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Microbiome education involving authentic research questions

2017 Teaching impact statement by Assistant Professor of Phytobiomes Terrence H. Bell, Ph.D.

An increasing number of students are entering graduate research programs focused on microbiomes, without the tools needed to successfully analyze complex data. Instead of diving into interesting research questions, students spend years simply getting a handle on how to do their work. The course PPEM440: Environmental Microbiomes: Concepts and Analysis Tools (formerly PPEM497: Studying and Shaping Microbiomes of the Environment) is the first of its kind at Penn State, introducing both graduate students and upper-level undergraduates to microbiome concepts and the basic tools used to analyze high-throughput sequencing data. We center student work around actual faculty data, allowing students to get hands-on practice with raw sequences, and helping faculty who lack microbiome expertise to advance projects to publication, or to at least produce useful preliminary data. Students are eligible to co-author published work, and to present results in venues such as the Microbiome Center seminar series and the PSU Undergraduate Symposium. Funding for sequencing in 2017 was provided by the Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence, and we are exploring options for continued funding to maintain this important offering in experiential learning. This course has broad appeal; in 2017, we had 13 students enroll from 7 departments. Once this course is approved as a standing course and offered as an option for various undergraduate programs, we hope to regularly reach our enrollment limit of 20, due to wide interest in microbiomes across campus.

Contact Information

Terrence H. Bell, Ph.D.
  • Assistant Professor of Phytobiomes
Email:
Phone: 814-865-9653