A broad range of expertise on display at annual event.
George Gershwin once said that great composers spend, “most of their time studying. Feeling alone won’t do the job. A man also needs technique.” Everyone who took part in the annual Techniques Symposium (June 3-4 in the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience) knows that it works the same way for scientists.
The symposium is a training event that gives students seminars and hands-on workshops in laboratory techniques, software and analysis (as well as scientific communication). Open to students from the Georgia Institute of Technology, Emory, Morehouse and Georgia State, the event is organized by the Research Committee of the Bioengineering and Bioscience Unified Graduate Students (BBUGS), the core graduate student group for the bio-community at Tech.
“Students and researchers who participate in the symposium are able to listen to seminars or see demonstrations from experts in that given technique,” says Ariel Kniss, one of the BBUGS co-chairs of the event. “It brings together students and resources to further their educational and research goals.”
For some students, the event is something of an eye-opener, offering a broad glimpse into a range of topics and techniques.
“During my first year of graduate school, I was hesitant about starting in a new lab with little experience in their techniques. I wish I knew about a symposium like this,” says Yusuf Uddin, the event’s other co-chair, and a second-year grad student in biology. His first Techniques Symposium is the one he just helped organize.
“I think the most useful aspect of the Techniques Symposium is learning how to use the instruments, products and software available to us in a more efficient way,” Uddin says. “It gives us the chance to network with friends and speakers and the chance to experience new methods in science and engineering.”
The various training sessions, spread out over two days, were conducted by Georgia Tech staff and faculty, and also technical representatives from some of the event sponsors (which included BD Biosciences, Lonza, Quanta Biosciences and Fischer Scientific). A lot of information is shared over two days, typically in one-hour chunks. So, the challenge for core facilities lab managers is how to make it all relevant for groups of inquisitive students. They have their ways.
“It takes a few hours to train properly on this equipment,” says Andrew Shaw, who manages the confocal microscope laboratory. “The symposium isn’t the place for that kind of intensive training, because there isn’t the time for that, so I try to talk to the students about what would be the correct microscope for their particular experiment.”
Aqua Asberry, who manages the histology lab, sees the symposium as an opportunity to introduce her area of expertise to students because, she says, “a lot of people don’t even know the facility exists. So, in addition to educating on techniques, it’s about exposure. I tend to teach histology as if they don’t know anything about it, like they never heard of it, and I try not to lose my audience. So far, so good.”
The symposium is geared toward grad students and post-doctoral fellows in bioengineering and bioscience, but undergrads like Brian Sanner also are invited to attend. “I found it valuable to get an introduction to a wide variety of techniques, which will aid me in the future as I decide which will be useful in designing experiments,” says Sanner. “I also found it useful that in some of the sessions, such as the histology core, counted as training, so I can begin using the lab immediately.”