Pitt Bio Blog
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.
Biological Sciences Senior and Pre-Med
Are you thinking about declaring a Biological Sciences major? Or maybe you recently declared, and are now working to plan out the perfect schedule for the next few years? Either way, you’ve probably noticed the long list of elective classes you can take to meet the requirements of the Biological Sciences major. Though this freedom and flexibility allows you to tailor your college career to your interests and lets you pursue a wider breadth of subjects than some of the more specialized majors, it can be challenging to know just where to start and which classes are right for you. I put together some Dos and Don’ts that have helped me along this path, and I hope they are useful for you as well!
DO take classes that are in line with your goals. If you have a career plan in mind, it can be a good idea to take classes that will help you out in that field. Not only can this give you a jump start into some of the topics, it can also help you to make sure you actually enjoy these topics before fully committing to them. For example, I took Human Physiology and Human Physiology Lab, as these courses provided me foundational knowledge about the human body and prepared me to take the MCAT.
DON’T only focus on classes that are in line with your future field. The list of electives you can take covers a variety of fields in biology, so use this time to pursue some of your other interests as well! If you’re pre-med, but have a passion for ecology, build these classes into your schedule while you have the chance. After completing your undergraduate degree, your focus may narrow, but the experiences you gain in these other areas will help you have a greater understanding of the field of biology, and science in general.
DO step out of your comfort zone! Don’t be afraid to take a class that is unlike anything you have seen before. Not only will this push you to adapt your learning style to new information, it may help you find an interest you didn’t realize you had! A great way to explore new interests is in a hands-on class. You can choose some of your electives based on labs you’re interested in taking or consider taking one of the field courses at the Pymatuning Laboratory of Ecology! These experiences are great ways to connect with new material and see what you’re learning in action!
DON’T take a class because you heard it was easy. If you find yourself in a class that you’re not interested in, it can feel almost impossible to connect with the material and find the motivation to study. Moreover, if you’re putting in minimal effort, you probably won’t get as much out of it as you would in a different course. Don’t forget that one class in the major can be taken on a Satisfactory/No Credit basis, so don’t be afraid to try out that difficult class if it is something you are passionate about!
DO plan ahead! Some classes may only be offered in certain terms, or you may need to take a few pre-requisites beforehand, so make sure you have a clear plan. This way, you can get into all the classes you want to take. And don’t worry if this plan changes! You may find other interests and change your mind, so use your plan as a guide. The advising staff and peer advisors are here to help—come talk to us if you’re having trouble figuring out how to fit all of your graduation requirements and courses of interest into your plan.
At the end of the day, just remember that there is no one-size-fits-all plan for how to choose your electives. The most important thing is staying true to yourself and choosing classes that align with what you are truly passionate about. Stop by any of the peer advisors’ office hours, and we’d be happy to talk about the electives we’ve taken and guide you in the right direction for you.
Mondays @ 10-11 with Colton & Yogi
Mondays @ 2-3 with Nora & Parker
Tuesdays @ 4-5 with Kristen & Lisa
Wednesday @ 9-10 with Julia & Sofie
Fridays @ 3-4 with Isabella & Owen
Biological Sciences Senior
This semester, I am assisting in a research project with the Urban Lab in the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. The project is titled “Genetics of Extracellular Matrix in Health and Disease”. The project is focused on fibulin-5 (Flbn5) which is a component of elastic fibers in the extracellular matrix of connective tissue. The Urban Lab has a well-developed flbn5-/- zebrafish line, in which the homozygous recessive fish display decreased survival compared to wildtype and heterozygous fish. This zebrafish model emulates a rare human genetic disorder called Cutis Laxa (CL). There are only approximately 400 reported familial cases of CL in the world. CL is characterized by defective connective tissue, resulting in elastic, “droopy” looking skin. Other symptoms of the disease include emphysema, lung infections, and hernias. There is currently no cure or treatment for CL itself, there are only treatments for the manifestations of the disease, such as hernia surgeries and echocardiograms.
My job duties as an undergraduate researcher include extracting zebrafish DNA, performing PCR amplification and gel electrophoresis, and genotyping gel images. I really enjoy working on this project because it gives me experience setting up experiments and following protocols and guidelines. I have never had the chance to work with animals in a lab setting before, so this has been a new and exciting opportunity for me.
If this blog sounded interesting to you, I would definitely consider getting involved in some research during your time here at Pitt. It’s a great opportunity, and you will definitely learn a lot by performing hands on tasks. You will also meet a ton of new people, which is great for networking and letters of recommendation! There are multiple resources for you to find research positions. Many students find research positions by reading about labs that interest them in the Department of Biological Sciences (or other departments/schools) and then email the PIs directly. You can also check the Biological Sciences Advising Newsletter. Another option is applying for research fellowships. The deadlines for summer research fellowships at Pitt and at other schools have mostly passed, but these are good options to look into for next summer. If you want more advice regarding gaining research experience, visit the Office of Undergraduate Research, or come to any of your Biology Peer Advisors’ office hours.
Colton & Yogi: Mondays from 10-11
Nora & Parker: Mondays from 2-3
Kristen & Lisa: Tuesdays from 4-5
Julia & Sofie: Wednesdays from 9-10
Isabella & Owen: Fridays from 3-4
BIOSC Junior, Secondary Ed minor, pre-med
Hey guys! Today I wanted to talk a little bit about my journey to living a fulfilling and efficient lifestyle. After a few semesters of trial and error, I have finally gotten to the point where I feel like I have figured out how to balance my time, and I thought I would share a few of the tips I have found out along the way in hopes that it might be able to help one of you.
