2014: A summer of craziness

May 19, 2014

The Dowell Lab will be organizing four separate educational activities this summer. The perfect storm of circumstances landed all of these opportunities in our lap. Luckily, I’ve got an amazing group of people in the laboratory who are helping me cope with the chaos. Our summer activities include:

1. We are teaching (as a lab) a short read sequencing analysis course. The goal is to teach the very basic fundamental computational skills necessary for many experiments that use short read sequencing analysis. It could almost be described as Unix/Linux for Biologists. The whole lab is assisting, with different people teaching each day.

2. I am the undergraduate adviser for the University of Colorado’s international Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) team.

In iGEM teams of undergraduates work together to design and construct simple biological systems from a regististry of standardized parts. These undergrads are directly supervised by graduate students. The graduate students learn a lot quickly about communication and mentoring, while instructing the students on many basic laboratory practices. While the objective of iGEM is to build something cool with synthetic biology, the best outcome is when the team works together and everyone has fun while learning.

3. I recently received a National Science Foundation Advances in Biological Informatics (ABI) grant which will fund a summer programming internship for a small handful computer science undergraduates. Their work will build directly on the graduate thesis work of David Knox, who will be supervising the team. Lucky for me, Knox has years of experience in industry leading teams of programmers. This group will build new visualization tools for understanding and teaching transcriptional regulation.

4. Finally, I’m privileged to have two undergraduate SMART (Summer Multicultural Access to Research Training) students in the lab this summer. These two young men will be working one-on-one with mentors from my laboratory to directly contribute to our overall research mission. We look forward to their arrival in early June.

I’ve heard other faculty suggest I’m crazy. Frankly, I cannot disagree. These initiatives present tremendous challenges in space, organization, and management. In spite of the challenges, this summer my laboratory and the other graduate students involved in iGEM will work together to train over thirty undergraduate students while achieving some amazing science.

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