Tag Archives: students

How we run an inclusive & online coding program for biology and chem undergrads in 2020 

7 May

By: Nicole Adelstein, Pleuni Pennings, Rori Rohlfs

Coding summer program (BDSP) in 2018, when students were in the same room for 8 hours a week.

In 2018 this team (led by Chinomnso Okorie) met in the “yellow room” for 8 hours a week to learn R.  

We have been running combined coding/research summer programs for several years, with a  focus on undergraduate students, women, and students from historically underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. This summer, we will run our 9-week program as an online program. We think that others may be interested in doing this too, so we’ll share here how we plan to  do it. 

Some of the information below will also be published as a “ten rules paper” in Plos Computational Biology*, but we wanted to share this sooner and focus on doing things online vs in person. 

TL; DR version

  1. Have students work in teams of 4 or 5, for 2 hours per day, 4 days a week. Learning to code should be done part-time, even if your program is full time. 
  2. Use near-peer mentors to facilitate the team meetings (not to teach, but to facilitate). 
  3. Use existing online courses – we’ll share a few that we like. Don’t try to make your own curriculum last minute. There are good online courses available. 
  4. Give the students a simple (repeat: simple!) research project to work on together. 

1. Have students work in teams for two hours a day – with pre-set times. 

Learning to code is stressful and tiring. Even though many students may not have jobs this summer – it doesn’t mean that they can code for 8 hours a day. First, because they have other stuff to do (like taking care of family members) and second because there’s a limit to how long you can be an effective learner. 

Our program is 10 hours per week (8 hours of coding, 2 hours of “all-hands” meeting). We make it clear that no work is expected outside of these hours. For example, a team may meet from 10am to 12pm four days a week for coding. 

Check-ins, quiet working, shared problem solving. 

During the coding hours, the near-peer mentor is always present (on Zoom, of course!) and facilitates the meeting. The very first day should be all about introductions and expectations. After that, we suggest that every day, there is time for check-ins (everybody shares how they are doing, what they’re excited about or struggling with, or what music they’re listening to), quiet working (mute all microphones, set a timer, everybody works on the online class by themselves) and shared problem solving (for example, let’s talk about the assignment X from the online class). One of the mentors last year was successful with starting every meeting with a guided meditation. 

Each team has a faculty mentor in our program (this could be a postdoc or faculty member). Once a week, the faculty mentor joins the meeting for about 1 hour. This hour could consist of introductions / check-ins, a short presentation or story by the faculty mentor, and the opportunity for the team to ask questions. It’s great if the near-peer mentor and the team prepare questions beforehand. 

1B. Add a non-coding meeting (if you can/want)

In addition to the 8 coding hours per week, our students also meet for 2 hours per week in an “all hands meeting”. Such an all-hands meeting is not absolutely necessary, but if you have the bandwidth, it may be nice to meet once a week to do something other than coding. Maybe to read a paper together or meet with someone online (an alum who is now somewhere else? A faculty member or grad student?). 

If your program is full time (like an REU program), we suggest to still only do about 8-15 hours of coding per week. Fill up the rest with more standard things such as lectures, reading etc (and don’t make anyone do Zoom 40 hours a week!). If students are enjoying themselves with coding and getting more confident, they may do more coding by themselves, but in our program it is not the expectation. 

2. Mentors and teams are key 

When working alone, we’ve often seen students get stuck on technical problems, leaving many feeling lost and inadequate and wanting to discontinue learning this new skill. Working in a mentored team, however, students have access to immediate support from their peers and mentor. This helps them learn technical skills more efficiently, develop relationships with each other, and cultivate a shared sense of belonging in computational research (Kephart et al. 2008). We recommend that each participant in a coding summer program be assigned to a team of 4 to 5 students with similar technical skill levels led by a near-peer mentor. 

Mentors in our program are typically a year or two ahead of participants but belong to similar demographic groups and come from similar academic backgrounds. The mentor facilitates the meetings and leads the team in learning skills and applying them to a research question (without doing the work themselves). 

