A bootcamp devised to stretch the mind

For the past two years, many UChicago graduate students have been exposed to a unique, scientific opportunity by attending the Quantitative Approaches Bootcamp (QBIO2) at the University’s sister institution, the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. The partnership between the two institutions offers students an enhanced team building environment with unrivaled research and educational opportunities. Co-directors, professors Stefano Allesina and Stephanie Palmer, discuss the many facets of the program:

What is the goal of the bootcamp and what do students experience while there?

Biology is more and more a quantitative field and students need to be well-versed in computer programming as well as advanced analysis techniques to produce research at the forefront of their field. At this one week bootcamp, students are immersed in programming and are exposed to real biology data ranging from electrical signals in neurons to population genetics data from whole organisms. Despite the intensity of the week, students play and learn together. They then apply their new programming skills in each of these data workshops. In the mornings, they venture off on a collection boat to gather live specimens such as squid and horseshoe crabs for MBL researchers, tour the Marine Resources Center, and participate in an intensive workshop in modern imaging techniques on live zebrafish tissue.

Who is encouraged to participate?

We aim to bring all incoming Division of the Biological Sciences graduate students, and have extended participation to a few other graduate programs in the Division of the Physical Sciences such as biophysics and the Division of the Social Sciences including integrative neurobiology.

When was the bootcamp launched and how many students have participated so far?

We started this experiment in 2015 so this is the second bootcamp at MBL, and we’ve had roughly 100 students participate each year. In addition, we’ve had eight to ten UChicago faculty, eight to ten upper-level graduate student instructors, and six researchers and administrators from MBL participate in lectures, tutorials, and research talks.

How does the location at the MBL help strengthen the experience for students?

We’re really trying to expose students to the full UChicago campus, as it now extends to Woods Hole, Massachusetts. The recent partnership of the University of Chicago with the Marine Biological Laboratory opens the door to new collaborations between these institutions. Combining the rich history and current strength in biological discovery at the MBL with the world-class quantitative expertise at UChicago will hopefully generate many new and exciting research directions. This course exposes incoming UChicago students to the uniquely exhilarating scientific environment at MBL, and gives MBL researchers opportunities to recruit members of this talented pool of young students to their own projects.