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 student extraordinaire
Many students planning to apply to graduate and professional schools have to take admissions test as part of the process - MCATs for medical school, DATs for dental school, PCATs for pharmacy school, OATs for optometry school, LSATs for law schools, GMATs for business school, and GREs for most other graduate schools. These exams differ in their content and format so it is important that you research your specific exam (and if you need to take it!). Then - like all studying - the best approach is to make a plan. Most students take these exams in the summer so the spring (term that is, aka January!) is the best time to start thinking about making your plan.
1. Start by making a schedule.
Decide how many weeks you plan on studying, and be honest with yourself about how much time you will have to dedicate to studying. Think about all of the other responsibilities and time commitments you will have during the semester, and plan with those in mind. I like to use this site when making my schedules, as it allows you to add classes, breaks, jobs, study time, and whatever else you might need.
2. If using a book set to study, assign chapters/lectures to get through each week.
Think about how well you already know the content; if it is fresh in your mind, perhaps save it till closer to the test date, so it is more of a review. If a topic is completely new to you, allocate more time to studying that topic.
3. Think about the study techniques that have worked for you before, and incorporate those into your learning.
If you are a visual learner, search YouTube or Khan Academy for videos related to the topics you are studying. Create content maps and diagrams to return to as a review later on. If you are an auditory learner, get in the habit of explaining the content out loud, either to yourself or to a friend. If you do not know what kind of a learner you are, consider taking this quiz to help you find out!
4. Find a Study Buddy so you can hold each other accountable.
It can be easy to get off track while studying, but having someone else there to support you and remind you why you are studying so hard can help!
5. Take at least one day a week off for yourself.
Studying for long periods of time can be exhausting; your brain needs time to rest. Studying for major admissions tests is a MARATHON, not a sprint. Take it slow, and remember to breathe and make time for the things that you enjoy.
6.If you find yourself falling behind…
Don’t beat yourself up over it! Sometimes life gets in the way of the plans we make, and that’s ok! Look at what is keeping you from sticking to your schedule; if it is something you can change, try to! If it is something out of your control, rework your schedule around it. Readjusting the schedule you made in the beginning is a normal part of the process, and you should not feel bad about it.
7. Reach out to your peer advisors for help!
Many of us have been through the process, and we all have more tips and tricks that helped us along the way. We love to help!
Keep an eye out for an MCAT/DAT/GRE information session coming up early next semester!
Junior MICRO major
One of the most up and coming topics in the biology world right now is “what is in the gut microbiome and how much does it impact your health?” Last December, I applied for the Mentor/Mentee Howard Hughes Medical Institute Research Fellowship to do research over summer 2019. This was a matching program that was run by Dr. Nancy Kaufmann where students applied and interviewed to find a lab of interest in the Department of Biological Sciences. One of the unique parts of this program was that in addition to matching you with an interesting research lab, they also matched you with an undergraduate research mentor - a student who had been doing research in the department for a while. Unfortunately, summer 2019 was the last year for this program, but there are lots of other summer research programs out there (see: https://www.biology.pitt.edu/undergraduate/research/outside-pitt and https://www.biology.pitt.edu/undergraduate/awards-and-fellowships).
I knew I wanted to do research as soon as I came to Pitt. I was very interested in the gut microbiota because my grandfather was diagnosed with a Clostridium difficile infection and the impact it had on him was something I have never seen before because doctors cannot do much about it. Words like “probiotics” and “immunity” are thrown around a lot when referring to this topic because eating living microbes such a yogurt, kombucha and kimchi are supposedly good for your health. After going through the interview, I was matched with Dr Kevin Kohl’s lab where he studies the physiological ecology and microbial ecology of the digestive system and gut microbiota of many vertebrate species such as birds, amphibians, fish, and mammals.
To start the summer, Sarah H. (a Bio Peer Advisor who was also matched into the Kohl Lab) and I began immediately grinding fecal samples from different rodents. These samples ended up being the focus on our project for the summer. We continuously worked on a cellulase assay for different fecal samples in woodrats, Montane voles and grasshopper mice but we also focused on fiber digestibility; which is what my poster was focused on. It’s important to note that these rodents represent various feeding habits. The woodrat is an omnivore, the Montane vole is a herbivore and the grasshopper mouse is an insectivore. All rodents have an organ known as a cecum which is where certain bacteria is held to break down the cellulose in the fiber to create sugar and energy for the animal. These rodents were all fed four different diets with different percentages of fiber and protein with carbohydrates and fat as “fillers” to hold ecological relevance to the diet of the animal. Feeding the rodents and collecting their feces (that they naturally excreted) took place in summer 2018 and the feces was kept in 15ml conical tubes until ready for use. The main goal of my research over the 2019 summer was looking to find any correlations between the cecum size and fiber digestibility in Montane voles.
It is assumed that the Montane vole should have a lot of fiber digestibility because it is a herbivore, thus meaning that it would have to break down more fiber due to the content in plants. The hypothesis is that voles with larger cecum sizes should be able to digest more fiber because they would have more bacteria to initiate fiber digestion. The neutral detergent fiber analysis and acid detergent fiber analysis processes to measure fiber digestibility was something that neither Sarah H. nor myself had seen before. The feces that was ground up is placed into little bags that very much resemble tea bags (that would be very bad to mix those up!) and are heat- sealed to ensure that no sample is lost. All of these samples were weighed and kept on record to use after the analysis. These bags are then tiered on top of one another into a ANKOM Fiber Analyzer Vessel where boiling water mixed with neutral fiber detergent and amylase is poured over top of them. The neutral detergent breaks down pectins, proteins, and minerals to leave everything else that may have been in the feces behind and the amylase breaks down starch and glycogen. These bags are then heated and agitated and then soaked in acetone to dehydrate them. These bags are then kept under the fume hood overnight to dry and placed in an oven to continue drying. Once the bags are done drying, their weight is recorded, and the process is repeated but acid detergent solution is used. The acid detergent solution dissolves remaining cell solubles, lignin and some hemicellulose. After the bags are dried once more, they are weighed, and only fiber content remained.
All parts of the Montane vole were measured and weighed during dissection by the post-doc in our lab, Brian Trevelline. After some calculations, we determined that cecum size and fiber digestibility are correlated. This summer research fellowship led to a position working in the lab over the semester for credit where Sarah and I will focus on experimental evolution with cellulase activity in specific microbes from the woodrat gut biome. By doing projects like these in the Kohl lab, we can determine which microbes play certain roles in the gut microbiome to lead to more advances in studying what their specific functions are!
Stay tuned to hear more about how Sarah R. and other Bio Peer Advisors got involved in research. Here is a sneak peek:
Pitt Bio Blog
The Pitt Bio Blog is maintained by the Department of Biological Sciences Advising Office. Posts are authored by our students