An Interlude to TAing

I enjoyed TAing a lot last semester, but due to a scheduling hiccup I won’t be able to this semester.

Hopefully I can pick it up again over the summer or next semester. I love teaching people and getting paid to do something you love is always appealing.

Since there won’t be any posts this semester about me TAing I have prepared this glorious selection of photos from the Vertebrate Museum at Sac State.

The Vertebrate Museum has hundreds of taxidermied animals and skeletons in it. The animals are from zoos or people who donated their own collections.

Last semester my class got to go on a “field trip” to the museum to examine different evolutionary traits. I say field trip in quotation marks as the museum was literally across the hall from the normal classroom.

So without further delay, here are some photos!

Chimpanzee Skeleton
A baby chimp skeleton.


Snake Skeletons
Snake skeletons. There’s supposed to be tiny toes near the back end of the tail.
Moose Head
Moose Head!
The students comparing the different birds.
At least I think this one was a goat?
I think this one was a goat? Maybe a pig.
They're in love!
They’re in love!
All the deer!
All the deer!






TAing at Sac State

One of the lab benches of the room I teach in.
One of the lab benches of the room I teach in.

For the past few months I have been assisting in teaching a introductory biology lab at Sac State.

I TA Bio 15L which is a general education course for non-science majors. The course uses interactive labs to go over all the basics of biology, like ecology, speciation, DNA, genes, and that good stuff.

The class has been a lot of fun for me for a lot of different reasons.

I like helping out the students. Its nice to see some of them so interested in biology even if it is nowhere near what their major is. One of them is even considering switching her major.

It’s nice to go over all the material again. I learned it all years ago and everything is easy for me now. Obviously I should know the material in a class that I teach, but its still fun to know that I could get any of the questions in the class right if the teacher called on me, even when I am the teacher.

The experience of being on the other side of a class is also interesting. I have to deal with making quizzes, grading, student absences, and preventing cheating.

Student absences is probably the hardest part. This is a college level class, so they’re free to not show up if they don’t want to. Its just inevitable that the ones who don’t show up do poorly on the quizzes that cover the material they missed or they miss the quizzes entirely. And this is college so there are no makeup quizzes.

There’s nothing I can really do about absences, but I’d like to be able to tech the students that do come to class so that they can all understand the material and use it in their own lives later on.

Learning biology is important for a number of reasons. How can you be an informed voter on GMO issues if you don’t properly understand what GMOs are? How can you vote on global warming initiatives without knowing more about that? And wouldn’t you like to know how genetics work when you start planning a family to see what genetic risks your potential child could have?

I try to teach the students that sort of stuff. I feel like I’m just learning how the labs work this semester. I know I’ll do way better next semester when I can focus more on directing what we are trying to learn with the labs and giving the students more specific strategies for learning.

Also, I can hopefully be more enthusiastic when I give lectures. The mid-semester student evaluations indicated that the only place I really needed to improve was in how enthusiastic my voice sounded when I was presenting the material.

-Mister Ed

First Day of Graduate School

Woo! Yesterday I had my first day of graduate school and it was amazing!

For awhile I’d been worried that I wouldn’t like going back to school once the semester started. All of those worries went away once I stepped out of my car onto campus.

I unfortunately arrived late to my first class. I live in Davis and driving to Sacramento has never taken this long in the past.

I thought I’d budgeted enough for rush hour traffic. I guessed the time accurately except for the time to leave the freeway.

Everyone and their mother wanted to get off the freeway at the Howe Ave exit right by Sacramento State.

Next time I go in the morning I’ll get off at an earlier exit and dodge all that traffic. Hopefully that will get me to school with time to spare.

Anyways! I got approved to be a TA in a lab course which meets Tuesday mornings. This semester I’m in training, but in the future I’ll be paid.

The lab class is a GE fulfilling course, so its filled with students who are not biology majors.

The course is also taught by my graduate adviser, which is a huge plus. We’ll get to know more about each through teaching together which will help a lot later in the graduate school process.

I assisted the students with a simple discussion lab which tried to define what life is.

After the discussion each student took a sterile swabbed and rubbed it on something before rubbing it on a petri dish. Whatever they rubbed onto it will grow over the week and we can take a look at it next Tuesday.

When the lab finished I walked around campus. I found the bookstore, the activities fair (no I don’t want to join a fraternity), the student union, and the library. I at my lunch on the quad and then went to read in the library til my next class.

I have two other classes on Tuesday. The first was about how to be a better TA. I met the other students and the teacher told us a little bit about herself, her teaching style, and some resources we could use to improve ourselves as teachers.

My last class, Molecular Biology, was in the same room as the class on how to be a TA. I was surprised when the teacher walked in because I recognized him!

The teacher for my Molecular Biology class is also the post-doc who works in the same worm lab as me at Davis!

It was a pretty cool coincidence. Apparently he had already known for awhile, but hadn’t told me yet.

I was unfortunately the only person who consistently raised my hand to answer questions in his class. I’m hoping that will change in the future. Maybe everyone else was just shy because they hadn’t met the instructor yet.

At the end of the day the instructor and I discussed carpooling together.

Turns out that won’t work because he lives in Sacramento and I live in Davis. At the end of the day we want to be in different places.

Altogether it was a great day. I loved being back on campus as a student and as a teacher. I love learning and helping other people learn. I’m looking forward to the next two or three years at Sac State!

-Mister Ed

Which Lab for Grad School?

This is the microscope I use to inject DNA into nematode worms.
This is the microscope I use to inject DNA into nematode worms.

I’ve been doing some thinking lately about which lab I should work in for grad school.

As it turns out I get to choose among a few different options.

The folks at Sacramento State are okay with me doing my research at either of my labs in Davis.

I’ve been with the rice lab for almost three years now and feel I’ve gotten what I wanted to out of it.

