Note: The path-breaking Physiology Course is one of several research training programs in quantitative biology offered at the Marine Biological Laboratory. Others include Physical Biology of the Cell and University of Chicago’s QBio Bootcamp @MBL. MBL also offers courses in quantitative microscopy, including Analytical and Quantitative Light Microscopy, Optical Microscopy and Imaging in the Biomedical Sciences, and the new Deep Learning for Microscopy Image Analysis course, to be offered in October 2020.
By Carina Storrs
Elma Kajtaz was stumped during her PhD research, trying to make sense of the measurements she was taking of muscle tissue samples and how the samples responded to stimuli. Like many biology graduate students, she was in a department that was focused on biological sciences and did not include much quantitative science in the curriculum. But as Kajtaz was looking at her data, which varied wildly between experiments, she realized she could not rely solely on her knowledge of statistics to explain what was going on and needed training in computation.
Fortunately, Kajtaz was at Georgia Tech, and her advisor told her about a new interdisciplinary graduate program called Quantitative Biosciences, or QBioS, that had just been created there in 2015. She switched into the program and took its introductory course, Foundations in Quantitative Biosciences, which Kajtaz says was “exactly what I needed.” Instead of wading through computer programming courses and trying to synthesize the material on her own, the QBioS course led her through mathematical and computational approaches to study a range of life science systems, from molecules to entire ecosystems. And it gave her a starting place to develop a model for her puzzling data.
In the last 10 to 20 years, the number of interdisciplinary biology graduate programs has expanded, and now “almost all of the major universities in the United States will have programs of this nature,” says Phillip Sharp, professor of biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and 1988 Lasker Basic Medical Research Laureate. Many of the programs marry biology with engineering or computational science, offering PhD degrees in bioengineering or bioinformatics, respectively. A few train graduate students, as QBioS does, in both biology and a range of quantitative sciences including physics and mathematics. And while many universities don’t offer a formal PhD program in quantitative biology, a growing number have interdisciplinary research institutes, including the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT, where Sharp is a professor, that give research and training opportunities to graduate students from more traditional biology PhD programs. All of these avenues are helping to fuel what Sharp and his colleagues at MIT call the “Convergence Revolution.” Read more …
Photo: Batbileg Bor (L) Einat Schnur (R) discuss a team-based research project during the MBL Physiology course in 2013. Credit: Tom Kleindinst/MBL