1. DON’T spread yourself too thin! Coming in to college and adapting to a new lifestyle can be a really difficult and scary thing for many people. Often times people feel a lot of pressure to throw themselves into project, club, sport, job, etc., as soon as they can; this can be super helpful for acclimating to college, but it is also important to not put your grades and schooling on the backburner! After all, you are here first and foremost to learn, and it’s important to develop good study habits early. There will always be more semesters to join those clubs or find those jobs, whereas it’s better to establish good study habits early on.
2. Figure out what works for you. If you’re anything like me, how I study for college classes turned out to be a whooooole lot different than how I studied for high school. First semester of freshman year tends to be the hardest for a lot of people (myself included), and it took some adjusting to figure out what works for me. Everyone has different methods of studying that work best; some are auditory, where listening to lectures seems to be the best method, while others are really visual, where drawing and looking at pictures helps them the most. Figuring out your individual learning style can be crucial in learning to study effectively. Below is the quiz I used to help me figure out my learning style, and has helped me study ever since! This website also has a quiz to help you determine how you can improve your study habits, which is especially helpful if your first semester didn’t go exactly as planned.
3. Set weekly/daily goals. This was something I began doing recently, and it has proven to be incredibly helpful. Every morning, I make a list of the things I need to accomplish, and as I work through them, I get the satisfaction of getting to check them off the list. This is a really rewarding tool that helps keep you on track with tasks and homework.
4. If you feel like you need a break, take one. If you find yourself feeling exhausted, and like you’re caught up in the constant cycle of going to class, doing homework, and going to bed, you probably need a break. Learning when to give myself breaks was one of the most difficult but most necessary things I’ve done. During my first two years, I found myself in the library every night till 10pm, and every Saturday and Sunday all day, without fail. While I earned the grades I wanted, I was burnt out beyond belief. Sometimes you just need a day to spend time with your friends, or catch up on your favorite TV shows, or eat an entire jar of ice cream. Take those days. There will always be work that you could be doing, but it is important to put your health first, and time for relaxing is often just the break you need.
5. Find something that makes you happy, and find a way to work it into your schedule. This tip kind of goes right along with the last one, but it’s important enough for its own bullet. Make sure you make time for the things that make you happy. For me, it can be something as little as making sure I grab a chocolate ice cream cone on my way out of Market. Do something every day that makes you smile, especially on the days where it feels like nothing can. Eat an ice cream cone. Sit on a park bench and reflect for a minute. Read your favorite book. Anything.
If you took the time to read all that, I hope you found at least one thing beneficial. These are all tips I wish I had realized sooner, but better late than never! It is never too early (or late) to start getting yourself into healthy habits for a fulfilling college career.
Please feel free to visit me during my office hours to talk more about efficient studying and finding balance in your life: Wednesdays from 9-10 in A230 Langley!
By: Yogindra Raghav
Bioinformatics software for in silico testing of ligand-protein interactions? Quite the word jumble. Let’s break it down!
Bioinformatics: an inter-disciplinary field that develops computational methods to better understand biology. It’s also a great major that’s currently offered within the Department of Biological Sciences here at Pitt (feel free to stop by my office hours on Mondays from 10-11 to ask me about it!).
In silico: Performed on a computer (biological experiments).
Ligand-Protein Interactions: Quantifiable chemical interactions occurring between a small molecule (ligand) and larger complex (protein).
This approach to identifying ligand-protein interactions is commonly referred to as Computational Docking and is used contemporarily in the field of drug discovery. A great visualization of this is provided below.
The basis for how these programs work is provided in the figure below. Prediction of interactions between a ligand and target protein(s) is computationally non-trivial! There are an unimaginable number of possible small molecules that each have multiple possible conformations. Consider that proteins themselves are not rigid and stationary, as they have multiple potential conformations in chemical space, and you have an exponential number of possibilities and calculations to run! An unreasonable task!
Docking programs use many shortcuts/heuristics to report results of interactions in a reasonable time frame (the details of which are too long for a post like this). Rest assured that most computation is related to the chemical-physics force-fields that surround molecules to predict favorable/unfavorable interactions.
Why might this be useful? Before the advent of Computational Docking software, the only way to test potential molecules against proteins was by brute-force screening done by engineering-intensive and expensive robots. Though these robots are still in use today, the ability to pre-screen compounds in silico has allowed for reductions in compound synthesis and time required to test molecules. Docking has been commonly used throughout the field of drug discovery as a high-throughput, lower cost means of screening large swathes of potential chemical compounds to change the activity of a target protein. The capability to precisely find and optimize such interactions allows researchers to propose innovative manners of inhibiting disease processes that are caused by protein malfunction.
An example to motivate the usage of such software is as follows. Let’s assume we aim to find a drug to cure Parkinson’s disease. We recognize that this disease is caused by an aggregation of misfolded proteins. If we could find computationally find a small molecule to bind a reactive pocket or region of our protein(s), we may cause a conformational change in that protein to either prevent aggregation or to dilute aggregated proteins. If such an example were to ever come to fruition, the potential of Bioinformatics for ameliorating human health would be unquestionable.
Some famous freely available programs include Autodock, SwissDock and UCSF Chimera. For anyone interested in looking into these programs, there are many tutorials available online to teach yourself but be warned that the documentation may be spotty at best.
Pitt Bio Blog
The Pitt Bio Blog is maintained by the Department of Biological Sciences Advising Office. Posts are authored by our students