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.
BIOSC Junior and pre-med student
The sense of freedom accompanied with being a college student most often implies the luxury of living off-campus in either an apartment or house. As we all know, living in a house or apartment or house with a kitchen comes with the inescapable reality of dealing with insect foreign invaders that love to set up shop wherever they please. Fruit flies in particular seem to be a common enemy among student residents since they thrive on our lack of time and inability to maintain the cleanliness of our kitchens especially during periods with lots of exams.
Although we battle fruit flies on a daily basis within our homes, these little guys go way beyond just being an average kitchen pest. Attesting to this, the research lab that I have been involved with over the past two years have utilized fruit flies, or Drosophila melanogaster to be more scientifically accurate, as our model system to better understand the pathogenesis of various neurodegenerative and metabolic diseases. I currently conduct research within the Palladino Lab, which is associated with the Pittsburgh Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases (PIND) and also affiliated with the School of Medicine. Some of the reasons why Drosophila melanogaster was chosen as our model system include their rather short life cycle, their large numbers of progeny, and the easy maintenance of their living conditions. Beyond these guys being everyday nuisances, they do play an important role in progressing various fields of research.
In our lab, we are attempting to better elucidate the protein quality control pathway of certain diseases, including TPI (TriosePhosphate Isomerase) Deficiency and Parkinson’s Disease, since they are characterized by abnormal levels of proteins. By better understanding how damaged proteins are handled within a biological system, we can target specific molecular components in the pathway that contribute to pathogenesis via pharmacological intervention and potentially alleviate symptoms.
Over the past two years, I have conducted research focused on identifying and confirming the molecular components associated with the protein degradation pathway, relying heavily on Drosophila melanogaster to model specific protein-linked diseases. Who would have thought that the little insect annoyance flying around your kitchen would actually play an important role in furthering research, and by extension, modern medicine? All that I am saying is that that individual was certainly not me! Model organisms, such as fruit flies, are critical to science because they serve as a mirror that reflects how our bodies actually function at the molecular level.
Now that I gave you guys a brief glance into the research that I have been conducting since the beginning of my undergraduate career here at Pitt, I would love to spend some time discussing how I got involved in research and what opportunities are available to you if research is something that interests you. My AP Biology teacher in high school recommended that I apply for research via a work study since she informed me that it was never too early to begin research. So, prior to the start of my freshman fall term, I applied to about five different work study positions and luckily was offered a position in the lab I am currently in. After about three months of being a work study student, I transitioned into an undergraduate research position and was given my own project.
Although I began freshman year, do not feel obligated to begin so soon or fret about not being involved in research yet. It is ok! Most students do not begin research until their second or third year so there is still time to find the research lab that is just right for you. Offering some advice on how to find research, I encourage students to first determine what kind of research they want to pursue. To do this, think back to your foundational courses whether it be biology or chemistry and recall what ideas or concepts that interested you. After figuring out your interest, go to this link (pivot.proquest.com/profiles/main) and search your topic of interest in the search bar. The corresponding results list labs affiliated with Pitt that focus on your topic of interest. After finding a lab that you may like, reach out to the Principal Investigator via email, emphasizing your personal interest in the lab and why you would make a great addition to the team. Lastly, reach out to about five to ten different labs that you may like since many other students are also looking for research.
Now research may seem like some scary and intimidating thing that is unattainable for students, but it really is not since it can only help you in your academic endeavors. Research is not only a great resume builder, but it is also an excellent learning experience that teaches critical thinking capabilities and builds professional character. The things that I have learned from my research involving fruit flies have shaped my academic development over the past two years and ultimately have made me a stronger student. I do not know about you, but I would have to say that those little guys are way more than just an average kitchen pest!
Interested in getting involved in research? Learn how our amazing BIo Peer Advisors found their labs in our soon to be released "How I got involved in research video". Check out this snippet from Luke's story here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lj1uRePKdmI
MOLBIO Senior and Pre-PhD
Standardized test taking is a part of our education that we have become accustomed to. If you are reading this as a Pitt student, you took the SAT as a part of your application, but taking the test is really only half of it. There can be a lot of preparation that goes into taking the test: tutors, study books, and boot camps all just to learn how to take the test. How could this possibly be a good predictor of how well you will do in college? More and more, institutions are beginning to reconsider the value of standardized test scores as predictors of success in school . As you are beginning to think about your post-graduation plans, it is important to think about whether these plans will include taking a standardized test of some kind. As a senior applying to molecular biology Ph.D. programs, I took the GRE, a standardized exam required for entry to most graduate programs. At least, that was once the case, but now it is becoming more and more common for Ph.D. programs in the biomedical and other sciences to no longer require GRE scores. What has caused this shift? How many programs are still requiring GRE scores? This is important information to know if graduate school is in your future plans as you may be able to avoid taking the GRE altogether.
