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DebBurman Lab

D-Lab: Scholarship of Teaching

Professor DebBurman is deeply interested in how to effectively teach undergraduates in ways that combines strong science content with research process, while balancing being a sage-on-stage with guiding-by-the-side.Professor DebBurman is deeply interested in how to effectively teach undergraduates in ways that combines strong science content with research process, while balancing being a sage-on-stage with guiding-by-the-side.


undefinedGiven the national expectations to reform undergraduate science curricula in ways that emphasize scientific process, I am very interested in the effective marriage of process and content in undergraduate science teaching and in the effective mixing of sage-on-stage and guide-by-side approaches. I am particularly interested in how effectively to combine experiential learning innovations with investigative laboratories and traditional lecture/discussion instruction. These teaching interests have translated into specific initiatives that have been supported by an NSF CCLI grant (2003-2007), NSF MRI grant 2001-2004, and indirectly by student training opportunities funded by an NIH-AREA grant 2004-2012. These innovations are designed to strengthen:

  1. Research-based learning in introductory and advanced courses
  2. Use of contemporary instrumentation that integrate teaching and research
  3. A community centered on students as scholars
  4. Teaching and Learning through K-12 and community outreach


A. Cell Biology:

undefinedI published an article in Cell Biology Education (2002) that describes experiential projects for an introductory-level science course, which effectively promote both content and process. In addition to citations in pedagogy papers, it has also been mentioned in “adapt and implement” grant proposals and has led to presentations at national conferences.

Abstract: Facilitating not only the mastery of sophisticated subject matter, but also the development of process skills is an ongoing challenge in teaching any introductory undergraduate course. To accomplish this goal in a sophomore-level introductory cell biology course, I require students to work in groups and complete several mock experiential research projects that imitate the professional activities of the scientific community. I designed these projects as a way to promote process skill development within content-rich pedagogy and to connect text-based and laboratory-based learning with the world of contemporary research. First, students become familiar with one primary article from a leading peer-reviewed journal, which they discuss by means of PowerPoint-based journal clubs and journalism reports highlighting public relevance. Second, relying mostly on primary articles, they investigate the molecular basis of a disease, compose reviews for an in-house journal, and present seminars in a public symposium. Last, students author primary articles detailing investigative experiments conducted in the lab. This curriculum has been successful in both quarter-based and semester-based institutions. Student attitudes toward their learning were assessed quantitatively with course surveys. Students consistently reported that these projects significantly lowered barriers to primary literature, improved research-associated skills, strengthened traditional pedagogy, and helped accomplish course objectives. Such approaches are widely suited for instructors seeking to integrate process with content in their courses.

DebBurman, SK. (2002). Learning How Scientists Work: Experiential research projects to promote cell biology learning and scientific process skills. Cell Biology Education 1, 154-172.

These two web sites provide supplementary materials to support the pedagogy discussed in this article:

  • Teacher Resources: http://www.lfc.edu/~debburman/cbesupplement.htmlThis site specifically provides examples of student work for the mock experiential research projects from the past 4 yr. It also contains grading sheets used to evaluate these projects and sample quizzes and exams (all available either as downloadable pdf documents or viewable PowerPoint presentations).
  • Spring Semester 2001–2002 Course Web Site: http://www.lfc.edu/~debburman/BIO221S02/outerframe.html.This comprehensive site provides downloadable forms of the syllabus, lecture and project schedules, and the course survey used in this study. Additional examples of student work, the bibliographical research guide, and information on other aspects of pedagogical support as used in the spring semester 2001–2002 are also provided.
B. Neuroscience:

BIO346 2007An undergraduate elective course in molecular neuroscience features a student role-playing workshop called Neurofrontiers, initially inspired by a Cold Spring Harbor Labs course I attended on “molecular mechanisms of neurological diseases” in 1997. This workshop has since been organized twelve times in two institutions and has featured the scholarship of over 100 students, more than half of whom have eventually pursued MDs, PhDs and other graduate degrees, with several now in MD residencies and one is already a professor of neuroscience. I have presented this teaching innovation at many national meetings like ASCB, ASBMB, and SFN between 2001-present and I am currently writing a manuscript for a 2012 publication.

