Tuesday, 21 January 2014 10:24

Seven Reasons to Take the MBL Physiology Course

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MBL1Mitotic sand castle.
Photo by Ron Vale

When I took the MBL Physiology course in Woods Hole, MA, in 2008, I couldn't have anticipated how powerfully it would stoke my passion for science. It was an unforgettable experience; techniques, frameworks, and values from the course continue to shape my scientific identity today. This year, Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz, Wallace Marshall, and Rob Phillips will take the reins as course directors, bringing fresh energy and perspectives to an institution dating back to 1892. The course runs from June 15 - August 3, 2014, and the deadline for applications is February 3. Why should you apply? Here are seven great reasons.  

1. Discover your own intensity

MBL22nd place winner of the MBL photomicrography contest:
Alexis Lomarkin, MBL Physiology Course Teaching
Assistant,"Visualizing Intracellular Transport
Machinery in a Xenopus Melanophore"

A typical day at the Physiology course packed in more science than I previously thought possible, starting bright and early with lectures from amazing researchers, followed by student-only discussion sessions with the speakers. This is usually followed by a progress and planning meeting with your rotation group around lunch time. After that, the labs buzz with activity as students and TAs crank out experiments late into the night. In the afternoon a journal club or special seminar might punctuate the rush, and you might cap the night with a moonlit swim or a visit to the Captain Kidd (if it's still open). Then students collapse into bed and start all over again the next morning. At the end of each two-week session, many projects are advanced enough to form the basis for ASCB posters or even the beginnings of papers. This course showed me how much you can get done if you're driven to really move.

2. Rotate all over again (in overdrive) in cell and developmental biology, biophysics, theory

MBL3A scope in the 2010 course, from the MBL blog.

Ever wish you were a first-year grad student again, so you could learn new techniques, meet tons of interesting people, and explore new systems? During the course, students are split into groups for intense, two-week rotations. This year, the faculty leading these sessions are:

• Rob Phillips
• Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz
• Wallace Marshall
• Joe Howard
• Jane Kondev
• Nicole King
• Bob Goldstein
• Jodi Nunnari
• Adam Cohen
• Sindy Tang
• Dan Fletcher

3. Train on tricked-out equipment

Equipment companies loan their latest and greatest to the course each year, installing cutting-edge microscope rigs for the duration of the summer. Faculty ship out their own equipment, too—like this high-speed camera from the Fletcher group. After collecting data at high resolution all day, it "comes out to play" after midnight.

4. Learn from other courses

methaneSmallVideo by Keng-Hui Lin

While there's little formal interaction between the Physiology course and the other incredible programs running during the summer, you'll nevertheless pick-up interesting stuff from borrowing equipment or chatting in the dining hall. For example, course director Wallace Marshall led a group of us down to Cedar Swamp one Saturday night to demonstrate the "Volta Experiment," a trick learned from the Microbial Diversity course: an inverted funnel immersed in water will collect (highly flammable) methane produced by microbes in the swamp.

5. Work among scientific giants

During the summer, Woods Hole becomes a gathering place for incredible scientists (especially from older generations) who rent lab or library space there. Other legends work there permanently. For example, on your way to lecture each morning, you'll pass Shinya Inoue's lab. He's pretty unbelievable, and has been known to give lectures to the Physiology course.

6. Build camaraderie

MBL5The official Physiology course photo from 2009

You know those people who show up at ASCB and just seem to know everyone? Blame Woods Hole.

7. Have some fun

MBL6The infamous "free car" being taken for a spin in 2010.
Photo by Susana Gouveia

At the end of their 16-hour days, students manage to let loose a little. This attitude bleeds into the science, too—it's hard work, but often with a playful approach. The course has been called "summer camp for scientists" for a reason: It will push your limits, but also make you fall in love with biology all over again.

Apply now!

Jessica Polka

Jessica Polka is interested in the spatial organization of the bacterial cell. Having studied a plasmid-segregating actin homolog during her PhD with Dyche Mullins at UCSF, she is currently working on a natural and engineered bacterial compartments during a postdoc in Pam Silver's lab at the Harvard Medical School.

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