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.
Senior Microbiology major
As a Microbiology Major at Pitt, I took the required 2 credit BIOSC 1860: Microbiology Laboratory. This research-based lab is centered on investigating an independent topic in microbiology. Taking this lab is an excellent opportunity not only to be exposed to research in microbiology, but also to cultivate your own research skills.
Going into this lab, I had only acquired the basic skill set you obtain from the general Foundations of Biology II lab. I had not pursued any scientific research outside of my courses. To be honest, I was a little intimidated by the prospect of a research-based lab. The course objective is simple: by the end of the semester, you must create and present a problem-based research project, typically completed in groups of three or four students. From week 1 to week 15 you utilize a soil sample that your own group collects.
On day one, you and your group must obtain your soil sample. Next, you take it into the lab and begin your research! Your task is to isolate bacterial strains from your soil sample to study as part of your research project. After a few weeks, you get to choose from major topics in microbiology and review published literature to create a specific scientific question to guide your research.
You also use the soil to take a metagenomic sample. Metagenomics is used to analyze the genomes present in an environmental sample. In other words, you are taking a general sample of genomes in the environment to try and obtain an accurate representation of what species may be present. Metagenomic sampling is very important because many bacteria do not thrive in the laboratory environment. If bacterial strain isolation was the sole method employed, these bacterial strains would not be represented.
Using your group’s sample, you perform a series of microbiological tests. You get to practice several important research techniques such as DNA isolation, PCR, bacterial transformation, isolation of pure bacterial strains, motility testing, gram staining, and more! These are necessary skills for people wishing to pursue a career in microbiology.
The most useful and rewarding part of taking this research-based lab was the opportunity to present our findings. All of our research had to be compiled and presented as a poster. Communicating research findings is one of the most important skills to develop in the sciences. If you can’t get your ideas across to other scientists and the general public, their significance may be lost. All of the lab sections presented their posters together in a conference-style session, allowing other students and faculty to ask questions and learn about your semester’s work.
Taking a higher level biology lab at Pitt is a wonderful opportunity to expand your research skills and techniques as well as to develop your professional communication skills. It can be a truly wonderful learning experience, so do not hesitate to take one!
If you have questions about the microbiology lab or any research-based lab course, stop by Parker’s advising office hours on Tuesdays from 9-10am.
Biological Sciences Senior
Hello again, everyone. For this entry of my blog I decided to talk about something a little bit more relevant to our fields of study. For those of you who have taken Microbiology, you are certainly aware of the essential role the microbiota plays in our lives. A quick google search reveals hundreds of studies linking our microbiota with things like anxiety, food cravings, mood swings, immune system modulation, and even the recovery time of patients after suffering from a stroke. For those of you who have not taken Microbiology, I’ll take some time to briefly explain what microbiota is.
The microbiota is the group of bacteria (and other microorganisms) that naturally occur within our gastrointestinal tract. Modern research has no clear-cut definition as to what defines a healthy or normal microbiota, but we have some clues. Bifidobacteria and Bacteroides are consistent players in the composition of a normal microbiota. These groups of bacteria have been associated with certain health benefits. For instance, Bifidobacteria have been shown to reduce intestinal inflammation. Because of this interesting link, research is beginning to delve deeply into how Bifidobacteria and the microbiota more generally can help patients with conditions like irritable bowel syndrome or ulcerative colitis. It is also worth noting that members of the group Bacteriodes have a very interesting system to digest starches, called the Starch Utilization System. Essentially, these bacteria release enzymes into the gut environment to partially digest large starches so they are more easily transported into our cells. This sounds like a pretty insignificant function, however there are two amazing features embedded within this system. First, this system is communal. This means that the Bacteriodes are releasing these enzymes not only for their own gain, but also to the benefit of other bacteria. Second, the starches digested by these bacteria, for example the xyloglucans found in tomatoes and leafy greens, are not able to be digested by the cellular machinery that humans possess. Without these bacteria, we wouldn’t be able to harvest the energy of many fruits, vegetables, and other produce.
While these are wonderful characteristics of the microbiota, the microbiota can harm the human body as well. Take for instance the effects of the family of bacteria Enterobacteriaceae; this family of bacteria is associated with a lot of unfortunate symptoms in the human body. Enterobacteriaceae has been shown to cause things like inflammation and is even thought to contribute to Crohn’s disease. This review article compiles a lot of information about Enterobacteriaceae and the phylum it belongs to: Proteobacteria.