Citation: DebBurman S.K. Acting Out As Neuroscientists: Research Projects that Promote Undergraduate Neuroscience Learning & Process Skill Development.


undefinedUndergraduate educators face serious challenges nationwide in preparing diverse graduates for a scientifically sophisticated community. The Biology Department at Lake Forest College meets these challenges with inquiry-based pedagogy that supports a diverse student-centered learning community. I have developed transferable experiential projects in several courses to promote mastery of scientific process and content, and to connect text- and lab-based learning with contemporary biomedical research. In this junior-level molecular neuroscience course, undergraduates complete three sequential projects that imitate a neuroscientist’s activities. First, they role-play graduate students and present a PowerPoint journal club synthesizing several primary articles. Second, students role-play neuroscientists who seek funding. By reading primary papers on a neurobiology problem, they identify knowledge gaps, design hypothesis-driven experiments, write, and defend a NSF-styled proposal. Lastly, students learn how neuroscience investigations over a career advance knowledge. They role-play leading neuroscientists at a mock conference, authoring reviews published in an in-house journal and presenting seminars alongside true-to-life neuroscientists. Critical to mastering projects is peer review and peer teaching support. Students report by survey that projects strengthen process skills as well as neurobiology content. For beginning and intermediate courses with similar inquiry-driven goals, related sets of projects of sequential complexity were successfully developed. This approach is widely suited to instructors seeking to integrate process with content in diverse courses.

C. Advanced Cell Biology:

undefinedAn undergraduate elective course in advanced cell biology was designed to provide students opportunities to conduct and publish original research in molecular biology. This course was inspired by the Cold Spring Harbor Labs course I attended on “Yeast Genetics” in 2000. Student projects from this course have yielded data that become part of published papers in national journals and preliminary data for national grants. I have presented this teaching innovation at many national meetings like ASCB,  SFN, and ASBMB. I am currently writing a manuscript for a 2012 publication.

2012 DebBurman, SK. An advanced cell biology course designed for undergraduates to propose, conduct, and publish original biomedical research. [Presented at ASCB 2009, SFN 2009] In preparation.

Undergraduate educators face significant challenges in preparing diverse graduates for a scientifically sophisticated and interdisciplinary 21st century community. Science curricula that integrate training in research with undergraduate teaching have enjoyed much funding support. The goal of providing comprehensive original research experiences within a course is a particular challenge, but was achieved in an NSF-supported advanced cell biology course described here. Students conducted individualized projects integrated to the original discovery of 86 yeast genes, which enhanced the human gene alpha-synuclein’s toxicity (Willingham et al. Science 302, 1769-72, 2003). Not knowing the cellular mechanism of how these genes enhanced toxicity provided impetus for student-driven discovery. To begin with, each student picked a “my favorite gene” (MFG). Students then organized and led in-depth discussions (or lectures) to familiar each other with MFG background. Next, they uncovered current gaps in knowledge by presenting journal clubs on articles that bridged MFG with alpha-synuclein. In their quest for new knowledge, students wrote grant proposals to conduct original research based on the technologies and approaches available to them at the home institution, and they spent the first six labs mastering them. They spent rest of the semester conducting, troubleshooting, repeating experiments, and interpreting data. Instead of a traditional final exam, each wrote a primary article that was 1) published in an in-house student research journal (EUKARYON; this journal discussed as a separate poster at this meeting); and 2) submitted for publication review to national undergraduate research journals; and/or 3) presented at local or national scientific conferences. Such courses, while necessarily small and self-selective, provide successful authentic research experiences that prepare undergraduates for professional scientific careers.

D. First Year Studies: Education through Community Outreach

undefinedCitation: RAISING BRAIN AWARENESS: Integration Of Undergraduate Curriculum With Public Education & K-5 Outreach at Lake Forest College. Daniella Brutman and Shubhik DebBurman, Biology Department, Lake Forest College,  IL (2011 SFN meeting).

undefinedAbstract: In 2010, Lake Forest College began a new neuroscience major and created a co-curricular student organization SYNAPSE to promote the awareness of neuroscience within the college community and the broader public.  In fall 2010, SYNAPSE organized the college’s annual Brain Awareness (BA) Week followed by a K-5 outreach with North Chicago elementary schools on “How our Amazing Brain Works”.

BA Week oneDuring BA week, SYNAPSE collaborated with several academic departments to publicly showcase work of first-year studies course students as well as advanced neuroscience students through cafeteria outreaches, campus teach-ins, and hands-on brain anatomy labs.  With financial support from Chicago Society For Neuroscience, SYNAPSE also organized for the public two neuroscience lectures on psychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases by nationally known experts, an interdisciplinary faculty forum on “Brain, Mind, and Behavior” featuring faculty scholarship at the college, and a “Frontiers in Neuroscience” poster session featuring undergraduate research by Lake Forest College students.