Each team also has a faculty advisor, who comes up with a research project that is likely to be completed in the available time and that is of interest to the students (Harackiewicz et al. 2008). The faculty advisor meets with the whole team at least once per week to guide learning and research. Of note, acting as a mentor improves students’ retention and success in STEM (Trujillo et al. 2015) therefore, this setup benefits mentors as well as mentees. 

2B. Who can be mentors? 

Over the years, we have found that near-peer mentors are incredibly useful for a number of reasons including 1) student participants are more likely to ask for help from a near-peer mentor than from a faculty advisor, 2) near-peer mentors serve as role models, giving participants an idea of what they can aim for in the next year or two, and 3) the use of mentors allows the program to serve many more participants than it could if it relied on a few time-pressed faculty advisors. Our selection criteria for mentors include essential knowledge (for example, the mentor for a team doing an advanced chemistry research project should have taken physical chemistry), mentoring experience or potential, logistical availability, and having a similar demographic background as the participants. Mentors don’t need experience with the specific coding language or research topic they will work on with their team. Rather than being the expert in the room, they are expected to help team members work together to find solutions or formulate questions for the faculty advisor. 

Mentors are crucial for the success of the program and need to be paid well for their work. Each week of the program, we pay our mentors a competitive wage for 8 contact hours with their team, a 2-hour all hands lunch meeting, a 2-hour mentor meeting, and 3-4 additional hours to account for preparation. However, we realize that this summer, things may be different for many! You may find that PhD students or Master’s students who can not work in the lab (but are still paid / on a fellowship) could be excellent near-peer mentors. Just make sure that the mentors know that this is a real commitment that will eat up a significant chunk of time each week. 

3. Identify an appropriate online course for each team

We have found that when learning basic coding skills, interactive online classes to learn computer programming (for example, from Datacamp, Udacity or Coursera) motivate and engage students better than books or online texts. Yet, when working individually, most students – especially beginners and historically underrepresented students – don’t finish online classes (Ihsen et al. 2013; Jordan 2015). As a solution, we have found that in teams, where students can work together and support each other, they learn a great deal from an online class. 

Each team’s faculty advisor picks a free, clearly structured online class with videos and assignments to teach participants coding skills. We have had good experiences with Udacity’s Exploratory Data Analysis course because this class is suitable for beginners. It does a good job motivating students to think about data and learn R. In early team meetings, participants spend time quietly working on the online class with their headphones on, followed by a team discussion or collaborative problem-solving session. If students encounter difficulty with any of the material, mentors may develop mini-lectures or create their own exercises to facilitate learning. Note, the students’ goal is not necessarily to finish the online course, but to learn enough to perform their research project. 

3B. Suggested classes:

Udacity Exploratory Data Analysis with R https://www.udacity.com/course/data-analysis-with-r–ud651

CodeHS https://codehs.com/ (the faculty mentor or the near-peer-mentor needs to create a section on Code HS, we use the introduction to python (rainforest).  

Coursera https://www.coursera.org/learn/r-programming (this one is a tip from our UCSF colleague Dr Kala Mehta)

4. Assign each team a simple and engaging research project 

Learning to code without a specific application in mind can feel boring and irrelevant, sometimes leading students to abandon the effort. In our summer program, teams carry out a research project to motivate them to learn coding skills, improve their sense of belonging in science (Jones, Barlow, and Villarejo 2010) and cultivate their team work and time/project management skills. Faculty advisors assign each team a research project early in the program. These projects should answer real questions so that participants feel their work is valuable (Woodin, Carter, and Fletcher 2017). The projects should also be relatively simple. Small and self contained projects that can be completed within a three week time frame are ideal to ensure completion and make participants feel that their efforts have been successful. For example, past research projects in our program, which reflect the interests of faculty advisors and the students, include writing computer simulations to model the evolution of gene expression, analyzing bee observations from a large citizen science project, examining trends in google search term data with respect to teen birth outcomes, and building an app for finding parking spots on or near campus. 

