Aiming for Success in Biology

When I started my undergraduate career here at the University of Pittsburgh, I vividly remember feeling intimidated taking my first biology course, BIOSC 0150: Foundations of Biology 1. As a student interested in pursuing a career in medicine, I heard the harrowing stories of students receiving C’s in BIOSC 0150 after being straight-A students in high school. Unfortunately, my high school did not have an AP Biology curriculum, and I felt vastly unprepared for college – which only heightened my fears. I spent hours researching evidence-based learning and studying methods during the summer leading into my first semester. I had seen and read about anything from active recall to spaced repetition. After completing my first semester and identifying the best practices for studying for a course like Foundations of Biology, I became interested in learning how to teach those methods to peers.

This past Fall, I was fortunate to participate in a pilot program for Foundations of Biology students called “bioAIMS.” The mission of the bioAIMS program was to provide students with the skills required to succeed in the biological sciences. Each Thursday, bioAIMS coaches would host a weekly workshop for an hour and a half to target and build one specific skill crucial for success in BIOSC 0150 or BIOSC 0160. In considering how I could use the Chancellor’s Teaching Fellowship to enrich BIOSC 0150, the mission of the bioAIMS program inspired me to use this opportunity to build skillsets, specifically critical thinking, in first-year biology students.

In applying to medical school, this cycle, reflecting on the past three years of my undergraduate career, reminded me of the experiences that were fundamental to my academic growth. My experience in BIOSC 0150 was formative in my development as a student because it challenged me to question my methods of studying and remain attentive to how I learn best. I anticipate graduating in the spring of 2023 with a Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience, a joint Honors degree, minors in Italian and Chemistry, and a certificate in Conceptual Foundations of Medicine. However, I attribute the development of critical thinking skills in BIOSC 0150 to providing me with the foundations which I have been able to use in all of my undergraduate experiences.

I hope to add value to BIOSC 0150 by implementing activities and exercises scientifically proven to improve metacognition and enhance learning with the help of Dr. Zapanta and her BIOSC 0150 course. The innovation and use of evidence-based learning methods could dramatically influence the experience of first-year students in STEM courses, as there is a universal skill set that all STEM students apply daily to their coursework and research experience.

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