Tuesday, December 21, 2010

‘Tis the Season....

The Blog tells the tale – it’s been a long time since my last entry. Such is the cycle of academia – at the end of each semester the work piles up for both students and faculty, and there is little time for anything else. But, alas, my grading marathon of the last couple of weeks is done. The grades are turned in (as of yesterday) and I now look forward to the twice annual, end-of-semester clearing of the top of my desk.... (I know that desk is under here somewhere).

At home, that place that I’ve visited briefly from time-to-time over the last couple of weeks, I can now move ahead with holiday preparations. Holiday lights, decorating a tree, purchasing gifts, wrapping, annual greetings to friend and family.... all have been on the back burner. But I’ve still got to get the office cleared and prepped for the next semester – so here I am. Piles and piles of papers, quizzes, exams... all of which I will keep for now so that students can stop by to pick them up when they return in January.

But for many faculty, the “break” is often just a shift in focus. Instead of “time off”, it’s time to put toward other projects, those things that we had to put aside during the semester so that more time and attention could be allocated to students. A time for reports and administrative tasks (if you’re a department chair), for scholarship, for reading, for reflection..... But not too much – I’ve also got to get ready for next semester’s courses! But I think that can wait until next week.

Best Wishes for a great holiday season, and for the coming year.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Talking Turkey...

So, it’s been a week since Thanksgiving. Still working on any leftovers? We froze much of ours, and most of the rest became a turkey pot pie and turkey-noodle soup this past week. For those of you who prepared some traditional turkey dinner – which parts were most preferred on Thanksgiving day and which were left for the days that followed? ... the “dark meat” (legs and thighs) or the “white meat” (breast)? And what makes them different?

Time for some muscle biology. “Dark” muscle, also often called “red” muscle or oxidative muscle, has a dark color and stronger flavor due to high concentrations of myoglobin (an oxygen storing protein), more blood vessels (to provide more oxygen and remove more carbon dioxide), and more mitochondria in its cells (which can generate more energy in the form of ATP). This type of muscle, therefore, is very well suited for extended use without getting fatigued. It just doesn’t tire out as quickly as the other type of muscle – the “white” muscle (also call glycolytic muscle). This rather pale type of muscle lacks the biochemical mechanisms for long periods of sustained use, and therefore is used for quick bursts of activity – but tires out pretty quickly.

So what do you know about the life style of turkeys and their relatives such as chickens, partridge, grouse, and other related birds? Well, they walk and run a lot, and only rarely fly – and if they do fly it’s only for short distances because the flight muscles (in the breast) can’t sustain long periods of activity. Compare that with another type of bird that is a holiday favorite for some – goose, or perhaps duck. These birds fly long distances during annual migrations, and hence have lots of “red” muscle in the breast – necessary for sustaining flight for long periods of time. If you’ve ever had duck or goose you know that the taste is quite different than that of turkey or chicken; this is partly due to the difference between the “red” and “white” muscles.

If you prefer fish for your holidays you can see similar patterns – lots of strong-flavored dark muscle in open ocean long-distance swimmers like tuna, swordfish, and some sharks, but lots of light-flavored white muscle in less active fishes such as cod, haddock, flounder, and halibut.

Humans, and other mammals, also have different types of muscle cells, but they are interspersed with one another within our muscles – so we don’t have distinct regions of “dark” or “light” muscle. The way that we exercise, however, does influence which types of muscles cells get larger. More aerobic activity favors the darker “red” muscle cells, whereas short periods of anaerobic exercise helps the lighter “white” muscle cells.

Want to learn more? Come to St. Mike’s and take a course in physiology......

Friday, November 19, 2010

Guest Blogger - Professor Mac Lippert

I've asked other members of our Biology Department to write some blog entries to help provide a broader view of our programs. This is from Mac Lippert:

Prof. Mac Lippert at the airport with former students Michelle Miaskiewicz, Jessica Mollmark, and Maggie Holmes as they prepare to fly to Orlando, Florida to present their research posters at the annual conference of the American Society of Microbiologists.

I've been a member of the Biology Department at Saint Mike's since 2000. My upper-level teaching responsibilities are Genetics and Microbiology. In addition, I teach another course: General Biology, Biological Reading & Writing, or Senior Seminar. Our department chair, Doug Facey, has asked me to contribute some guest blogs, so I decided to blog about research students that I've had the pleasure of mentoring in the past and currently. I will focus on students attending scientific conferences where they presented results from their summer and/or academic year research projects. Today, I'm introducing myself and this series of guest blogs that will show up here on Doug's blog site. I first performed research as an undergraduate researcher with Jim Gentile at Hope College. Jim inspired me to become a college professor. I explored the activation of non-mutagenic chemicals into mutagens by an algal species, Selenastrum capricornutum. I took over the project from a senior who graduated the year before, Tim Shafer; another student, Pete Johnson, took over the project when I graduated. Jim wrote a paper describing our work which was published in the Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology in 1990, volume 44, pages 729-736. The article is titled, 'Activation of chemical promutagens by Selenastrum capricornutum in the plant cell/microbe coincubation assay'. I presented my research results at a national scientific conference, the Annual Meeting of the Environmental Mutagen Society, which was held in San Francisco in 1987. Now I mentor undergraduates performing independent research projects. Rather than algae, we use yeast as our experimental organism, but I'm still interested in mutations. In future blogs, I'll introduce you to some of my students who have had the opportunity to perform research and attend scientific conferences.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

On Advising...

