Planning lab “boot camps” for after the pandemic

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A pair of gloved hands holding a micropipette and twisting it to adjust it.
image by Figueiredo

My department just had a great idea: We’re planning “boot camps” to train students with the basic lab skills that they missed out on during the pandemic. The pandemic isn’t over yet, so we’re still in the planning phase. What is your department doing to get your students caught up?

The idea is that over winter, spring, or summer break, students can sign up for a 1-unit course (at no cost to them), and they will be able to do the stuff that we couldn’t do when labs have been virtual. Lab skills like pipetting, serial dilutions, PCR, electrophoresis, microscope use, slide preparation, plating, centrifuging.

This idea is still in development and this presumably won’t happen until winter break at the earliest, but assuming your university has its slice of CARES funding designed to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic, then don’t you think this would a particularly apt way of spending it? This was part of our CARES request to our administration. Let’s hope it flies.

There are a lot of issues we need to address while coming up with the plan. We need to schedule it them so that they are accessible to the population we’re trying to serve, and think carefully about what we choose to include, and the funding model for this isn’t worked out yet. This pandemic is stretching out so long that we’re having plenty of students leave the university (because they either dropped out or graduated) and we need to reach out to both of these groups of students and provide to them as well. This could be an important part of retention and recovering some of the students we’ve lost because of the challenges of the pandemic.

Compared to other universities, one of the strengths of our curriculum is that our students graduate with substantial laboratory skills. While a UC diploma might look fancier to some, students from the CSUs spend a lot more time in the laboratory as a part of their coursework. I hear so often that our graduates know how to more stuff in the lab than people who have more exclusive “pedigrees.” For this reason, I think it’s particularly important that we do right by our students by bringing them back into the lab when we can. Most of the students in our major are not our “research students” in our laboratories, but they still deserve to learn these skills.

3 thoughts on “Planning lab “boot camps” for after the pandemic

  1. I missed the actual lab work for a DNA sequencing and bioinformatics course that I attended online. I hope to do these once the pandemic is over and the schools are in-person!

  2. Hi Terry, this is is such a great idea! I just shared your post with my Dept at HSU.

  3. Hi Terry, We played around with this idea but ran into a lot of issues with making it equally accessible to all our students. It’s a tough one. Do we give the experience to some students if we can’t give it to all students? Worse yet, is there some inherent bias in offering these courses in this way which discriminates against certain populations? We haven’t solved it yet.

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