For 2020, we’d like to encourage you to pick a project that appears extremely simple if you normally use R or Python to make your plots / do stats, but that would be quite challenging if you’re new to coding. We also suggest that – unless the students are already quite advanced – you don’t give them a project that you want to publish on quickly. Nobody needs more pressure this summer.  

Here are some suggestions for simple research projects

  1. Let students plot the number of COVID19 cases in their county over time using R. Let them plot the number of cases in 5 different counties on the same figure. Add an arrow for when a stay-at-home order was implemented or terminated. Easy to download data are here: https://github.com/nytimes/covid-19-data 
  2. Let students keep track of how many steps they take each day for 10 days using their phone or watch. Let them plot the number of steps per day using R. Let them add a line for the mean. Collect data from 6 people and create a pdf with 6 plots in different colors. 
  3. If you have any data from your lab, let the students plot those data. Try making 4 different plots with the same data (scatter, box, histogram, etc). 
  4. Let students recreate an existing plot from a publication when the data are available. 
  5. Let students analyze (anonymized) data from your class. How strong is the correlation between midterm grades and final exam grades? Do students who hand in homework regularly do better on the test? 

* reference: Pleuni Pennings, Mayra M. Banuelos, Francisca L. Catalan, Victoria R. Caudill, Bozhidar Chakalov, Selena Hernandez, Jeanice Jones, Chinomnso Okorie, Sepideh Modrek, Rori Rohlfs, Nicole Adelstein Ten simple rules for an inclusive summer coding program for non-CS undergraduates, accepted for publication in Plos Computational Biology.

Meet Francisca Catalan, SFSU PINC alum and research associate at UCSF (spotlight)

9 Jan
FranciscaCatalan

Francisca Catalan, SFSU PINC alum and research associate at UCSF

  1. How did you get into coding? 

I took a regular CS class my second year at SF state. I thought it would be a good skill to have as an aspiring researcher and saw that it fulfilled one of my major requirements. It was a PowerPoint-heavy 8 am class three times a week. I didn’t talk to anyone else in the class and by the end of the semester I found it very difficult to show up. I passed the class but was really devastated about my experience. I thought I could never learn to program, though I never gave up completely. A couple semesters went by and I saw a friendly flier announcing PINC, SFSU’s program that promotes inclusivity in computing for biologist and other non-computer science majors. I eagerly signed up and started the “Intro to Python” class soon after. Then, with some more programming under my belt, I joined Dr. Rohlfs’ lab and began doing research in the dry lab for the remainder of my undergraduate career.

  1. What kind of work do you do now? 

I currently work at UCSF as a dry lab research associate. Our lab focuses on an aggressive form of brain cancer, glioblastoma. We try to find gene targets for new drug treatments and research the cell type of these cancerous cells in order to fight drug resistance. My main duties now include creating pipelines for our single cell, RNA-Seq, and Whole Genome Sequencing data. You can read about our lab’s latest study in our new publication on cancer discovery! DOI: 10.1158/2159-8290.

https://cancerdiscovery.aacrjournals.org/content/candisc/early/2019/09/25/2159-8290.CD-19-0329.full.pdf

  1. How did learning coding skills impact your career?

Coding has opened so many pathways for me. I was able to find a great job at UCSF soon after graduating with my Bachelor’s of Science in cell and molecular biology and minor in Computing Applications. It has also given be a giant boost of confidence! As a woman of color in STEM, I often felt underrepresented and out of place, but those feelings now quickly subside when I can help my colleagues answer coding questions! It’s motivating to feel like a necessary component of your community when often time you feel pushed out. It’s also impacted my career choices! I know now I want to be a professor in the future, I want to provide access to programming to others in hopes it will open pathways like it did for me!

