Ringing the bell

UGA has a tradition in which students (or faculty) can ring the chapel bell on the occasion of a personal or team victory. We ring the bell when our athletic teams win big games and students—I’m told—ring the bell when they graduate… or pass organic chemistry. Since we received good news about funding from the Sloan Foundation last week, we hopped up to North Campus on Monday to go ring the bell. I’m looking forward to making this trip to celebrate lab achievements in the coming years. You can learn more about UGA traditions here.

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Building our outreach plan

Now that we are getting our feet firmly underneath us research-wise, we have started to build an outreach/service program for the lab. We were recently helped in this endeavor by UGA’s chapter of SciREN (Scientific Research and Education Network). We put together lesson plans for 5th and 7th graders and then networked with teachers in the Athens area to share our resources and build connections for future outreach efforts. Our 5th grade lesson plan focuses on worm classification. Our 7th grade lesson plan focuses on biological hierarchies (cell/tissue/organ/organ system) and is fully focused on planarians.

I also did my first preschool outreach event. (Side note: I was exhausted after only half an hour!) We talked about living vs. non-living things and I brought several living things (planarians, centipede, plants — all “gross”) to the classroom.

We also frequently volunteer (individually) for local/regional Science Olympiad and Science Fair competitions. I just judged the CCSD middle school science fair for the 2nd year in a row. It was awesome.

Both events were fun and we are very excited to build more outreach activities to share our research, learn from our community, and hopefully contribute to STEM education efforts in our community, too! Teachers in the greater Athens-Clarke County area who would like to bring planarians into the classroom are always welcome to contact Rachel for more information.

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Great news!

I’m very excited to share that I was awarded a 2019 Sloan Research Fellowship in Neuroscience from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. This is a huge honor and I feel very grateful to the Sloan Foundation for their support of our research program. This is the first time a University of Georgia faculty member has been named a Sloan Fellow in the field of Neuroscience. You can see the announcement about our award here and here. You can also see the UGA article about our award, and also the award to Dr. Elizabeth Harvey here. This award will be used to fund our research in regeneration of the nervous system in planarians.

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On the struggle bus and hoping for a short trip

Sometimes we have a good month in the lab and sometimes we struggle. January had some great moments, but also involved more struggles than we’d prefer. We have had several pieces of equipment break down this month; one might suspect that there were timers to cause problems after all of the 1-year warranties had expired! But our cold room is repaired, a heating block has been replaced, a freezer is being replaced, and our hybridization oven is being repaired (soon, I hope).

And we have had a couple of lab members struggle with some molecular biology at the beginning of the semester. I think we have gotten through most of the trouble-shooting so fingers crossed for some research progress soon!

I try to be open with students about the struggle that is inherent in doing science and discovering new things. I try to emphasize that struggle and even the F-word (failure) are inevitable aspects of life, especially when one chooses a challenging profession. We try to focus in times like this on a growth mindset. I always hope that my students—as they overcome struggles (hopefully with enough support)—will develop resilience and self-confidence that they can make it through current and future challenges. I know that they are building skills, even in the frustrating parts of research, that will serve them well in their future endeavors, whether in research, medical professions, the classroom, etc.

So we’ve powered through a struggle month and are hoping for a fantastic February.