Over the last week or so we’ve completed our fall academic advising sessions, during which we discuss with students their plans for the spring semester and beyond. We take our role as advisors quite seriously at St. Mike’s – it is officially considered an extension of our role as teachers, which is the most important aspect of our jobs. Advising isn’t just about keeping students on-track for graduation, although that certainly is part of our role. We take these opportunities to find out what students plans are for the future, and how we can help. The possibilities for the future are vast, but reaching them takes planning.

So we ask questions beyond the basics of meeting graduation requirement. Questions such as – Would you like to do an internship, study abroad, or fit in a research project during the next academic semester or year? How about applying for funding to stay and do research during the summer? What about doing a minor or second major in another field? What are the plans for after St. Mike’s? Grad school, med school, maybe physical therapy or pharmacy programs (just to name a few)? If more education is in the plan, then when to take the GRE, MCAT, DAT, or similar grad program entrance exams? How to find a good fit for a Master’s or PhD grad program? Or are you seeking immediate employment? What course selections will give you the skills needed to get that job after you graduate? What are your plans for the summer, and how will those help you toward your eventual goals? Where have you been looking for opportunities? Have you been working on your letter of application and resume? What have you done to boost your resume? Have you visited the Student Resources office for additional advice? ..... and the list goes on.

These are not questions that can typically be answered in only one session. It takes time for students to consider options, try some things out, come back to bounce off some more ideas. This is why advising is not just about keeping on-track for graduation. It’s about developing a relationship with students over time, based on many meetings and discussions, and focusing on what we can do to help our students reach their goals.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Changes in Latitudes.... *

Fall is progressing in Vermont. The peak colors are past, we’ve had our first snow on Mount Mansfield and frost in the Champlain Valley, and the leaves have been falling from the trees. But it’s still sunny and warm down at the School for Field Studies field station on South Caicos Island, where SMC Bio major Emma Fox has been enjoying her fall semester abroad studying marine biology.

I’ll let Emma speak for herself - “The SFS Center for Marine Resource Management Studies is located on South Caicos, TCI. Our building is the old (modest) Admiral's Arms hotel, which looks out onto Long Cay and the most beautiful turquoise water I've ever seen! The local flora and fauna convince me that this is nowhere near Vermont...little anole lizards and hermit crabs crawl all over grass and plants in the Center. We're in the water every single day, whether we're out identifying corals, mangroves, and assorted fish species or doing a conch assessment exercise in the Marine Protected Area just offshore.

I love the hands-on approach here; it's one thing to be told, "This is the Pseudopterogorgia americana." It's whole other experience to then duck-dive down five feet and feel the base of the coral where it attaches to a rock--it's the only slimy Pseudopterogorgia species. Our classroom is, quite literally, the ocean. I'm learning all about fish biology, mangrove ecology, and conch ecology; and that's only my Marine Ecology class! In our Environmental Policy course, we recently wrote group proposals for solving the trash problem on South Caicos. Trash is a pretty obvious issue here--it's everywhere. There are few public trash cans on the street, and no recycling at all. So, people just throw their empty cans, bottles, and plastic containers onto the street. It's a pretty stark contrast to what looks like pristine water.

As you can probably tell, I'm really enjoying myself here. I still can't believe I'm in such a beautiful place. I have to keep pinching myself to make sure that this is my reality!”

There are many other study abroad opportunities through Saint Michael's College, and many can be used to customize your own approach to our Biology major. Saint Michael's College is an affiliate member of the School for Field Studies, which offers a variety of ecologically focused study abroad opportunities, including the programs in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

(*... with apologies to J. Buffett)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Our House is open.....

This Saturday, October 16 (and again on November 13) our SMC Admissions Office will be hosting an Academic Preview Day. Among the day's activities will be Academic Presentations by several programs, including the Biology Department, at 2:30 and 3:10 pm. To provide an even greater opportunity for our visitors to learn about our Department and Program we will have a Bio Department Open House with some students and faculty available in the Biology Department (3rd floor of Cheray Science Hall) from 3:00 to 4:30 to meet prospective students and their families, show them around, and discuss our program and the opportunities, such as internships and research, that it provides. Please join us!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

What's the News?

