Successful Internships for Students and Labs: Everyone Wins

Tony Pelletier, Scripps Research Institute assistant professor turned high school chemistry and biology instructor, is setting his students up to tackle this transition with ease.

Most researchers working in industry labs didn’t just start there, they started in academic labs. Think courses like BIO 101, highschool intro to physics labs, AP Environmental Science, and other courses like that. Industry researchers (in general) all got their start in one academic lab or another investigating a subject area that may or may not relate to what they do now. But ask many a professional researcher and they’ll tell you, the transition from academia to industry isn’t always seamless. A lot of this has to do with preparedness to work with standard industry tools.

Tony Pelletier, Scripps Research Institute assistant professor turned high school chemistry and biology instructor, is setting his students up to tackle this transition with ease. Tony uses LabArchives classroom and professional edition in his courses at Bishops High School in La Jolla, CA. Introducing his students to the LabArchives digital notebook is just one of the ways he pushes his students to learn more and become confident and competent in a lab setting. The payoff: students are ready for real world lab work and labs are happy to have them. Tony has found that when his students go off to work in real labs the labs come back to him and are hungry for more students as prepared as his are.

Tony PelletierTony Pelletier, former assistant professor at Scripps Research Institute, current chemistry and biology instructor at Bishops High School

And as Tony knows from over 30 years in research, paper lab notebooks just don’t cut it. Digital lab notebooks are the industry standard, “we’d be remiss if we didn’t introduce these (ELNs) to students in STEM.”

LabArchives and High School Chemistry

In his day to day courses at Bishops High School, Tony uses the LabArchives classroom edition with his students. He says he loves the “obvious advantages” that the digital notebook offers such as rendering classic “dog ate my homework” excuses totally defunct. As Tony kicked off his use of LabArchives, LabArchives territory manager Clark Paul helped him get things going. After  initial training and support, Tony was able to stage his entire course in LabArchives. He now distributes his lab manual, course notes, course administrative documents, and everything else to his students within their LabArchives notebook. And as Tony says, “LabArchives doesn’t even cost more than a regular old paper notebook.”

All of Tony’s chemistry students use LabArchives starting in 10th grade and while the initial transition for students can be a bit challenging, introducing students to different notebook tools as they learn seems to work well. Students start off with the basics, adding images, using Office online documents, annotating images, scanning images into their notebooks etc. From there students start getting comfortable with more advanced features. Tony loves the ability to leave real time feedback for his Chemistry students and finds it hugely helpful to be able to see if students have really done their pre-lab work before coming to lab. He has heard from many students that their exposure to ELNs early on in his course has been helpful in college lab settings too. Pam Reynolds, another chemistry instructor at Bishop’s High School, also uses LabArchives in her classes.

In Tony’s chemistry courses he has students work in pairs. One student has the protocol in front of them and their LabArchives notebook up, this student take notes while the other student works as the “hands.” High school science courses are limited with narrow time frames, but LabArchives revision history and documentation allows the whole team to see who has entered what and when, everyone can see and understand the whole project. Students then submit their work to Tony as a group. While Tony could review and grade student work with any of the other easily accessible platforms out there, he likes how LabArchives allows him to get everything done in one place, leave feedback for students in real time, complete/record grades, and return work all within one place. Totally streamlined!

High Schooler to Real World Researcher

Tony also teaches a more out of the box professional level research course at Bishops High School. As Tony was an early adopter of digital lab notebooks in the high school education space, we (the LabArchives team) were very excited to see where his course’s work with LabArchives would lead. The end result is a pretty incredible example of how introducing students to industry tools early on leads to student success as well as more successful labs!

Tony and his students

Before he was a high school instructor, Tony was a molecular and cellular chemistry assistant professor at Scripps Research Institute.  He created this unusual high school course as a way to prepare his high school students for industry and to support labs he remained in touch with at Scripps. As Tony says, every professional lab has three or four freezer box projects that no postdoc wants to take on as “it can take six months of work before you know if you even want to work on the samples. My students can do the work up front. PCRs etc. we can do all of that.”

Tony’s Scripps contacts know what the parameters are and they give Tony’s students work that will lay fallow if they don’t do it. “Scripps get us the consumables and we provide the free labor,” Tony says. But that’s not all that Scripps gets out of this truly original high school course and these high school researchers.

Tony trains his students in the basics of molecular biology during this course with the end goal of having them complete summer internships in Scripps labs. He has students read papers coming out of the labs they are working with. With this they begin to understand how the work that’s been done prior to their arrival feeds into the larger project they will become a part of. From there Tony sends these newly trained high school molecular biologist to Scripps for summer internships. In these internships, Tony’s students have been very successful, some have even co-authored papers as a result of their internships. Not many high school students can say they are published authors!

This course really provides these labs with “kids who are very well trained in molecular biology and can step right in, ask the right questions, know how to be careful, and feel comfortable in a lab setting.” Tony provides Scripps with interns who are “actually useful” and often times Scripps will come back to him hungry for more of these useful interns! With this kind of instruction students learn more and are more successful once they make it to real world labs, and labs benefit from well trained interns who can really get things done.

LabArchives Solving Problems

When Tony kicked off this program the lack of continuity from year to year was an issue. As new high schoolers filtered through his research based course, maintaining connection to the work that had been done by previous students was difficult. Paper notebooks were not well kept and the course lacked as Tony put it, “a central clearinghouse where we could say this is what we are working on, this is what is still in process, there are the techniques we use.” Since high school courses don’t have anyone except the instructor sticking around from year to year, Tony needed clear continuous documentation more than anyone to find success with this unique course. A digital notebook was exactly what the course needed to secure the valuable “institutional memory” it was missing. And getting familiar with digital lab notebooks is just part of the training necessary to produce these adept high school interns who are ready to hit the ground running in professional labs.

Adding students to the notebook at the start of each new year is quick and easy and Tony has designed mini projects for the beginning of the course that help students get going. In the process of completing these mini projects, students get familiar with LabArchives but also with the important molecular biology processes and protocols they’ll need for their internships. Students practice PCR, growing bacteria, site directed mutagenesis, green fluro, comparing sequences, fixing mutations, and planning experiments. At the moment his course is working on engineering viral packaging strains so they are more efficient and provide better recovery from virus from the packaging cells. They are also making several expression plasmids for the major HIV coat protein, p24.

Tips from Tony Himself

Rollouts are tricky, Tony says, change is always tough. But now Tony has a continuously seamless and well planned course that prepares students for real world research, lands them successful internships, and supplies labs with “actually useful” interns- everyone wins. When Tony first got started with LabArchives there were some challenges but he appreciated the support and level of personalized attention from LabArchives as he began rolling out this new beast to his groaning students. When he ran into a snag, the LabArchives development team had it fixed by the end of the day. Starting simple has proved to be the best way to get students off the ground with this digital tool that is often totally new to them. Tony has found that creating short initial assignments that are geared towards getting students comfortable with the platform really pay off in the long run. Students learn how to scan documents with their phones and upload to LabArchives, among other basic functions, that set them up to gradually become LabArchives aficionados.  Now, he says, “no students come groaning to me about using LabArchives, they see the benefits, they see that they are prepared, in my research course the LabArchives protocol notebook is almost entirely student written.” Initial resistance is normal but with a bit of practice your course setup can also achieve this kind of success!

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