In Kenyon biology, students learn not only how to perform scientific inquiry but how to communicate their science clearly and effectively. Dr. Christopher Gillen has a passion for understanding how animals work, and his research specializes in salt and water balance physiology, most recently examining salt absorption and secretion in the Aedes aegypti mosquito. His course Biology 243: Animal Physiology is one of the most popular in the department, and students compare complex physiological processes across different organisms under Dr. Gillen’s enthusiastic instruction. In addition to his passion for understanding how animals work, Dr. Gillen is passionate about making scientific research understandable and enaging for all audiences and he is the faculty director of the Kenyon Institute in Biomedical and Scientific Writing. This semester, he launched Kenyon’s first science writing seminar course with Professor Sergei Lobanov-Rostovsky of the English department, where students read and discuss a wide variety of literature with a scientific focus, write voraciously on their own scientific fascinations, and experiment with the many techniques and nuances of the science writing genre.
Dr. Gillen stresses the importance of communicating science in all of his classes, particularly how to write about science for a variety of audiences:
“Pitching complicated research to a general audience is hard. Students must understand the science deeply and frame it with compelling writing and storytelling. And the skills they learn writing for a general audience transform them into better scientific writers.”
In Animal Physiology, students were asked to complete a News and Views assignment where they write two essays on the same scientific research article: one essay that makes an argument about the research to an audience of scientists and another essay that explains the research to a broader audience of non-scientists. Here is one such article for a general audience, written by junior neuroscience major John Wilhelm:
Note from Sarah: This is a guest post written by Rachel Schafer ’18. Schafer’s work in the Powell lab focuses on the effects of environmental toxins on the thyroid pathway in African clawed frog development.
Me and Dr. Wade Powell in front of my poster.
This spring break, I was fortunate enough to attend the 2017 Society of Toxicology National Conference in Baltimore, Maryland. I went with my professor, Dr. Wade Powell, to present a poster on the interaction of an environmental toxin, TCDD, and the thyroid hormone pathway in Xenopus laevis metamorphic development. Our findings demonstrated a discrepancy between gene expression in our X. laevis cell line and in the exposed tadpoles. I was also privileged enough to win the Pfizer SOT Undergraduate Travel Award, which generously funded my costs at the conference. Continue reading
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of experimental biology is its unpredictability. No matter how meticulously you design your procedure, check and quadruple-check every measurement and work with the utmost professionalism, things still manage to go awry.
This time of year, Higley Hall bustles with exciting research: 50 different independent projects by introductory lab students in Biology 110, lab research on everything from plant and animal physiology to gene manipulation, the ongoing work of faculty and their student research groups, and seniors working tirelessly to finish their honors theses.
Today and every day, Higley Headlines and the biology faculty celebrate the wacky world of experimental biology and remind everyone that failure, no matter how embarrassing and frustrating, is a critical, not to mention hilarious part of the scientific process. It may not have been amusing when it ruined your entire data set and set back your research by six months, but as you’ll see, everything is funny in retrospect.
“I once thought I’d be a good lab citizen and adjust the lab clock for Daylight Savings Time. I hadn’t realized it was held up with only a thumbtack! When I replaced it on the wall, it came crashing down – right onto the safety shower lever below and causing a flood of water from the shower above. I’m glad that the safety shower was in good working order, but I didn’t really need to be drenched just for adjusting the clock! I’ll never hang anything over the safety shower lever again (especially with thumbtacks).”
–Dr. Sarah Petersen, Ashby Denoon Assistant Professor of Neuroscience