BA week twoFinally, SYNAPSE collaborated with the College’s North Chicago Community Partner’s Program to educate over 60 fifth graders on how the brain senses, integrates and acts through interactive lessons, brain anatomy, and games. In its fifth year of success, this diverse set of educational experience has taught first-year and advanced college students how to research neuroscience topics and communicate them to diverse and engaged audiences, from the adult public to elementary school children.

BA week threeIn this presentation, one of us will specifically discuss in and out-of-classroom strategies that strengthened both learning and teaching though the auspices of a student organization’s activities, in our various capacities as the student President of SYNAPSE, as a first-year studies course peer teacher, and as a student of advanced neuroscience course. We will also discuss specific roles in helping students work together to produce an array of presentations, exhibits, and teach-ins. Such student-driven academic outreach promotes a vibrant student scholar academic culture that has already attracted more than 30 majors to this new major within its first year.

Related websites:
BA week
K-5 outreach


A. NSF-MRI Grant 2001-2004, $94,000 (co-PI)

Acquisition of Multi-Imaging System For Use in an Undergraduate Institution

Phosphorimaging workstationThe Lake Forest College Department of Biology is proposing to acquire a multi- imaging system as shared research instrumentation. Our department and the college are committed to an educational mission that stresses integration of research and teaching and provides an environment in which students can engage in original, publishable research. This kind of environment in small colleges has been shown to contribute disproportionately to the pool of future research scientists. Lake Forest College has a strong track record in collaborative faculty-student research and will benefit substantially from the availability of a state-of-the-art multi-imaging system. Ultimately, the enhancement of the research and training capabilities of the biology department would help to attract larger numbers of talented students interested in research and research careers. In particular, the biology program attracts a high fraction of women and significant numbers of minority students and the college is strongly committed to recruitment of underrepresented groups. Improved research facilities would help to sustain and expand this strength. Faculty research involving students includes investigations of the role of telomeres in the cell cycle of Tetrahymena (Kirk, PI), gene expression and neural development in chick (Darnell, co-PI), the effects of protein-remodeling factors on human disease-associated proteins in yeast (DebBurman, co-PI, will join department in August 2001), and the evolution of sexual behavior and color polymorphism in guppies (Houde, co-PI). Students majoring in biology at Lake Forest College receive training in modern research methods through these research programs and through their course work. The undergraduate biology curriculum emphasizes student-designed investigation using current technology. Research and teaching facilities currently provide training in techniques such as nucleic acid extraction, agarose and acrylamide gel electrophoresis of nucleic acids and proteins, DNA sequence analysis, PCR, colony library screening, and Southern, Northern, and Western blotting. All gel and blot documentation is currently performed manually using polaroid or hand developed autoradiograms, and quantitative analysis of images is extremely limited. Acquisition of a multi-imaging system will allow more rapid processing of gel- based data and hence greater throughput in laboratory procedures and will extend quantification capabilities to allow us to employ new experimental approaches.

B. NSF-CCLI Grant 2003-2007, $141,878 (co-PI)

Integration Of Microscopy And Biochemistry Technologies To Enhance Quantitative Experimental Cell Biology Within An Inquiry-Based Curriculum

Shubhik_KatrinaUndergraduate educators face important challenges in preparing diverse graduates for a technologically sophisticated and scientifically interdisciplinary community. Lake Forest College Biology Department is meeting this challenge with inquiry-based pedagogy that supports a diverse student-centered learning community. We expect students to develop scientific process and master content by progressing through increasingly sophisticated hypothesis-driven investigations that require collaborative research, critical thinking, and diverse forms of communication. Currently, both courses that anchor our cellular curriculum, introductory Cell Biology and advanced Molecular Genetics, feature DNA- based investigations. Other cellular-level technologies feature prominently in biomedical discoveries.