  1. Do you have any advice for students who are just starting? 

Yes! Don’t give up! It can be really difficult to learn coding, but know that it’s not you, talking to a computer can just be hard sometimes! Continue practicing and ask questions, google your heart out. Take breaks when necessary, remember to breathe, and keep in mind all the amazing science you will be able to do once you have these skills under your belt!

The ridiculous order of the streets in the Excelsior (SF)

26 Sep

I live in the Excelsior neighborhood in San Francisco. My street is Athens Street. If I walk westwards from my home, I come to Vienna Street and then Naples, Edinburgh and Madrid. If you have any knowledge of map of Europe, you realize that the order makes no sense!

(Also, why is there Naples, but not Rome, and why Munich, but not Berlin? And why oh why, is there no Amsterdam Street? So many questions!)

Last week, I asked the students in the CoDE lab to create a map to show the ridiculous order of the streets in the Excelsior. They had fun figuring out how to make a map in R, so I thought I share their work here. Several students were involved, but my graduate student Olivia Pham did most of the work.

The code is here: http://rpubs.com/pleunipennings/212840

europe_excelsiormap

The surprising order of street names in the Excelsior neighborhood in San Francisco. We connected the cities in the order of the streets. London Street is the first city-name street if you enter the neighborhood from Mission Street, just east of London Street is Paris Street, then Lisbon Street etc. The last city-name street is Dublin Street which is closest to McLaren Park.

excelsiormap

A map of part of the Excelsior neighborhood showing the order of the city-name streets.

How to get started with R

1 Feb

Rlogo

I often get asked how to get started with learning R if there is not currently a class offered. Here is what I recommend:

1. Start with a free online Code School tutorial

First of all, check out this (free) online course: https://www.codeschool.com/courses/try-r
No need to install anything, no need to pay. Students in my bioinformatics class liked this online Code School course a lot. It will not make you a master of R, but it’s a nice starting point.

2. Install R, Rstudio and swirl on your computer

Next, it is time to install R and Rstudio on your computer. Once you have that, install the swirl package. Instructions for installing R, Rstudio and swirl can be found here: http://swirlstats.com/students.html
swirl is an R package that helps you learn R while you are in the Rstudio environment. I highly recommend using the Rstudio environment! The swirl tutorials teach you the basics of vectors, matrices, logical expressions, base graphics, apply functions and many other topics. Kind words included (“Almost! Try again. Or, type info() for more options.”)

3. Dive in with great Udacity class …

If you are ready to really dive in (and have some time to invest), try out this great Udacity class: https://www.udacity.com/course/data-analysis-with-r–ud651 (no need to pay for it, you can do the free version). This class is taught by people from the Facebook data science team. They do a great job guiding you through a lot of R coding. Importantly, they always take the time to explain why you’d want to do something before they let you do it. A large part of the course is focused on using the ggplot2 package.

… or start reading The R Book

The R Book is a book by biologist and R hero Michael Crawley. The pdf of the book is available from many websites (for example: ftp://ftp.tuebingen.mpg.de/pub/kyb/bresciani/Crawley%20-%20The%20R%20Book.pdf). Make sure you also download the example data that come with the book (http://www.bio.ic.ac.uk/research/mjcraw/therbook/).

The R Book is a great resource and very clearly written. The students in my lab enjoy reading from it and trying out the code. If you are a biologist, it’ll be fun to work with the biology examples in the R book.

4. Find others who are using R or learning R.

Learning R is hard. You will get frustrated sometimes. If you know someone who is learning with you or who could help you when you are stuck, things will be easier! If there is no one near you, try to find R minded people on Twitter or elsewhere online. Also, check out the R forum on Stack Overflow (http://stackoverflow.com/questions/tagged/r) for many questions and answers on R.

Good luck!

 

Reading in the lab

11 Jan

The winter break is a great opportunity to spend time in the lab with my students. One of the things we do, is read papers. Last week, we spent a morning reading the following paper:

Triple-Antiretroviral Prophylaxis to Prevent Mother-To-Child HIV Transmission through Breastfeeding—The Kisumu Breastfeeding Study, Kenya: A Clinical Trial. PLoS Medicine, 2011. Thomas , Masaba, Borkowf, et al. 