Another new interest with the microbiota is how to alter it and fecal transplants have become an area of great interest. For example, C. diff (Clostridium difficile) is an extremely contagious disease that results in extreme episodes of diarrhea. The disease is particularly prevalent in nursing homes and ICU floors in hospitals. To make matters worse, Clostridium difficile is very resistant to antibiotics. However, fecal transplants have been a promising alternative for C. diff treatment. In studies, fecal transplants have been shown to clear C. diff symptoms in anywhere from 70% to 90% of patients. This is certainly an exciting field of study, and I encourage those of you reading this to do some of your own research on this topic! Or take Microbiology next semester!
Enjoy the rest of your semester, folks. And best of luck on your finals!
Junior Biological Sciences Major
So you’ve decided medical school might be the right path for you: you have the grades, you have the drive, but now what? You might think you know what the life of a physician is like, but often what you see on your annual trip to the doctor’s office or your Grey’s Anatomy binge-watching is only the tip of the iceberg. The best way to find out about everything physicians do is to start shadowing!
How to get in contact with doctors:
One of the best, and most obvious, routes to finding a physician to shadow is to ask those that you already know! Think about the physician you’ve visited once a year since you were a kid, the one that healed your broken arm, or the one that gave you medicine every time you got strep throat growing up. Many of them have gotten to know you over the years and would love the opportunity to help you work toward your dreams! Since you are already familiar with these physicians, you will likely be far more comfortable contacting them and asking for their help.
As nice as it may be to already have some relationship with physician you want to shadow, DON’T be afraid to reach out to someone that you’ve never met before, especially if you are interested in their specialty. Often times, physician’s emails will be listed on their associated hospital’s webpage. Spend some time looking through hospital directories to find someone that you might be interested in shadowing. If you are hoping to shadow at one of the UPMC hospitals, this link might be helpful to you; you can search by specialty, as well as hospital distance from you.
Many hospitals also have programs that work to match students to physicians within their system; generally, students must complete an application in order to partake in this sort of program. This is a great opportunity not only to meet and shadow physicians, but also to become familiar with the hospital network. Not all hospitals offer this program, however, so be sure to search online to see if yours does!
So I’ve found some emails: now what?
Start out by introducing yourself: where you go to school, your healthcare-related goals, and any shadowing or patient care experiences you’ve had. It is always important to let the physician know what draws you to them and their specialty specifically, and why you think shadowing them will help you to reach your career goals. Upon hearing back from the physician, work together to find a time to shadow that works for both of you. Keep in mind that you may need to move things around in your schedule to fit into theirs.
Remember: physicians are incredibly busy people, and if they don’t get back to you right away (or at all), don’t get discouraged! You can always send a follow up email, or look for more physicians in your area/specialty of interest to shadow. Don’t give up just because one person doesn’t get back to you!
What kinds of things should I ask the physician during shadowing?
Shadowing is the best way to experience the day-to-day life of a physician; this may also be one of the only times you get to see and hear about the realities of the job, and as such, you should be prepared to make the most of this time. These questions are some that I believe are important to think about when deciding to become a physician:
Things to remember when shadowing:
Shadowing can be scary at first, and that is okay! Remember to breathe and try to soak up as much as you can from your experience. Physicians have a lot of knowledge to shed on the subject of, ya know, being a physician, so try to make the most of the time you have with them!
Microbiology Senior & Pre-Vet
As a student on the Pre-Veterinary track, it only made sense to choose Microbiology as my major: all of the pre-requisite courses required for veterinary school are included in the Microbiology major here at Pitt. While the more-general Biological Sciences major is flexible and easily could have included all of my pre-requisite classes, I felt that choosing the structured Microbiology major would be the best choice for me. While my original decision was simply out of convenience, I found I have a real interest in the topics within microbiology and I never expected how happy I would be with my decision!