I’ve already written some goodbye/thank you letters, but have yet to hand them out. I’m just ready to leave the rice lab.

Yesterday I looked up some information on what exactly I’d be doing if I joined the new professor’s lab at Sac State.

The professors old students finished their theses which are then stored in the school library.

Recently the library has started putting digital copies of the theses online. I read a few of the more recent ones that were uploaded.

While the research is interesting, there was nothing that I wanted to do more than the intron research I do currently.

Part of it was the occupational hazard of working with food pathogens. Most food pathogens are collected from raw food samples or from poop.

The idea of having to collect poop samples and work with them… Let’s say its not on my bucket list and leave it at that.

Continuing my intron research would be awesome though. The project has room for expansion and it fits better with what I want to do on a grander scale.

I want to create tools for people to use in other laboratories. Enhancing introns could be used in any laboratory to fine-tune the expression of a gene to the exact level required for an experiment.

I want to create tools like that when I get an official job as a researcher, so it would be best if I did my Master’s Thesis on the same topic.

So it looks like I will be attending Sac State next year but performing my research at UC Davis on introns!

-Mister Ed

Writing for Master’s

The guidelines for how to prove you are a competent writer for Sac State's Master's Program.
The guidelines for how to prove you are a competent writer for Sac State’s Master’s Program.

I ended up getting rejected from the other program I applied to so I accepted Sac State’s offer of admission last week.

Sac State has a typical biology Master’s program. I’m reading up more on the specifics lately.

One of the things I found is pictured above, a writing test.

Sac State wants to know that its Master’s students can write competently.

A competent writer reflects well on the college and honestly, they wouldn’t be doing their job if they didn’t make sure their graduates were good writers.

I like to think of myself as a good writer. I do this blog after all don’t I?

I’m published in a magazine too. I’m a successful amateur for sure!

But they have higher qualifications for themselves.

So I can resign myself to taking a class on writing at Sac State (not so bad actually) or I can try and waive myself out of it.

First way to get out, already have a Master’s or PhD. NOPE!

Second way, publish an article in a peer-reviewed journal. Nope.

Third way, have an undergraduate GPA of 3.7. I’ve got a 3.55. Not quite there.

Fourth way, get a 4.5 on the writing section of the GRE. I got a 4.0. I could retake it though!

Fifth way, teach a writing class at a college. No again.

The second way was the most intriguing to me. I’m already working on a paper for a peer-reviewed journal.

I mentioned in a post on Alexander the Great a while back that I’m writing a paper on him.

The paper is basically finished at this point. I’ve gone through a lot of edits over the past two years with a lot of advice from very helpful friends, family, and friends of family.

I actually already submitted the paper for publication once in the Journal of Popular Culture. It was turned down.

This is pretty typical scholarly journals. The paper is never quite what they’re looking for.

So I was turned down, but with a list of revisions I could make to resubmit.

I finally sat down finished the revisions given by them and a few other helpers that read the paper since my first submission.

Now my most persistent helper is my favorite Classics professor when I was taking Classics as an undergrad. He gave me a more difficult edit, to try restructuring the conclusion section.

Right now the conclusion section is separated into paragraphs based on which source on Alexander I’m talking about.

The professor wants to see how it looks when the conclusion is split based on which topic I’m talking about.

I’m doubtful that it’ll be better. The conclusion already looks so good! I’ll give it a try though.

So tonight I’m going to stay up later and rewrite two pages on Alexander the Great’s modern image. Hopefully this version will get published and then Sac State will have proof that I’m a good writer. Wish me luck!

-Mister Ed

Acceptance Wall

Normally I’d post something about D&D on Monday, but this week I’ll be showing off something that came in the mail recently.

My first graduate school acceptance letter.
My first graduate school acceptance letter.

I got into graduate school! Hurray! Validation!

This year I only applied to local schools as my wife is in the first year of a two year program for her teaching credential.

I applied to two programs at the college I got my undergraduate degree from and a third program at a nearby CSU (Sac State).

I’ve been rejected from one of the programs and have yet to hear back from the other one, but Sac State has accepted me! Woohoo!

Assuming the other program doesn’t accept me, I will be driving to the capital every day to learn and research science stuff.

The professor I’ve been placed with studies salmonella. I haven’t read up a lot on it, but what I saw on the papers she’s published was interesting.

Salmonella typically hurt your body in many ways one of which is by attacking your macrophage cells. Macrophages are the part of your immune system that eats bacterial invaders.

The salmonella bacteria don’t like being eaten by macrophages though. They protect themselves by putting poisons into your macrophages.

The professor has helped discover how this process works and she is attempting to harness the power of salmonella for good, not evil!

You see, if salmonella are so good at invading macrophages and killing them, they can also be used to invade macrophages and help them.

We can modify salmonella to make it deliver medicine to macrophages. This could do a number of things.

It could protect against auto-immune diseases like HIV. It could also super charge the immune system to assist the fight against other bacterial infections. These two things are some of the most sought after effects in medicine right now.

HIV is a huge problem throughout the developing world, so the interest in that is obvious.

The second effect, of boosting the immune system is even more amazing in my opinion.

Bacterial infections such as tuberculosis, STIs, and many others are currently treated with antibiotics. But bacteria can evolve and become immune to these antibiotics.

Researchers can come up with new antibiotics, but in a few years the disease will have evolved immunity to it again.

But what if you treated the disease just by making the immune system better? The bacteria can still evolve past this, but it takes much longer to do that than to develop antibiotic resistance. Possibly long enough that the disease can be eradicated entirely? That would be astounding.

While my original goal was to get entrance into a PhD program, working on making people immune to disease doesn’t sound that bad either. I think I’ll be quite happy at Sac State.

That’s all for tonight!

-Mister Ed