The paper shows that antiretroviral drugs taken by an HIV-infected mother help prevent transmission to the baby through breastfeeding. The reported rates of HIV infection of the infants during breastfeeding were less than half the previously reported rates from untreated women.

After everyone read the paper, and we all discussed it together, two students worked together to write an abstract and three students worked together to draw an abstract. Here are the results:

Abstract (by Kadie and Melissa)

The Kisumu Breastfeeding Study was a single-arm trial conducted with 522 HIV–infected pregnant women who took a triple antiretroviral regimen from 34 weeks of pregnancy to 6 months after delivery. The triple-ARV regimen consisted of zidovudine and lamivudine and either nevirapine or the protease inhibitor nelfinavir. The purpose of the study was to investigate how various ARV regimens given to mother and/or their infants affect mother to child transmission of HIV.

Data collected showed that between 0 and 24 months, the cumulative HIV transmission rate rose from 2.5% to 7.0%. The cumulative HIV transmission or death rate was 15.7%. Three percent of babies born to mothers with a low viral load were HIV-positive compared to 8.7% of babies born to mothers with a high viral load. Similarly, 8.4% of babies born to mothers with low baseline CD4 cell counts were HIV positive compared to 4.1% of babies born to mothers with high baseline CD4 cell counts. Although these findings are limited by the single-arm design, this study supports the idea that a simple triple-ARV regimen given to HIV-positive pregnant women regardless of their baseline CD4 cell count can reduce MTCT during pregnancy and breastfeeding in a resource-limited setting.

Graphical abstract (by Olivia, Patricia and Dasha)

2016-01-07 12.40.27

 

End of summer poster session

19 Aug

Today was the last day that the summer students were in the lab (although some of them will be back next week when the semester starts). I asked each of them to make a poster with a figure they made this summer. They are learning to program in R, and making figures is a big part of what they’ve worked on. I took snap shots of some of the students with their posters. They did a great job!

2015-08-19 14.53.47 Pedro Zorzanelli da Vitoria from Brasil

2015-08-19 14.54.31 Brendan Kusuma (SFSU, undergrad)

2015-08-19 14.55.19 Julia Pyko (SFSU post bac) and Patricia Kabeja (SFSU undergrad)

 

2015-08-19 14.56.02 Dasha Fedorova (SFSU undergrad) made her poster together with Sidra Tufon (not in the picture).

 

2015-08-19 14.56.51Dwayne Evans (SFSU Master’s student)

 

A reading seminar where every student reads, writes and contributes to the discussion in class

16 Jan

I remember reading seminars as follows: one student spends the entire week preparing for a powerpoint presentation, which often turns out to be stressful for the student and somewhat boring and uninformative for the audience. The other students only glanced over the paper and so any discussion quickly falls flat. I therefore decided to have multiple short presentations without powerpoint (less preparation, more fun to listen to, plus repetition is good for learning a skill). I also decided to use short writing assignments as homework to make sure that all students were prepared to contribute to the discussion in class. At the same time, I wanted to keep things manageable for everyone.

1. Learning to present: every student does multiple short presentations without powerpoint.

No powerpoint: I didn’t want students to spend too much time preparing a presentation. I believe that often, when students spend a lot of time preparing presentations, they focus too much on making powerpoint slides and not enough on informing the audience and telling a story.

Short presentations: Doing an engaging 45 minute presentation is extremely difficult, and a skill that most postdoc don’t have, so why do we use 45 minute presentations in our graduate seminars? I decided in stead to let each student do three 10 minute presentations.

Feedback: After each presentation the presenters got feedback (from the other students and myself), so that they could improve their presentation skills during the semester.

Easy listening: An added benefit of 10 minute presentations is that it is much easier for the audience. Each week started with three student presentations, one on the background and main question of the paper, one on the data and the results of the paper, and one on the conclusion and implications of the paper.