Intellectual Merit:
We are creating a more comprehensive cellular curriculum by redressing existing deficiencies in cell culture, microscopy and protein biochemistry. We are adding investigative, less ìcookbookî experiments in these areas by restructuring introductory Cell Biology and adding two more advanced courses. Inquiry-conducive experiments successful elsewhere that require quantitative microscopy of cells and tissues and biochemical analysis of proteins are being adapted and implemented. To implement these changes, we request instrumentation for cell culturing, histology, microscopy, and biochemical analysis.

undefinedThe introductory course will incorporate investigations in cell culturing and protein characterization. Advanced course students will expand investigative independence and technical repertoire by developing hypotheses based on current literature and conducting investigations featuring cell culturing, histology, fluorescent microscopy, and protein biochemistry. These additions will also support other courses and help establish interdisciplinary biochemistry and neuroscience majors. Broader Impact: We will graduate diverse individuals thoroughly trained to succeed in a variety of scientific careers, provide innovative K-12 outreach, and nationally disseminate innovations.

C. Lake Forest College Learning & Teaching Center Pedagogical Innovation Grant, 2005, $4000 (PI)

Development Of A Biological Imaging & Biochemical Analysis Teaching & Research Center To Incorporate Contemporary Cell & Molecular Technologies & Faculty Research Into Biology Curriculum

BIO324 discussionAbstract: In support of several proposed innovations, National Science Foundation has awarded me a 2003-2007 Course, Curriculum, and Laboratory Improvement (NSF-CCLI) instrumentation grant for a to buy new equipment to incorporate contemporary investigative laboratories in cell culturing, histology, microscopy, and biochemical analysis (see above). However, this particular NSF-CCLI grant does not provide funds for physical renovation of space or faculty compensation towards innovation development. Therefore, for full realization of proposed innovations, I request LTC pedagogical innovation grant support for Development of Physical Space that will serve as an integrated Biological Imaging and Biochemical Analysis Teaching and Research Center in the Johnson Science Building; Funds that support this proposed Center and invested faculty time will facilitate use of research technology in the LFC science classroom through four courses that impact 50-65 science majors and non-majors each year. This pedagogical innovation also significantly integrates faculty research into classroom activities. Other Biology colleagues look forward to using this Center and equipment towards pedagogical innovations in their courses. LFC strengthens its resources and abilities to graduate diverse individuals well trained to succeed in a variety of scientific and non-scientific careers, and support student interests in two interdisciplinary research-rich sciences: Biochemistry and Neuroscience. As is my practice, successful well-tried and tested innovations are nationally disseminated via platform presentations at national conferences and peer-reviewed publications.



Initially proposed within the NSF-CCLI grant described above, and inspired by the high level of student scholarship within the biology classrooms at Lake Forest, I helped Lake Forest students create, publish and govern an undergraduate journal in the life sciences called Eukaryon in 2004. In four short years, the journal has become an extremely successful scholarly activity for our science majors. It has also become an integral component to the curriculum of the biology department and source of student, dept, and institutional pride. I have presented posters and talks on Eukaryon at national and local meetings since 2005 and I am presently planning a manuscript for publication.

2011Eukaryon_CoverAbstract: Undergraduate research and inquiry-based pedagogy are becoming increasingly crucial components in college and university curricula in the United States. Providing undergraduates with the opportunity to publish their scholarship serves as a pedagogical tool to increase scientific literacy and motivation for scientific careers. Spurred by an NSF-CCLI grant in 2004, the Lake Forest College Biology Department developed a peer-reviewed undergraduate research journal of life science scholarship called Eukaryon (www.lakeforest.edu/eukaryon). In each of its seven annual issues, Eukaryon has published scholarship that students have produced in any sub-discipline of the life sciences within the department’s research-rich undergraduate classrooms and faculty labs, in a variety of scientific and journalistic formats.



undefinedHere, we first detail three aspects of the journal’s development and maturation: 1) How it is exclusively governed, published, and financed by undergraduates; 2) How data from two surveys (in 2008 and 2010) demonstrates maintenance of publication selectivity, and assesses student familiarity of journal and of scientific publication process. 3) How the journal strives to improve in professional functions and develop new avenues of highlighting scholarly leadership. Given the rapid success Eukaryon has enjoyed at our institution, we encourage the adaptation and implementation of such journals at undergraduate institutions that further strengthen their community of students as scholars and their inquiry-based pedagogy.

Related website:

(presented at 2009 and 2010 ASCB meeting, 2009 SDB meeting, 2009 and 2011 SFN Meeting, 2010 ASBMB Meeting)

2011-12 DebBurman, SK, Rizvydeen*, S, Konnikova, A*, Fiske, M*, Davis, S*, Pore, S*, Zorniak, M*, Brandis, K*, and Smith, P.  EUKARYON: An undergraduate peer-reviewed life sciences journal that strengthens an inquiry-based biology curriculum and supports and community of students as scholars.