Dr. Mariana (or Dr. M as the kids call her) is back this week to discuss our philosophy behind our biology curriculum.
"Since leaving a career in research to work at Ideaventions, friends often ask me whether I miss the bench. The truth is, there are some aspects of research that I miss very much. I miss being on my feet all day, juggling different experiments to get that crucial piece of data. I miss the camaraderie that is born of shared experimental woes and long-awaited success. I miss the moment when the data comes together into a little nugget of knowledge worth sharing with other scientists. And so I am very excited that research will be an integral component of our biology curriculum!
I feel very strongly about the importance of a true research experience in any scientific education. By its very nature, research provides a deep understanding of the scientific process. Students learn early on about the key elements of the scientific method: make an observation, formulate a hypothesis, carry out experiments, analyze results, and draw a conclusion. And yet engaging in research sheds a new light on this all-too-familiar scheme. Your initial observation may be due to experimental error, yet in pursuing this observation you may make a fascinating discovery. Your experiments may yield a surprising result, leading you down a novel research avenue. Your hypothesis may be proven wrong, taking you back to square one after months of effort. Scientific research is rarely a straight line from point A to point B (as many biology laboratory courses would have you believe), instead taking many twists and turns to reach an unexpected destination.
Beyond key concepts and techniques, engaging in research teaches a unique skill set that will prove valuable regardless of career path. This skill set includes academic rigor, critical thinking, high ethical standards, and communication skills. Most importantly, research teaches perseverance and resilience. You may have heard that research is ninety percent failure - I can attest to the validity of that statement. The brilliant experiment you spent a week designing will most likely fail to give any conclusive results. If by any chance your experiment does work as expected, the initial promising result will be irreproducible. Both scenarios lead to months of optimization and troubleshooting, all in search of that elusive eureka moment every scientist lives for.
Finally, becoming an active member of a research community reveals that science is a profoundly human endeavor. The rivalries! The backstabbing! The money to be made! Like all of us, scientists are misled by their hopes, their biases, and their ambitions. Well-acknowledged scientific "facts" have been proven wrong, and long ridiculed theories are now written in textbooks. This is not a flaw of the scientific process, but rather an inescapable reality that we must be aware of.
Our biology curriculum will draw on a variety of resources to cover five main areas of study: ecology, cell and molecular biology, genetics and evolution, plant biology, and human body systems. As part of our year-long biology course, students will work on an unanswered biological question in one of the above areas of study. Some areas - such as evolution and human body systems - will be difficult to study in the Academy setting due to practical and ethical constraints. Other areas - such as ecology, plant biology, and cell biology - will be better suited to student-led research projects. Our ultimate goal will be to make a meaningful contribution to the scientific body of knowledge, while learning key biological concepts and acquiring a variety of lab techniques. By participating in original research, we hope that students will be inspired to learn independently and experience first-hand the joy of discovery. I look forward to guiding the young scientists in their investigations!"
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Juliana Heitz is co-founder of Ideaventions Academy and is very excited to share the thinking behind the Academy.
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