Written by Justin Yeh, GRC and graduate student in the Department of Biology
In the Fall of 2014 I worked as a GRC for BIOL 452: Mathematical and Computational Models in Biology, a course about using mathematical models to answer biological questions. The course includes a group project for which students had to pick a question that they found to be of interest and build a mathematical model to answer it. My duty as a Graduate Research Consultant was to guide the students in selecting a workable question and provide support in building and analyzing the model.
Initially I was somewhat worried that the workload might be heavy, because I was also working as a TA in the same semester for another course. The worry turned out to be unnecessary. It was a really fun and rewarding experience.
As the course’s lectures focus more on how to solve models, the group project is where the students first learn how to build one. A common mistake I noticed in their endeavors is that many just threw in a lot of variables in order to get a complex model, without really knowing what they wanted to get out of it. I found myself asking “what is your hypothesis?” very often. Interestingly enough, this is also the question my advisor has asked me several times in the past regarding my own thesis project. It’s interesting how I failed to see the problem when I have it, but noticed it right away when my role changed.
Meeting the students and listening to their ideas is also an enjoyable process. With students interested in different areas, each project is drastically different from others, many of them pertaining to topics I know nothing about. Nonetheless I can provide assistant because math really is the universal language of science. Along the way they also taught me a few things I would never have known about otherwise.
Guiding people on their own research project is something I never done before. The GRC program provided me the experience, and the students also benefited from it. All in all, it was wonderful.