Tag Archives: teaching

Tales from the Teaching Lab: Early misconceptions in genetics

When I started this blog, it was supposed to be a news blog: me getting to grips with and explaining new papers that I found interesting. Recently I’ve been thoroughly uninspired, but trying not to resort to writing more opinion pieces about how to survive Grad school (even if that does seem to be what I do best).

Nevertheless, it’s been over 2 weeks since my last post, and while demonstrating yesterday, a familiar itch beginning to niggle. Whereas in previous years I’ve done a more-than-normal amount of tutoring and demonstrating, this year I’ve only covering a small handful of lab classes, one of which is Introductory Genetics. The class is pretty simple. Students are given a variety of mutant Arabidopsis that they have to phenotype, in addition to the F1 and F2 of back crosses to the wild type and crosses between mutants. They are trying to find out whether the mutations are single gene traits; dominants or recessive; and whether multiple mutants are caused by mutations in the same or different lines.

This is the third year I have demonstrated for this class, and the previous year I marked the open book exam that students take at the end, without having demonstrated for the practical, so I’m probably more familiar with the class than anybody except for the professor teaching it. Along the way I have had to do a fair amount of mental gymnastics, but I’ve also picked up on a few of the most common misconceptions that students hold. I actually clearly remember as a first year undergraduate being confused by the term “wild type” because nobody had explained to me that this was a technological term for the working copy of a gene: I thought it meant the type of gene that animals had in the wild. Which is fine, until you start thinking about mouse or Drosophila genetics!  Continue reading

On engaging with the public, and why we do science

This morning I read a fantastic piece by @ScientistsMags about science engagement, which so completely echoed my own sentiments I just had to link to it. Quite apart from the fact that I think we need more women in science and greater scientific literacy amongst the general public, there is another reason why I really like talking to sixth formers and school pupils about science; and even teaching undergrads. Every time I explain my research, I understand it a little bit better myself.


You would think that a scientist would love nothing more than to talk about their work. They do, usually to another scientist. The general public is an afterthought or not even considered. … I do believe that if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough, and so did Richard Feynman.

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A career opportunity or slave labour

On Sunday the Independent ran an article entitled ‘Postgraduate students are being used as ‘slave labour‘ discussing how more and more teaching is being done by postgraduates, in order to save on teaching costs. This dovetails quite nicely with an email I had from our Postgrad representatives in Senate last week asking about standard practice in my department: How much teaching do postgrads do? Is there training? Are we supported?

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‘Faith’ in Science.

There are a few hot spots in popular science that I periodically circle back to, like the MMR vaccine and GM crops. One of them is about science and faith: Can you be a theist and a scientist? Are there scientists who practice religion? Are they any ‘less scientists’ than the rest of the scientific community? Continue reading