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Research-based undergraduate course expands beyond Washington University
Date:11/25/2008

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Elgin's course was so successful that she became one of eight professors to have their original HHMI grant funding renewed in 2006. With that support, she set out to make the course available to undergraduates at institutions across the country.

Researching in silico

Biology majors at Washington University often begin their research by spending a summer in the laboratory under the guidance of a faculty, graduate student, or postdoctoral research mentor. However, the privilege of a summer research experience is unusual at many institutions due to inadequate facilities, limited funding, high student-to-faculty ratios, and a lack of experienced or research-active mentors.

Elgin's course overcomes these barriers by providing students with in silico, or computer-based, research opportunities.

This strategy minimizes the cost of research materials because the necessary data are freely available on the Web and most institutions already possess adequate computer facilities. Mentoring is also economized by teaching students the same electronic tools and strategies in a group setting and by relying on alumnae of the course to serve as undergraduate teaching assistants (TAs). Thus, one dedicated faculty member can provide research opportunities for a much larger number of students than would be possible in traditional, one-on-one mentoring relationships. GEP faculty and TAs learn the relevant software during summer workshops at Washington University.

"Our GEP faculty members are an impressive group," reports Elgin. "Each one has taken the basic format and adapted it to the requirements of their institution and the needs of their students. Their energy and enthusiasm are terrific!"

The GEP's approach makes offering a research-based course a viable option for a wide variety of institutions. Students in the program are currently working on a comparative genomics problem that focuses on genes in a h
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Contact: Sarah Elgin
selgin@wustl.edu
314-935-5348
Washington University in St. Louis
Source:Eurekalert

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