Microbiology professor Q&A: A different kind of preparation

Edward Nelson.

Edward Nelson.

All students have gone through new challenges and taken precautions in order to stay safe while learning. However, the microbiology classes have had a slightly different struggle following the switch to virtual procedures.

Edward Nelson, Ph. D., undergraduate coordinator and professor of biological sciences, took the time to answer some questions on how the department has been handling the more challenging aspects of classes. 

When we went online last semester, what was the initial biggest problem for the microbiology classes?

“Lectures were not too big a problem to switch to online, but it was a lot of work, especially making new online tests and getting used to using the online class technology. The labs, however, were a different story. It is very difficult to teach a lab online and make it quality instruction. Watching a video of how to do a procedure will never take the place of actually doing it in person.”

How are classes being held now due to the pandemic? What specific changes have been made for the microbiology classes?

“For lectures, it depends on the professor teaching the class. Some are teaching completely online, some asynchronous, and other synchronous (class still meets online at a certain time and day). Some are trying to teach part of the class on campus and part online. For labs, we have split each lab of 24 students into two periods with 12 students. So, instead of the 24 students meeting for a two-hour lab, 12 come in the first hour and 12 the second. This makes twice the work for the instructor because now, in addition to the two periods, they also have to teach part of the lab online. It also puts pressure on the students because we no longer have time to explain how to do the lab in class. The student has to watch videos and read the book. If they don’t do that before lab, they will be completely lost. Also, many of the exercises were designed for students working as lab partners and worked much better when doing them that way.”

Do you feel like students have gotten more discouraged about class due to the changes?

“Some of the students do get discouraged with the online instruction. Some people just have a hard time forcing themselves to learn the material that way. Others like the format.”

How do you think the department has been handling the changes? Is it still hard or going smoothly now?

“It is certainly going more smoothly than in the spring. Many of the professors had never taught online before and in a space of a week, they were required to learn how to do so. To top that off, there were often problems with technology that were very frustrating to both the faculty and students. Now, most of the faculty have become more comfortable with the technology and teaching online but a lot still don’t like it. They would prefer to teach only on campus, face-to-face with the students.”

Considering how the pandemic has affected getting a job in microbiology, would you say this is a bad time to be a graduate in the field?

“It is a great time to graduate as a microbiologist. Because of the pandemic, a lot of federal research money has been shifted to virology/microbiology/immunology.”

What advice would you have for a student about to graduate who is looking for a job in this field?

“It is one of the best fields for a graduating senior to get a fellowship as a graduate student and then go on to work in the field either in the pharmaceutical industry, which is investing billions into new pharmaceuticals and vaccines, or government or universities.”