December 22, 2010

Lab lessons: from left, undergraduate teaching assistant Kristin Harrington, Professor Christine Buchanan, and students Charles Matthew Harrell and Jane Jung Kim.

“Teaching a laboratory course is a very different experience from a lecture course. It is incredibly labor intensive, but it can and should be the most important part of a science student’s education. For the benefit of those who are not scientists, I like to describe it in terms of a dinner party. Imagine having to hold a dinner party for 20 very important guests once a week for 13 weeks in a row. Imagine the preparation and organization that must precede such a party. Imagine the cleanup afterward.

“A successful dinner party or an educational lab session hinges on advance preparation. I have found it best to write the lab exercises myself, and I try to coordinate the lab lessons with my lectures. Students must identify unknown organisms and complete a series of tests that require them to come into lab outside of the regularly scheduled time. Scientific discovery does not fit neatly into a three-hour time slot.”

Christine Buchanan, professor of biological sciences in Dedman College, joined SMU in 1977. Buchanan, who teaches upper-level courses in microbiology and biochemistry, was named an Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor in 2004. The National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health have supported her research on antibiotic resistance and penicillin-binding proteins in bacteria.