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GSBS Foundations class moves graduate students from knowledge consumers to knowledge creators

By Bryan Goodchild and Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

December 17, 2019

The Foundations of Biomedical Sciences course at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences gives new graduate students the foundational skills they need to develop into independent investigators who can create as well as absorb knowledge.

“The purpose of the course is to help transition our future scientists from being knowledge consumers in an undergraduate setting to being knowledge producers as independent scientists,” said Mary Ellen Lane, PhD, dean of the GSBS. “The way we try to accomplish that is by grounding people in an understanding of how knowledge is created, and then providing opportunities to practice those skills that one needs to be proficient at to be a researcher and a knowledge creator.”

Now in its fourth year, the innovative course makes first-year students the center and the professor the facilitator of an interactive, team-based learning experience. The course reinforces and applies foundational concepts of biochemistry, cell biology, genetics, molecular biology, pathology, neurobiology and bioinformatics. Components include a two-week boot camp covering scientific principles, data analysis, programing and quantitative skills; 3-week topic modules to explore contemporary research through critical evaluation of primary literature; workshops focused on specific methods and analytical skills development; and a final capstone project in which students practice team science to propose novel solutions to unanswered scientific questions.

David Grunwald, PhD, who teaches the course’s optics/imaging workshop, is enthusiastic about the opportunity the format offers to engage students.

“Microscopy is a technical aspect that is core to biomedical research but that may be far away from the comfort zone of our beginning students,” said Dr. Grunwald, associate professor of RNA therapeutics. “These four days are an attempt at getting the essentials down in a way that students with multiple learning styles and backgrounds get a chance to think about it and talk about it.”

First-year GSBS student Milky Abajorga found that the discussion-based workshop helps her retain information better than lecture-based classes.

“We are encouraged to look to our peers for answers and for support,” said Abajorga. “You’re learning a different way of thinking that perhaps one has not been familiar with before.”

Hear more from Lane, Grunwald and Abajorga about Foundations of Biomedical Sciences in the video.

Related story on UMassMedNow:
Mary Ellen Lane appointed dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences