For seven students in a summer computational biology program at UC Merced, six short weeks spent in a summer course might lead to huge opportunities in the future. The program is structured to maximize hands-on learning, and the group even visited the National Center for Computing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Each week, we spend our Monday in lecture, learning the principles we need to solve particular problems. Then the students break into groups and attack the problems, finishing up in time to present their solutions on Friday each week, said Professor Mike Colvin, who is teaching the class in connection with UC Merced’s Center for Computational Biology, where he is the director.
Colvin explained that the group went to Illinois to give the students a taste of how big computational biology can be. The week-long trip was initiated by the supercomputing center and included paid travel, a University of Illinois campus tour, lectures, a leadership workshop and nearly round-the-clock assistance from faculty and staff.
The students enjoyed visiting a bigger campus, as well as visiting museums and other attractions in Chicago. But they recognize the benefits of being students at the youngest and smallest UC.
Five of the students in the program just completed their junior year studying biological sciences at UC Merced. Another will be a sophomore this fall, and the last is a student from San Francisco State who originally hails from Modesto and is spending the summer in the Valley.
This experience is different from other summer lab research programs, Colvin said. We hope to give students the tools they’ll need to work in computational biology labs as the progress through school. Computational biology can present a big learning curve, and these students will be coming in with the expertise to overcome that, now that they’ve been through our program.