledge of how advances in the biological sciences are accomplished through the research process.
Second, we are developing an interdisciplinary quantitative biology major that will equip all interested students, and especially those considering research careers in the biological sciences, with the rigorous, quantitatively based foundation required of modern biology. Beginning from the freshman year, students are provided with mathematical and computational tools and skills that they apply to solving real-world, open-ended questions in the biological sciences. Over four years, students build an increasingly sophisticated foundation in mathematical and computational model-building that is applied to solving pressing research challenges across a broad range of biology subdisciplines. The junior and senior years provide students with the opportunity to choose a specialty focus area of biology in which they will pursue in-depth coursework that culminates with advanced, project-based mathematical modeling of open questions in their chosen field. Classroom-based activities are supplemented by career mentoring activities, assistance in finding research internship opportunities, and guidance in applying to post-graduate academic programs or industry-based career opportunities.