Usually, if a student is interested in doing cutting-edge biochemistry research, the path is long and paved with many introductory courses. For the past two years, Wellesley has been offering a shortcut.
Over Wintersession, Elizabeth Oakes, a senior lab instructor in the chemistry department, and Bret Redwine, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School, offer a weeklong “boot camp” program in biochemistry research. Aimed at first-year students who didn’t have much laboratory experience in high school and might otherwise be intimidated by lab courses, the program comprises 12 Wellesley students and six graduate students. Each graduate student shepherds two students through a week of research, centered around isolating a “motor” protein that acts as a “semi-truck” carrying other proteins around inside cells.
“It’s not a cookbook biochemistry lab, where we know that nothing is going to fail,” says Oakes. “It’s part of the idea that … the course is designed to show every aspect of being a scientist,” explains Redwine. And part of that is emphasizing that “science is an endeavor of people,” he says.
After two years, Oakes and Redwine say the experiment is working. Many of the students who have gone through the boot camp have continued to take STEM courses and pursue research in the lab. The two hope that in years to come, they can expand the program to include multiple, concurrent research bootcamps.