Instructor Insights

Instructor Interview

Below, Dr. Hazal B. Kose describes various aspects of how she taught 7.343 Single-Molecule Imaging: Capturing Nanoscale Cellular Machines in Action.

OCW: What aspects of reading and assessing primary literature did your students find most challenging?

Hazal Kose: I was actually very impressed with the students. “Challenging” is probably not the best word for it, but they did not enjoy working on computational/mathematical models and/or simulations to explain molecular dynamics of a protein/enzyme of interest. In most papers where a mathematical model was involved, it was not clearly outlined or explained. Understandably, the students didn’t appreciate this lack of information. However, this was a must to include in my course, as one of the purposes of the course is to learn how to critically evaluate a paper. And I wanted these students to see that including a mathematical model or simulation without a proper logical flow or explanation does not elevate your research article but confuses your readers.

OCW: This is a course on imaging techniques in cellular biology, but it’s also (like the other Advanced Undergraduate Seminars) about the skill of critically analyzing research papers. How do you teach this kind of critical thinking?

Hazal Kose: When it comes to papers with beautiful, high-resolution images, it’s quite easy to get distracted by the images. I tried to choose papers in which the question, the experimental approach, and/or the analysis were very clearly explained, or a creative solution was used to approach a difficult question. On the other hand, sometimes I intentionally chose papers where there was obvious lack of data, or ones that were complete data-wise but failed to address a possible second interpretation. I also chose papers where less is more, meaning that the paper didn’t include a mountain of data but the explanation/analysis was so thorough that you get the full picture of it, unlike papers that present more than 8 figures and pages of data but are very difficult to make sense of because they jump from one point to another without making proper transitions/connections. Sometimes, there were questions from students as to why, for instance, the study was not complemented with in vivo data or another additional method. I also tried to explain to them how a research project progresses, how some groups prefer to publish a full story with everything while others divide their studies among different papers. I tried to explain that from the language used in papers, you can predict whether a study has been conducted but not published yet, or not conducted at all.

OCW: Were any of your students uncomfortable with delivering an oral presentation, or with other aspects of the course? If so, how did you address this?

Hazal Kose: All of them were very confident young scientists, and they all did an excellent job. Understandably, there was some stage-nervousness during oral presentations, but who doesn’t have that?  Maybe not particularly for this reason, but I wanted to remove barriers between my students and me. That’s why sometimes I asked them if everything else in their other classes was going all right, if they were experiencing unusually busy schedules (some of them were dealing with PhD or MD-PhD applications at that time), and if so, whether there was anything I could do to help, such as extending the midterm deadline. One day, I took them out for a coffee break and we talked about their Thanksgiving plans. My aim was to make them feel comfortable and make this class an enjoyable experience building towards research-related careers, not just a course with a letter grade.

OCW: What are the advantages and drawbacks of the pass/fail grading format in a seminar like this?

Hazal Kose: I don’t think that I can give a meaningful answer here as I don’t have an experience of giving another course with a more conventional grading format (A, B+, etc.) One thing I can tell, though, is that none of the students missed a single assignment, which showed that they were genuinely interested.

OCW: What would you like to share about teaching 7.343 that we haven’t yet addressed?

Hazal Kose: I think every postdoc who considers staying in academia for higher roles should get teaching experience. The idea of teaching is completely different from actual teaching. You cannot possibly know if you like teaching without teaching a class. And such courses are the perfect opportunity for postdocs to get this experience.

Curriculum Information

Prerequisites

None, but a general knowledge of molecular biology, biochemistry or biophysics is helpful.

Requirements Satisfied

Unrestricted elective credits

Offered

Advanced Undergraduate Seminars are offered nearly every semester and are on various topics. This was the first time this specific topic was offered.

Assessment

The course was graded as “pass “or “fail.” A passing grade was given to those who attended the class, participated actively in discussions, submitted questions and completed both assignments.

Student Information

Enrollment

Fewer than 10 students

Breakdown by Year

Half third-year, half fourth-year undergraduates

Breakdown by Major

Mostly biology majors; one computer/math major

How Student Time Was Spent

During an average week, students were expected to spend 6 hours on the course, roughly divided as follows:

In Class (2 hours)
  • Met once per week for 2 hours per session; 14 sessions total; mandatory attendance
  • In the first part of each week’s class, students discussed and evaluated the papers that comprised the readings for the week.
  • At the end of each class, the instructor gave a short introduction to the papers for the following week.
Out of Class (4 hours)

Each week, students read two papers from the primary research literature and critically evaluated these papers, focusing on experimental design, control experiments, methods, and interpretation of the data.

Course Info

Instructor
Departments
As Taught In
Fall 2021
Learning Resource Types
assignment Written Assignments
assignment Presentation Assignments