You can read it for yourself in the Fall 2010 issue of Biology Matters, the Biology Department's e-newletter. Thanks to all of the faculty and students who contributed. We also have an index to past issues.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Author, author......

At St. Mike's our faculty are teachers first and foremost. This is why we came here - to work closely with students, help them learn, and help guide them toward their futures. In addition to our teaching, however, we also contribute to our academic disciplines, largely through research and writing. This helps keep us connected to our peers and to progress in our disciplines.

For example, over the last several years Professor Donna Bozzone, who teaches courses in General Biology, Cell Biology, and Developmental Biology, has been active in writing and editing a series of books on the Biology of Cancer for Chelsea House Publishers. Donna has written three books herself (Cancer Genetics, Leukemia, and Causes of Cancer) and has served as editer for 6 other books. Donna is also now working on a General Biology textbook with departmental colleague Doug Green.

Other faculty have also contributed to books in their specific subdisciplines of Biology, as well as research journal publications, some of which include our students as coauthors. Our faculty and students are an active group - both in and out of the classroom

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Letters, letters......and more letters

This past week I wrote letters of recommendation for three different students – one for study abroad, two for post-graduate professional health-care programs. This is one of the important functions of college faculty. Sure, we teach our classes, grade papers, do research and write research publications (sometimes with student coauthors!),serve on some committees, advise students,..... AND we write lots of letters to help students get internships, jobs, and accepted to graduate programs.

What we say in those letters depends on what we observe about a student’s motivation, commitment, participation in classes, sense of responsibility, passion, drive, ability to lead, ability to work collaboratively, level of independent and creative thinking.... among other things. The transcript will show the grades – the letters tell the story of the person behind the grades, and this is what graduate admissions offices and potential employers really want to know.

What we can report in our letters about a student is completely based on what we observe, which is a function of what that student demonstrates to us. This is one reason that being a student at an institution with reasonably small classes can be a great advantage – but only if the student uses the opportunity wisely. Faculty have the opportunity to get to know students well enough to write letters that can be really helpful, if the students demonstrate traits that can be the basis of a good letter. And those letters can open the door to great opportunities after college.

See where those letters have helped send some of our alumni .....

Friday, September 17, 2010

Fall for St. Mike's

It is beginning to feel a bit more fall-ish these days - cool days and cooler nights. Beginning to look that way on campus also - a few leaves starting to turn colors, although most are still green. Another other sure sign of the season - visitors, and lots of them. High school students with their parents, and sometimes siblings, are touring the campus, stopping in to visit, talking and emailing us with questions about our programs. And we love it - students doing their homework and looking closely into potential colleges..... looking for the right match, the place that "feels right".

Listen to what recent students have to say about our program on a short YouTube video. Look at where some of our alumni are, and the careers that they've entered. Learn more about the many opportunities in our biology major through our web site. Try to picture yourself at our campus, just outside of Burlington.

We think we've got a great thing going here at St. Mike's - not just in the Biology program, but campus wide. You owe it to yourself to come and check us out....

Perhaps we'll see you at one of upcoming Academic Preview Days (October 16 and November 13)- contact our Admissions Office for more information.

Friday, September 10, 2010


Biology students and faculty enjoy fresh cider and donuts at a social on Friday afternoon hosted by the St. Mike's chapter of Beta Beta Beta (a national biology honor society). The St. Mike's chapter welcomed 46 members last at its inauguration last spring.

Beta Beta Beta (also known as Tri Beta) is one of several national honor societies recognizing academic excellence in various disciplines among St. Mike's students.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Into the woods....

Students in General Biology lab are getting their projects underway. We are in the fifth year of a restructured General Biology program in which students work on semester-long research projects throughout the fall semester. Projects focus on plant and invertebrate animal communities in the nearby sandplain forest, a fire-dependent ecosystem now rare in Vermont.

Learn more about our Biology curriculum

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Heat Wave.....

The third consecutive day of temperatures in the 90s - an official heat wave. Good day to go swimming.....

(I think fishes are the most fascinating animals, and love to discuss them in my Ichthyology course, or at any other opportunity....)

We're so popular!

The incoming class of 2014 was officially welcomed at St. Mike's opening convocation Thursday evening (August 26).

Included among these students are about 60 new Biology majors - bringing our total number of majors to up around 200. Our program is growing - I guess folks know a good thing when they see it.

Visit our new lab

It's been a busy summer up here on the third floor of the Cheray Science building. Part of that activity was due to the now complete renovation of one of our teaching labs. Thanks to a $134,000 grant to improve facilities in Cheray, Room 301 is freshly remodeled and outfitted with some terrific presentation technology features. Come check it out!

And here's the Top 10 Facts about studying Biology at St. Mike's.