2. Practice writing: every student does a different writing assignment every week.

Graded homework each week: A paper discussion can only work if people have read the paper. If students don’t read, they may spend most of their energy to try to hide that they didn’t read (I know I was in that situation!). So even though I understand that life and research get in the way of reading, I really wanted to make sure that the students were prepared for the seminar. To do that, I made every student do a written assignment every week that would count towards their grade (unless they were presenting that week).

A different assignment for each student: I had a long list of assignments so that each week, many different assignments were done AND so that over the course of the semester each student did many different assignments. This guaranteed that the students read the paper, but each with a different question in mind.

There were several types of written assignments. Descriptive: 1. Describe the background and main question of the paper, 2. describe the data and the results, 3. describe the conclusions, 4. describe which virus the paper is about. Critical: 5. What is your opinion of the paper? 6. What do you think the authors should have done differently? 7. Play the devil’s advocate: why should the paper not have been published? Summaries: 8. Summarize the paper in your own words, as if writing to a friend, 9. summarize the paper using only the most common 1000 words of the English language, 10. summarize the paper in a graphical abstract, 11. summarize the paper in a tweet. Meta: 12. Who are the authors of the paper? 13. How often is the paper cited, do you think it is influential?

Short! Each written assignment could not be more than 150 words, to keep the workload manageable for me and for the students.

Surprisingly hard: Some of the assignments were harder than the others. Summarizing the paper using only the 1000 most common words from the English language turned out to be very hard, but some of the students did a great job (see here and here). The graphical abstract was also hard for some students, but others liked it just because it was so different from their usual work (see here and here). The ”devil’s advocate” writing assignment was always very interesting to read.

Easy: Grading the written assignments was quite easy. I simply gave a plus or minus for 5 categories (answered the question, scientific accuracy, clarity, grammar and word count).

Revisions allowed: After a request from a student, I decided that the students could redo any assignment where they had gotten less than 100% because I believe that feedback is most useful when it can be applied to a revision.

3. Promoting equity: thanks to the written assignments, every student could contribute to every class.

Everyone contributes: One of the nice things about the homework schedule with different assignments for everyone is that in class, I could ask each student about their homework. This way, each student contributed to the class, promoting equity, and the brief discussions of the homework assignments always let to questions from other students. Even if I didn’t ask, some students would volunteer to share information they found while they researched for their homework. For example, I remember someone remarking at the end of a presentation: “In your presentation, you said this result may be very important, but I found that the paper hardly has any citations even though it was published ten years ago, so I think it may not have been picked up by anyone.”

Sharing homework: I also encouraged the students to share their written assignments on the online forum we had for the class, so that the other students (and not just me) could read them. Sometimes they led to interesting forum threads. I also published some of the written assignments on my blog, after asking the students for permission. This way even more people could enjoy them.

Heb B study graphical abstract using paper and pens

6 Jan

One of the most fun things about teaching a grad seminar last semester was reading the homework assignments. Seriously!

Before I move on to the next semester (teaching genetics for undergrads), I wanted to share one more homework assignment. This one by Emily Chang, a graduate student in Scott Roy’s lab. The paper about viral quasispecies in Hep B was one of the harder ones for the students, but this graphical abstract very neatly sums up the main results. I also love that Emily used old fashioned paper and pens to make the abstract, knowing that using fancy drawing software isn’t needed to communicate science.

Graphical abstract by Emily Chang

Graphical abstract by Emily Chang

Student blog posts: Dangerous H5N1 strain made airborne

17 Dec

A few weeks ago This week my students wrote short essays about the infamous  Hersft et al 2012 paper on airborne Influenza A in ferrets. For months, this paper was not published (even though it was accepted for publication) because it was unclear whether the results should be published at all, for fear that terrorist groups would use it to create a dangerous flu strain (see here). In my class, all students read the same paper, but they each have a different assignment. 

