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Biochemistry Club: Transferring Skills from Postdocs to Graduate Students

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Author: Charlotte Anthony | Category: Around Campus | Molecular Biophysics & Biochemistry(MBB) | Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry | August 14, 2015

Graduate student Crystal Archer gets the occasional request from other students needing help with understanding data analysis and biophysical analysis.

“I realized that I need it too but not in a classroom setting,” Archer said. “We were thinking that instead of asking to add or adjust a course, we could make a biochemistry club to explore these ideas from a practical standpoint.”

That was the start of the Biochemistry Club which has so far gained membership of 19 students.

“We wanted to make sure that the club wasn’t just for biochemistry students, there are a lot of students who do biophysical techniques so it’s for everyone,” Archer said.

Akash Bhattacharya, a postdoctoral trainee in Dr. Ivanov's lab explained that one of the important aspects of the club is that it is student and postdoc-driven.

“Many graduate students are hesitant to ask what they think are trivial or simplistic questions especially to faculty so the club allows students to ask postdocs,” Bhattacharya said. “What I’ve noticed is that there usually isn’t a mechanism for transference of skills between graduate students and postdocs and it’s mostly done on a one-on-one basis.”

As a postdoc, Bhattacharya explained the club is a good way for him to brush up on his own knowledge as well as gain teaching skills.

“I learn more by teaching and answering pointed questions,” Bhattacharya said. “It helps me realize that there are gaps in my knowledge and then I can go back and answer them.”

Bhattacharya also explained that the group is a great way for students and postdocs to talk about research in the field of biochemistry.

“The amount of biomedical information out there is overwhelming – you need to know how to sift through it. A case in point is the Protein DataBase, which has over 100,000 structures deposited,” Bhattacharya said. “But to gain biochemical and structural insight into your project – you have to know what to look for – which means you have to be skilled in the use of Chimera or some similar visualization software. This is not a trivial skill.”

The group conducted its first workshop with Dr. Rui Sousa where they held a hands-on demo session with Chimera and DeepView, visualization software packages.

“We had attendees from outside departments apart from biochemistry personnel. I think the session was a success.” Bhattacharya said.

Archer explained that the club is a way for students to think about things in new ways.

“Deriving a ligand binding equation can be boring but learning about it through, say, the biochemistry of beer then I can actually see it happen,” Archer said. “It’s much easier to understand more complex ideas with the freedom of a club rather than a course with a grade.”

In addition to the “Biochemistry in Beer” event which is tentatively set for Saturday, October 3; the club also plans to host workshops on biochemistry career development, software, data analysis and protein visualization.

The next meeting will be on September 21 from 6 to 8 p.m. in Room 5.0208 in the Research Administration Building.

The Biochemistry Club meets once every two weeks in Room 5.0208 in the Research Administration Building. Contact Crystal Archer or Akash Bhattacharya for more information. 

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