This summer, with the help of non-profit organization Project Exploration (http://www.projectexploration.org/), we ran the Junior Biocurator program for the first time. This is the ‘outreach’ part of the Phenoscape project. The program content and structure was designed by Paul Sereno, Lauren Conroy, Nicole Ridgwell and myself. The program includes several lectures, covering topics as diverse as biocuration, comparative anatomy and photography techniques. Lectures were given by Lauren Conroy, Erin Fitzgerald, Nicole Ridgwell and myself. Nicole also supervised the day to day activities and labs. In their ‘hands on’ time the students acquired a whole array of impressive new skills, outlined below.
I was a little worried that the Jr Biocurators would find the curriculum to be too demanding and difficult, but the five students – Haley, Kyle, Hope, Michael and Kamal – really enjoyed their time and impressed everybody with their curiosity, enthusiasm and overall performance in the many exercises and other tasks they had to complete. The students learned how to put together vertebrate skeletons, how to organize biological information in an ontology, and how to take high quality photographs of vertebrate bones. They also learned how to manipulate these images in Photoshop, effectively creating publication quality image files. As if that was not enough, towards the end of the program, they learned how to use a laser scanner and visualized the bones in a whole new way. The images they created (photography and scanning) will be used by us – first in Protege and ultimately in the Phenoscape user interface. Our Jr Biocurators were extremely proud when they heard that their work would make a real, tangible contribution to a major NSF funded project.
While we were putting together the curriculum, I suggested we also offer the students opportunities to learn more about university life in general. Nicole took them to the University of Chicago admissions office, were they could ask all their questions, and they also went on a big campus tour and visited the Oriental Institute Museum (which is part of our university). This part of the curriculum was also extremely well received.
Running the program was a lot of work, but it was all worth it, considering that our Jr Biocurators all became good friends (and good young budding scientists!) and were genuinely sad when the program ended. I am looking forward to meeting the next Jr Biocurators in 2013 and am no longer worried about the degree of difficulty of the curriculum.
To find out more about the program and read some of the blog posts our Biocurators wrote visit:
University of Chicago