Figure 4 of Herfst et al 2012 Science.

Figure 4 of Herfst et al 2012 Science.

Peter Manzo: My opinion

I thought this paper was a little slow but it was very interesting. The idea of an airborne virus has plagued mankind for centuries and according to the article, there is a possibility for viruses to mutate enough to become airborne. I liked how the article explained in detail what influenza is and its nomenclature. I thought it was interesting that the research group was able to produce an airborne virus but I do not understand why they would help a virus evolve to that state. I think the results are important but I wonder if the experiment will be redone.

Eduardo Lujan: The main conclusion of the paper

The main conclusion of the paper was that A/H5N1 influenza virus has the capability to become airborne transmissible in ferrets. Studies such as the one conducted in the paper are denoted as “gain of function” and the authors used this approach to genetically modify A/H5N1 virus and then used the modified virus during serial passage in ferrets. The authors concluded that four amino acid substitutions in the hemagglutinin protein and one mutation in the polymerase complex were all present in airborne-transmitted virus isolates. This paper is extremely relevant to health and medicine because it holds the potential to provide insight into a virus’s capacity to become airborne and cause explosive disease, and this information will allow scientists to begin developing therapeutics to alleviate such a situation. I do not believe that this paper will have an impact on current patients because the research carried out in this study did not lead to any novel treatments.

Graham Larue: The data that were used in the paper

In this paper, the authors wanted to investigate the possible mutations in avian influenza A/H5N1 which could lead to the possibility of airborne transmission between humans. In order to test this, the investigators performed targeted mutagenesis and serial virus passage in ferrets to determine whether the mutations made provide a sufficient substrate to allow for development of airborne transmission. The primary source of data for the experiment(s) came from throat and nasal swabs, as well as nasal washes which were then tested for viral load via end-point dilution in canine kidney cells. For the serial passage experiments, such samples were collected for each individual in the transmission chain. Viral quasi-species from each sample were characterized using 454 pyrosequencing, and viral genomes obtained using Sanger sequencing for experiment 4. In total, this paper used a variety of genetic, immunologic, molecular and bioinformatic (sequencing analysis) techniques to address the question of airborne transmission acquisition in avian influenza. There is scant detailed discussion about any of the individual analyses used in this paper, but clearly some amount of basic statistics must have gone into the generation of significance values and the like.

No powerpoint allowed

4 Dec
2014-11-06 14.44.10

One of the students in my class (Arturo Altamirano) as he is giving a talk about Influenza virus. The drawings on the whiteboard were a very helpful for understanding his presentation.

One of the things I did in my seminar this semester was to prohibit the use of Powerpoint or any other presentation software. For their talks, the students had to use the whiteboard or handouts or anything that didn’t require a projector. Most of them used the whiteboard. Initially some of them didn’t like it much. But every student had to give three short presentations during the semester and so they had a chance to improve their whiteboard skills during the semester.

Focus on the story

I asked them not to use Powerpoint because I wanted to make sure that they did not spend a lot of time preparing beautiful slides. Instead, I wanted them to you to focus on the story of their presentation and the connection with their audience. I’m happy that I made this decision because the presentations that students did were really nice and I think they wouldn’t have been as good if I had allowed Powerpoint. All of the students improved their presentation skills during the semester and as the semester progressed, it got more more fun to listen to their talks.

Whiteboard exercises

One thing I will do differently next time is that I will start the semester with some exercises to become familiar with using the whiteboard. I am thinking about asking each student in the first class to introduce themselves using the whiteboard. For example, they could draw (very roughly) the geographic location of the cities or neighborhoods in which they have lived. The exercise would be to combine drawing on the whiteboard and talking to an audience. And hopefully, such an exercise would take away some of the fear they may have about talking without slides.

The picture I attach to this blog is of one of the students in the class (Arturo Altamirano) as he is giving a talk about Influenza virus. The drawings on the whiteboard were a very helpful for understanding his presentation.