As the semester came to a close, I found myself with mixed emotions. Part of me was relieved, the semester was extremely busy and somewhat chaotic, I will now have so much more time to do research-uninterrupted research (the best kind!). On the other hand, I was going to miss the students and the awesome work that they were doing in class. As we gathered for our annual end of semester party, the excitement the students had for the class continued to show. One student made blue and white cupcakes, signifying the blue/white screen we had performed in class during transformations, and the white cupcakes even had an insert (cookie) inside! Another student had made dirt dessert in the form of our AMD site that we had visited earlier in the semester. These clever, and delicious, desserts not only exemplified their creativity, but their appreciation for a great semester. It was indeed a great semester! In fact, I spent most of the semester bragging about the students. I found myself telling everyone about the great projects that they had developed.
The blue and white cupcakes, signifying the blue/white transformation screen.
The students were given 10 weeks to design and execute a research project involving microbial communities found in abandoned mine drainage. This particular group of students, took the challenge and hit the ground running. Not only was there a nice mix of individual projects, but the students became invested in their projects right from the start. It was amazing to see the growth the students had over the course of the semester, not just growth in laboratory skills and knowledge, but personal growth. I watched individuals who struggled with confidence thrive, introverts come out of their shell, and organizational and planning skills meet optimum levels. It was extremely rewarding to see the students immerse themselves in their science.
Dirt dessert in the form of Lowber Passive Remediation System
So what are these great projects? I am so glad you asked! This semester some of the students isolated manganese and iron bacteria and identified them through Sanger sequencing. Others isolated bacteria from Lowber soil and compared it to soil from Duquesne. They than tested the isolated bacteria from both locations for metal resistance. Two groups looked at antibiotic resistance in bacteria isolated from Lowber compared to lab strains. Though there did not appear to be an increase in antibiotic resistance in bacteria isolated from the AMD, the students did find that lab strain Serratia marcescens exhibited increase resistance when grown in media made with AMD! The students were so excited about their findings that they are continuing their project this summer.
Other students looked at rhizosphere bacteria and the role they play in detoxifying the area around the plant roots. Another project that is being continued by the students next semester in our lab, is a study comparing sulfate reducing bacteria (SRB) found at Lowber (circum-neutral discharge) and Middle Branch (acidic discharge). The students worked this semester on isolating SRBs from both locations, and will identify them and run comparison tests next semester. A student going to grad school in the fall for bioinformatics (Go Nicole!), took her interest in bioinformatics and used 16S sequencing analysis to compare two passive systems to see if their populations were similar. She then focused on iron and sulfur bacteria to see if there was a significant difference between the two.
Despite their differences, there was teamwork even during the playoffs!!
Another student performed a series of stains on the bacteria from across the remediation site. This was right in her wheel house as this is what she is going to grad school for in the fall (YAY!). It was nice to see her incorporate her passions and interests into her independent project. Lastly, a student compared water and bacteria from upstream and downstream of the effluent from the passive system. She is going to law school in the fall, but remained a hard-working, dedicated scientist to the very last minute of class.
Marnie's transition from a scientist to a law student!
At the end of the semester the students presented their independent projects to the class in a powerpoint presentation. It was truly enjoyable watching them present their work. The students went above and beyond this semester to complete their projects and this was evident as they presented their work. I am so proud of all them!
So as the mixed emotions tossed and turned inside of me, I had a moment of clarity. I am a teacher, yes it is what I am contracted to do, but it is more than that. I am invested in the success of my students. I want to see everyone of them succeed and I celebrate their victories and stand by them in their defeats. I wasn't sure if I was going to like teaching, but it has become clear - I do! I am looking forward to the future where I get to do it all over again. Teaching truly is a rewarding experience.
The Superlab IV 2018 students celebrating at the end of the semester party