One of my favorite things to teach is genetics. There is something so unique about the field in all of biology. In fact, it is the field that convinced me to become a biologist in college and go to grad school. In the coming weeks, I will write a blog series about how genetics is studied in the lab, how genetics is normally taught in high school, and how my high school genetics unit is different because of my experiences.
Here is how it all started:
A lot of biology in high school involves memorizing cell parts, ecosystem names, dissecting dead animals (which I have always disliked), and steps of photosynthesis and respiration. (After studying biochemistry in college, I really like photosynthesis and respiration and I think it’s possible to make learning about them more fun too, but I’ll save that for another future post.) I was convinced after high school that I was going to be a chemistry major. I love chemistry. It has a logic to it that has to sort of click in your brain for you to “get it”. It has a lot of math, which I also love, and it involves mixing this chemical with that chemical and watching what happens and measuring the result. Sometimes you get what you predicted and sometimes you don’t. There’s a beauty in the logical complexity of chemistry and that complexity doesn’t involve creating and memorizing flashcards. I have always enjoyed trying to figure out how systems with complexity worked.
Now fast forward to my sophomore year at Rutgers College: Fall – Cellular Biology. UGH. That’s all I have to say about that one. I felt like I almost died from boredom in lecture. Twice. I know I slept. Way more than twice. Part of that might have been the number of nights I stayed up until 2 or 3 am playing board games like Puerto Rico or Settlers of Catan. (Again, the logical complexity of certain board games really intrigues me. We played games almost every single night for 4 years.) I have always had a hard time staying awake while sitting and listening for a desperately long amount of time (over 45 minutes). Through constant fighting with myself to stay awake, I even developed the ability to fall asleep with one eye open, according to my friends who did stay awake in lecture. Hoping that the professor wouldn’t know I was falling asleep all the time, I learned to lean my face on my hand, on the side with the eye that normally closed. He probably knew. <Shrug> This is right before cell phone cameras were big; if my friends had cameras on their phones, I’m sure I would have numerous embarrassing pictures available to show you here. Organic Chemistry was my favorite course that fall. Some people hate “orgo”. But I loved it. Again, the beautiful complexity that had a logic behind it and the feeling that if you examined the possible combinations behind a particular problem, you could figure it out, without memorizing names and names and names of things. I was that annoying student in your class who raises their hand at every question. Some of the other students probably hated me. But haters are gonna hate. I was having a ball.
My second semester came and I had to pick a biology course to fit my schedule. I wanted to take one more biology course to fulfill the premed requirement, JUST in case I decided to go that route later. So I signed up for genetics. And I’m so glad I did. There were 3 professors that split the course. Two of them were great. One was awful and even one of the other professors corrected him from the back of the room. But that wasn’t even what amazed me. What intrigued me about the class? There it was again: the logical complexity of the system. A system full of exceptions, mysteries to solve, enough logical patterns to intrigue me, and hardly any memorization!
During that second semester, I also worked in an alcohol studies lab, because I mass-emailed a bunch of professors asking if they needed an undergraduate research assistant and the alcohol studies lab was the only one who answered me back. My initial job there was to inject rats with alcohol and observe their behavior. I also got to put two bottles in their cages, one with water and one with alcohol, and measure how much they chose to drink in an hour. You guessed it; they like alcohol better.
With my small hands, efforts to handle the rats without getting bitten proved futile and I asked to work on something else after getting bitten twice. The professor kindly had me organize data in Excel to earn the rest of my semester credits and I actually learned a LOT about Excel there. But after this experience, I knew the following: No more research on animals large enough to bite me. Nope.
So, that summer, I applied to work in a Drosophila melanogaster lab…
Read my next post about what it’s like to work in a fruit fly lab.
Post-it Note Clipart by Teachers Resource Force