Through Thick and Thin: Going over PSETs during Remote Learning

Getting PSETs done over Zoom can be a combination of awkward and challenging. To assist with that task, fellow PCUR Correspondent Ryan Champeau recently wrote a post with suggestions for working on PSETs in the age of remote learning. A great tip in that article is to collaborate with friends when permitted under a course’s collaboration policy. However, given that students can’t meet in person to work on assignments anymore, I’ve found the process of checking over PSETs to be a bit more difficult than usual.

Specifically, I’m taking QCB 455, an introductory course to quantitative and computational biology in which there are four total problem sets. As a neuroscience major in a class filled with computer science majors and some graduate students, I didn’t really know many people in the course. Going over the first PSET with people I didn’t know over Zoom felt a bit strange, but I’ve since found that there are actually a few benefits to going over PSETs that are specific to the remote experience. In this post, I’ll go over the three strategies I’ve started to use when collaborating on PSETs for my classes:

Photo by Max. G.
One of my favorite places to get PSETs done back when students were on campus – the couch at the heart of Murray-Dodge Café.
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Turning a Laboratory-Based Research Proposal into a Remote Project

Last spring semester, I was completing my junior independent work in a bioengineering lab on campus. My project was lab-heavy, as I was investigating the extent of DNA damage (measured as type and frequency of breaks occurring in the DNA) that occurs in persister subpopulations (cell populations with non-inherited tolerance to antibiotics) of E.Coli cells when treated with antibiotics and other DNA damaging agents. I had prepared a series of experiments to test these conditions, most of which would be performed after returning from spring break. However, those plans changed in March, when students were sent home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Like many other lab researchers, I was left with incomplete experiments and an upcoming deadline to present my work. Independent research for the chemical and biological engineering (CBE ) department is only one semester long, and I spent most of the first half of the semester doing literature review, planning experiments and learning lab techniques. With only eight weeks left before my final paper and presentation deadline, I worried about the possibility of having to change my entire research topic into something that could be completed remotely. However, along with the lead researcher of the lab, or principal investigator (PI), and graduate student mentor, we developed a plan to easily transition the project I had already been working on into a remote project. In this post, I will give tips on how to conduct laboratory research remotely.

Conducting laboratory-heavy research remotely can be challenging. However, due to the collaborative nature of research, a laboratory project can successfully be modified to be conducted remotely.
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Archival Research in the Age of COVID-19: Requesting Document Scans from Libraries

When I first applied for departmental senior thesis funding early this spring, everyone was still uncertain about how long the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic would last. It seemed departmental administrators were optimistic: funding requests could still be made for summer travel. In my application, I detailed my intent to travel to university and state archives throughout the U.S. south for a thesis examining how antebellum Mississippi Valley planters conceptualized the idea of labor. But before I even heard back about whether I was to receive support, the department updated its funding parameters to prohibit summer travel and I had to redo my application in turn. My summer plans, of course, were not the first academic casualty of the strange 2020 world; nor would they be the last. Fortunately, though, there were ways to work around my newfound limitations: all of the archives that I wanted to visit offered services for resident librarians to scan and send materials from their collection, so I updated my application to ask for funds to pay for associated fees. Here, I’ll be sharing some tips for requesting archival materials to be scanned, which I hope will be helpful to any researcher unable to travel (pandemic or not).

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