Much like the SAT, the GRE is a four-hour long exam consisting of multiple choice and written questions testing quantitative, verbal, and writing skills. However, recent studies have emphasized two major problems with the GRE. First, there is little correlation between GRE scores and performance in graduate school. Second, there are concerns that the GRE poses a disadvantage to underrepresented groups. In response to this, more and more programs are dropping the GRE requirement. The life sciences, in particular, have led this push toward this so-called “GRExit”. Science has reported the following numbers for programs at 50 top-ranked U.S. research universities: 44% of molecular biology Ph.D. programs, 35% of neuroscience programs, and 29% of ecology programs have stopped requiring GRE scores as of 2018. For molecular biology programs, it is thought that this number will rise to 50% for this year’s (2019-2020) application cycle. In my experience thus far, only one of the eight schools that I am applying to requires GRE scores (12.5%). The rest either make it optional to send scores or ask that you do not send them at all. If I had known this, I could have avoided taking the GRE and only applied to schools that do not require it, which I believe is feasible if this is a route you wish to take.
The first major problem with the GRE that I mentioned is that there is little correlation between GRE scores and success in graduate school. In the past several years, numerous studies have been conducted to examine this notion. Joshua Hall, director of graduate admissions for the Biological and Biomedical Science program at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, authored a 2017 study (https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0169121) investigating student productivity in graduate school and their GRE scores. Hall showed that for 280 graduate students in his program, GRE scores were not correlated with the number of first-author papers the students published or how long it took them to complete their degree. Another study looking at 495 Biomedical PhD students at Vanderbilt University in Nashville (https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0166742) found that GRE scores did not predict which students passed their qualifying exams or graduated, how long they spent in the program, how many publications they accrued, or whether they received an individual grant or fellowship. Seeing this data makes you wonder what kind of information the GRE provides about a student to an admissions board that grades, research experience, or letters of recommendations cannot.
In addition to the questionable ability of the GRE to predict graduate student success, there are concerns that the GRE may hinder diversity and inclusion efforts. The ETS (Educational Testing Service), a nonprofit testing organization that delivers the GRE, shared data that shows that women and members of underrepresented racial and ethnic minority groups score lower on the GRE than white men and Asian men do. The ETS argues that this reflects educational background and unequal access to opportunities. Not only does the GRE exam cost $205 each time you take it, but additional costs can accrue with training and study materials. For low-income students, this poses a disadvantage as they may not be able to afford tutors or other expensive studying material that could potentially help them perform better on the exam. GRExit proponents argue that “the problem with looking at a strong GRE score is you don’t know what the student did to get that score.” Additionally, the test is timed which may pose a challenge for students who do not speak English as a first language. Arthur Kosowsky, Chair of the Physics and Astronomy department at the University of Pittsburgh, says that dropping the GRE “...just seems like a no-brainer. This test is both not really measuring something useful … and at the same time discriminating against students who we are trying to work very hard to increase the numbers of in our program.” With this in mind, if the GRE is not an equal measure of student ability, how can it be used to objectively compare applicants for graduate programs?
If you are considering graduate school, keep what you read in mind when choosing where to apply. If you know your strengths do not lie in standardized test taking, like myself, choose to apply to schools that do not require GRE scores, and do not worry if this is the case. There are many parts to the graduate school application in which you can prove your abilities like grades, research experience, letters of recommendations, fellowships/awards, teaching experience, your statement of purpose, and more. With fewer programs requiring scores each year, not taking the GRE is definitely a practical option. Also keep in mind the type of culture in which you want to attend graduate school. Diversity and inclusion efforts may be reflected by not requiring the GRE. With that said, these are decisions are ultimately up to you, and it is important as a student to know your options.
Quotes and statistics were taken from the following Science article:
Thinking about taking the GRE (or MCAT or DAT) and want some more info? Come to our info session on Tuesday, 1/14: https://www.facebook.com/events/1261034204107116/
BIOSC Junior and Pre-Genetic Counseling
Have you recently had an unsatisfying trip to your nearby dining hall, and were left wanting more? Do you wish you could get a Starbucks coffee at 11:30 pm on weeknight?
Say no more.
As a freshman, I would avoid Market Central like it was my job, and most of my dining dollars went to Chik-Fil-A in Cathy (R.I.P). Here are a few of my favorite spots to frequent these days:
Bunsen Brewer is one of my favorite spots because it’s efficient and I usually feel like I need a pick-me-up after trekking to Chevron. And who doesn’t love a good science pun (that comes with coffee!). Due to its location in an academic building, you should expect long lines at the top of the hour during the class switch, but it is easier to get in during class times. My favorite featured snack is the cheese and grapes, but they do have pastries as well. The Brewer also prepares Starbucks beverages and I like to bring my own to-go cup and get iced coffee for $0.99, up to 24 oz, thanks to the BYO Mug program (see above picture). Studies show you could save $150/semester (and a lot of disposable cups) by bringing your own reusable mug - that's a lot of coffee. Saving money and combating global warming? Sign me up!
