TA: Erin Fabris

Interview with MCDB1AL TA Erin Fabris

Bullets with quotes are direct quotes from Erin. Other bullets are my notes based on what she communicated to me.


1. What is your major and how long have you been a TA for MCDB 1AL?

  • studying environmental science and management
  • specializing in corporate environmental management
  • taught 1BL before, first time teaching 1AL

 2. What is your background with research?

  • did research as an undergrad
  • did two labs on campus with Gretchen Hoffman and Marine Science Institute
  • focused on ocean signification on sea urchins, also looked at mussels, fisheries, marine affected areas on populations

3. What’s the purpose of taking MCDB 1AL?

  • “What’s more important than the actual material you’re learning is learning lab techniques you will use in future labs.”
  • for example, using pipettes for future use in labs/research
  • being prepared for future and learning how to look at data and analyze that data
  • “Learning how to think like a biologist and just learning basic techniques you’re going to use in the near future.”

4. Does MCDB 1AL prepare students for real lab work in the future? Explain.

  • she thinks so because we will use the lab techniques, and understanding how it works, i.e. understanding how to do gel electrophoresis 
  • lab techniques will help in your future
  • “There are definitely some techniques you are gonna learn that you are never going to use, but there are some that you will learn that you will use, and even if you don’t necessarily end up using them in any research you do and even if you don’t end up going into research, understanding how that works is going to help you in whatever you’re doing.”
  • learning techniques you may not use will still help you to communicate with other people in similar fields where they use those lab techniques

5. Compare the lab equipment in class to real lab equipment in biology labs.

  • equipment now is better than before when she was in school
  • not as high tech compared to before
  • you will use the same compound microscope
  • equipment will be much more expensive with specific fields that require it
  • depends on the type of lab that you’re in, more high intensity=more intense lab equipment
  • but generally the same stuff

 6. Compare the experiments done in class to real biological experiments. Are they similar or different?

  • the basis of them are similar, but in this lab the "experiments" are designed to get expected results that were already experimented on
  • designed to have some sort of realization while conducting the experiment, get in the biologist's shoes
  • they have results before hand, so it's designed to get those results so you can go through the same process that the researcher went through
  • focusing on teaching you about the experimental design
  • based on techniques people use, same tools

 7. Is the material in lab relevant to the lectures in MCDB1A? Explain why or why not.

  • somewhat, designed to be a compliment, but it’s not the most complimentary
  • “Somewhat helps with your understanding, but the stuff you learn in the labs isn’t going to totally help you when you take the midterm.”
  • coincide but not completely aligned, it's supplementary

7a. How? What things were relevant and what isn’t relevant?

  • Professor goes into more depth on things in the lecture.
  • Plant genetics… We haven’t touched on it at all in lecture, "I'm not exactly sure why that’s happening."
  • need to know things from lecture to do the lab
  • touch on things we haven’t learned yet in the actual class, because you have to know them to do the lab, but you’re not gonna have the real depth of knowledge
  • mitosis and meiosis haven't been taught when we did the lab for it, and she had to teach it to the class when that should be the professor's job

8. In your experience, do students learn and benefit from taking MCDB1AL? Why or why not?

  • thinks students can if they make it beneficial
  • depends on the student, depends on how much you put into it
  • you can get by, or immerse yourself and think about things more in depth
  • labs are designed to get you to think in the right way and make you draw your own conclusions
  • beneficial if you make it beneficial which is true for a lot of classes

9. Is the homework/work load similar to that of a real biologist? Explain why or why not?

  • we don't give that much work outside of the lab
  • research would take up all your time and you’d care about it because it's your life's work
  • work load doesn’t compare at all, because it's designed to be fair for students workload
  • small amount of work, quizzes are annoying

9a. Should it take up more time?

  • it’s time efficient, inside lab
  • but shouldn't outside of lab because they understand students have a heavy workload already

Interview Analysis

In my opinion, this interview with Erin is the pivotal turning point in my research project. I feel like this is the heart of my research project because the perspective of the instructor is being accounted for, and my research question is being tackled head on. When I asked Erin what the purpose of taking MCDB 1AL was, she responded with something I hadn’t considered before. She said, “What’s more important than the actual material you’re learning, is learning lab techniques you will use in future labs.” A lot of the time, students tend to focus on the content part of learning, instead of thinking about the techniques and strategies the class has to offer them in the future. Although we might not need to know some of the subject matter taught in the class, we will need to understand how to use the techniques properly for future research and/or labs. This trend seemed to follow us throughout the interview, but there were some other things she mentioned that are definitely worth mentioning. For example, she said that it’s possible we may need to consult with other scientists in the future in a similar field that use some of the techniques we used in class and understanding how those work will help us better communicate with them.

Additionally, Erin mentioned that the class is designed to take the student through the researcher’s shoes and get them to think about the task at hand. She said it’s designed to get the expected results that were already found, so we are expected to go through the same process the researcher went through and make some realization about the experiment. This helps us learn about the experimental design and it also helps us learn how to analyze data and draw conclusions based on the data we collected. But Erin also said something that I think really hit home for me, she said that it’s designed to get you to think for yourself and make you think deeper about what’s going on, but that doesn’t mean that all the students do this. The ones who do think deeper and try to draw the conclusions themselves are the ones who are benefitting the most. In question eight, I asked her if students benefit from taking this lab class, and she thinks it is beneficial if the student makes it beneficial. She said you can either get by or you can immerse yourself and think about things more in depth. For me, this point really hit home. The students who learn and benefit the most from classes are the ones who have the right incentive going into the class and try to build their knowledge and understanding despite the grade. I know that in my experience, the classes I excel in the most are the ones where I truly want to learn rather than wanting to get a good grade.

Finally, question seven of the interview focused on the relevance of the lab class to the actual lecture. Erin said it’s designed to be a compliment but it’s not the most complimentary because it, “somewhat helps with your understanding, but the stuff you learn in labs isn’t going to help you when you take the midterm.” They are designed to coincide and be a supplement but a lot of the stuff that is being taught in lecture doesn’t really get touched on in lab, and vice versa.