Catalyst conversation workshop
provides tools faculty can use

Published January 01 2019

I never liked workshops.

Starting in graduate school and continuing through my postdoc and early faculty positions, I attended workshops on lab techniques, mentoring undergraduates and teaching strategies. The goal was often unclear or not aligned with the workshop’s title, the participants were unengaged, the activities lacked guidance and direction and, in the end, I took very little home with me.

This began to change when I joined the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and got involved in a series of workshops organized by the Educational and Professional Development Committee and held over a five-year period that focused on concept-driven teaching strategies in biochemistry and molecular biology. As a participant and eventually a host and organizer, I finally saw what a workshop could be — an engaged group of faculty from diverse institutions working together to improve student learning in the molecular life sciences.

When those workshops concluded a few years back, the steering committee of the ASBMB Student Chapters, of which I was member, recognized that faculty still looked to the society for a collaborative experience where best teaching practices could be explored. The steering committee decided to offer a new series of education workshops that would build on the model and success of those organized by the EPD Committee.

In March, we hosted the first in this new series of faculty development workshops called Catalyst Conversations for Undergraduate Educators. Hosted by Montclair State University in New Jersey and funded by the ASBMB, the event included a dozen chalkboard talks, each focusing on a class activity or pedagogy approach, followed by general discussion.

Pam Mertz of St. Mary’s College of Maryland, Celeste Peterson of Suffolk University, Quinn Vega of Montclair State University and I organized the workshop. Both ASBMB members and nonmembers were invited, with a maximum of 25 participants to ensure ease of collaboration and networking.

Participating faculty, mainly from East Coast colleges and universities, explored the use of the primary literature in the classroom, innovative approaches to lab activities, strategies for teaching core concepts and the use of computational and bioinformatics sources as teaching tools. With handouts to help synthesize each presentation — including the activity’s objective, implementation, assessments and potential challenges — each participant walked out of the workshop with tools in hand.


Participants in the March workshop were asked to describe something they learned and, if they were presenters, something they hoped others learned from their presentations.

I learned some important strategies for improving student learning, such as how to strategically use pre-lecture or pre-lab quizzes, as well as using augmented reality as another way to study protein structure. We also discussed how to work on math skills in our classes and how to encourage crossover between biology and chemistry topics to enhance learning.

I hope that the workshop participants came away from my presentation with some new ideas about how to present the links between DNA and protein structure, as well as the impact of mutation on protein structure and human disease. I presented some possible lab exercises that could be used as a substitute for “wet lab” exercises.

—Tricia Melloy,
Fairleigh Dickinson University

I learned that ideas and reflections take on more pixels and color when they are shared with others. It helped me to explain more fully my thoughts and ideas when I shared with colleagues.

y presentation was on a pre- and post-test on threshold concepts in biochemistry, and I have students with varying chemical backgrounds in my class. I hope people saw that student learning is not just about how many previous classes a student has taken but how deeply they learned about these abstract topics.

—Kelly Keenan,
Stockton University

Scientific literacy is an important and integrated part of critical thinking skills, including interpretation and representation of scientific data; problem solving using quantitative skills; evaluation of scientific information and sources; recognition of evidence to support hypothesis; understanding of research design; and making justifications, predictions and conclusions based on quantitative data.

—Yufeng Wei,
Seton Hall University

I enjoyed hearing about the innovative practices other faculty were using in their classrooms. Since lots of us are finding similar challenges as we try to employ active learning practices, it is good to have a chance to hear about some works in progress to get suggestions and share ideas.

I have been developing a course-based undergraduate research, or CURE, project for a nonmajor’s lab and talked about some aspects of this that have been rewarding and some that have been challenging. I hope that for other faculty who are developing or plan to develop CUREs, it gave them ideas for things to try and things to avoid, and also the willingness to try a good idea that will engage students even if there are some kinks still to work out.

—Amy Springer,
University of Massachusetts Amherst

More conversations

The ASBMB and La Sierra University will host a Catalyst Conversations for Undergraduate Educators on Feb. 24 in the Troesh Conference Center on the La Sierra campus in Riverside, California.

Educators will exchange ideas about teaching practices in biochemistry and molecular biology and navigating the research landscape in the undergraduate environment.

The session themes are as follows:

Research at a PUI: Challenges, opportunities and funding, led by Jessica Bell, University of San Diego
BMB for a new generation: Concepts and assessment, led by Marvin Payne, La Sierra University
Developing NSF funding for your undergraduate research, a working lunch and discussion led by Christopher Meyer, California State University, Fresno
CURE: Theory and implementation, presented by Ellis Bell and Joseph Provost, both from the University of San Diego

Participants will also have an opportunity to give short chalk talks, share instructional materials, and discuss implementing new ideas into their own teaching and research.

Click to register or submit an abstract for a chalk talk (you do not need to submit an abstract to participate).


The ASBMB and the University of Wisconsin−La Crosse will host a Catalyst Conversation for Undergraduate Educators within the North Central Region on March 16 at the Myrick Park Center in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

The session themes are as follows:

Best practices in science lab building design, led by Todd Weaver and John May
Career planning for the molecular life science major, led by Basudeb Bhattacharyya
Strategies to develop an inclusive undergraduate research lab, led by Daniel Grilley and Kelly Gorres
Applying to graduate school for the molecular life science major, led by Basudeb Bhattacharyya and Todd Weaver

The final session will give faculty at primarily undergraduate institutions an opportunity to share teaching materials and discuss best practices in biochemistry and molecular biology education.

Both workshops are free and include a continental breakfast and catered lunch. Email questions to Stephanie Paxson.

Ann Aguanno Ann Aguanno is a professor of biology, chair of the department of natural sciences and a recruiter at Marymount Manhattan College.