Einstein’s Bagels – Posvar Hall
When I find myself in Posvar, I somehow always gravitate towards Einstein’s and have to order a farmhouse bagel. Einstein’s menu spans from your classic egg, bacon, and cheese selections, to tasty deli sandwiches, and even a Nova Lox bagel with salmon on it. Personally, I’d choose Einstein’s over Bruegger’s any day because of their superior Caribou coffee and diverse menu options.
Tom in Langley Lobby
Tom, the sweet gentleman that works the food stand in Langley Lobby, is one of the campus's best gems. Not only does he have all your fixins like bagels, sandwiches, a nice beverage selection, and other tasty treats, but he serves the people with a smile. There is a nice coffee array and plenty of grab-and-go options for any biology (or neuroscience) students on the run. Tom does close up shop on the earlier side, so always try to get your goodies in the morning/early afternoon. This can also ensure you have a great day since he just makes you feel good about yourself.
Cup and Chaucer - Hillman Library
Cup and Chaucer is the snack spot that is open the latest on the campus, and nobody knows how to pronounce its name. Open until midnight Monday – Thursday, this food cart located in the campus library offers your standard fare pastries, chips, beverages, granola bars and also participates in the BYO mug program (see above). Any time I am dragging myself to Hillman, I always have to stop and grab a snack first. Nobody likes studying, especially uncaffeinated and on an empty stomach
PSA: Saving $$
If you’re trying to save money, a lot of the dining locations on campus have microwaves so you can meal prep and bring in your own food. The only way I survive through 7 straight hours of classes on Wednesdays is by microwaving leftover pasta in Cathy!
The next time you are having a snack in the Langley Lobby - stop over and say hi to the Bio Peer Advisors!
BIOSC Senior & Pre-Dental Student
Are you interested in learning the anatomy of the human body? Do you need an anatomy prerequisite to earn admission into health professional programs such as medical school or dental school? If so, these two courses belong in your schedule. Although Anatomy for the Health Professions does not count towards any of the biological sciences majors, it is extremely beneficial for those who plan to attend graduate programs where anatomy is a required prerequisite in order to apply/matriculate. Unfortunately, you must be a major within the Department of Biological Sciences to register for Anatomy for the Health Professions. Along with the 3-credit lecture, co-enrollment in the lab course (BIOSC 0042) is required. Both the lecture and the lab are only offered during the fall and summer terms, so it is important to plan out your schedule if you are considering enrolling in these courses.
Personally, I needed to take an anatomy course to apply to multiple dental school programs. Furthermore, I knew that I wanted to strengthen my knowledge of human anatomy prior to taking my Dental Admissions Test and eventually entering a vigorous dental school curriculum. My favorite aspect of the course was the small class size of approximately forty. As a Pitt undergrad, most of you know that small class sizes are tough to find. Because the enrollment number is limited, the course is able to be interactive. Oftentimes, it can be daunting to ask questions during lectures, but the small class size makes the environment of the lecture more comfortable to voice your questions and concerns. Additionally, the weekly lab meetings allowed the professor to become acquainted with each of the students on a first name basis. A combination of this interaction, my interest in the material, and my performance throughout the term granted me the ability to become a Teaching Assistant for the lab portion of the course.
Generally, the course material that is taught in lecture aligns with the laboratory curriculum. Throughout the lecture, topics include: functional and gross anatomy, imaging techniques, various case studies, and pathologies of different diseases. Specifically, students will learn about the skeletal, muscular, nervous, endocrine, circulatory, respiratory, digestive, and reproductive systems. The lab portion of the course allows students to learn the anatomy of various systems through the hands-on use of specimens such as skeletons, models of organs, dissections, and microscope slides. Typically, students work in small groups in the lab. In my opinion, this contributed greatly to my learning because we were able to prepare for the lab exams together.
Without a doubt, Anatomy was one of my favorite courses at the University of Pittsburgh. If you choose to take the course, my best advice is to remain engaged by contributing to the interactive nature of the lecture and the lab. Anatomy has a vast amount of terms and minute details that can be a daunting task to understand in a short period of time. Therefore, it is essential to stay on top of the material as the term progresses. I have attached a link below to access the syllabi for anyone who wants supplemental information on the structure of the courses. If you have any questions about Anatomy for the Health Professions you can come to my office hour in Langley Lobby on Mondays at 4:30PM!
Pitt Bio Blog
The Pitt Bio Blog is maintained by the Department of Biological Sciences Advising Office. Posts are authored by our students