In my first three semesters at Pitt I took the usual General Chemistry, Foundations of Biology, Organic Chemistry, and even added Ecology (BIOSC 0370) and Genetics (BIOSC 0350). While these classes are interesting and necessary to build a sturdy foundation of scientific knowledge, I hadn’t yet gotten a glimpse of what the Microbiology major really entailed (and in fact, was still on the Biological Sciences Major track!). I still believed that my major was simply a means to an end, however this mentality quickly changed when the spring semester of my sophomore year began. In the spring of 2017, I took the Microbiology class (BIOSC 1850) and got a real appreciation for what the field is all about. I gained knowledge of broad topics within this fascinating branch of biology and my interest was immediately sparked.
As I continued to take more microbiology-focused courses, including higher-level (HL) courses including Virology (BIOSC 1730) and Immunology (BIOSC 1760), I found that I had a genuine desire to learn and build upon my knowledge in this field of science. Despite the difficulty of some of the courses within the major, I did not shy away from the challenge. I am surprised by how glad I am to have chosen this major.
My main take-away is to make sure that you take some time to look into different Department of Biological Science majors offered here at Pitt. It may seem daunting to choose a more specialized major, but it can be well worth your time. Several of the classes I took for the Microbiology major were not pre-requisites for veterinary school, but I don’t regret taking a single one. If you have an interest in a more specialized major, no matter how small this interest, it can only benefit you to pursue it. You may even be pleasantly surprised like I was.
Need help choosing a major? Let's talk! Visit my office hours on Tuesday mornings at 9am.
Biological Sciences Senior & Transfer Student from UPG
Hi everybody! I hope that your semester is great! I am going to tell you a little bit about my unique transfer experience. This is a bit of a sensitive topic, but one worth sharing.
After graduating high school, I decided to attend the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, one of the four regional campuses of Pitt. I had a really great experience there! I lived on campus, was actively involved in various clubs and organizations, served as a Resident Assistant for a semester, and was a campus tour guide! I really enjoyed the smaller campus feel, especially as a first year college student. As my sophomore year came to an end, there was a lot of talk amongst students about relocating to the Pittsburgh campus. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to relocate or not. I enjoyed UPG, but I’m the type of person who pushes myself to try new things. I think a little change every now and then is healthy, even if I know there will be difficulties. There were so many factors that went into my decision to stay or go. So, I sat down and wrote out a list of pros and cons. The pros ended up winning, and I decided to transfer! (Disclaimer: I’m now really glad that I did).
My junior year got off to a rocky start; to be honest, I was not very happy. I had moved back home and decided that I would commute to Oakland for class. I live approximately 17 miles outside of Pittsburgh, straight up Route 28. In an ideal world, that commute time is less than 30 minutes. With Pittsburgh traffic, it takes so much longer than that. I also had the most unreliable car at the time and I would break down a lot. (R.I.P. 2002 Jeep Liberty). In general, I had a really difficult time adjusting to the new campus, larger class sizes (especially Physics), and the much faster-paced environment. Not to mention, I only knew a handful of people. I wouldn’t consider myself a very shy person, but everything seemed so intimidating in this new environment. Originally, I was hoping that by transferring I would be able to set my career goals in stone. However, transferring had made me only MORE confused about my career path. I could drone on and on about my struggles, but I want to get to the point here.
If you need help, please, do not be afraid to reach out. You are not alone.
It wasn’t until I met with my advisor in the biology department for the first time, who shed some light into my life during this transition, that I finally felt at ease. Looking back, I wish that I would have spoken to an advisor sooner. At the time, I was struggling internally; I felt so embarrassed and I felt like no one would understand. I was a junior in college. I had done this all before. Why were things so difficult? My advisor really gave me the extra push and kind words that I needed to hear.
It was only a matter of time before things started to fall into place. The next semester was much smoother. I was much happier. By the end of my junior year, I finally made the decision to pursue a career in dentistry. I was hired in the Graduate School of Public Health and spent the entire summer in Oakland (which really helped me to become so familiar with the campus!) Best of all, I became a peer advisor! I love being able to share my experiences with others. Now that I am in my senior year I can look back on last year’s events with knowledge that I made it through. I am so grateful for those challenges and it was a learning experience that I will never forget.
If you’re a transfer student and/or are looking for some support within the Department of Biological Sciences and the University in general, feel free to visit me at my office hours from 2-3PM on Fridays.
Pitt Bio Blog
The Pitt Bio Blog is maintained by the Department of Biological Sciences Advising Office. Posts are authored by our students