Andrew Moreno, a graduate student in chemistry, teaches a lesson on
probability to his peers during a Molecular Biophysics Journal Club class
Biophysics Journal Club Encourages Active Learning, Student Teaching
Alicia Every, a graduate student in chemistry, went to class last week not
only to learn, but to teach.
She and the other 20 students taking the course, Molecular Biophysics
Journal Club II, are expected to prepare a lesson on relevant course
material and present a micro-lecture to their peers.
For 20 minutes she spoke, jotting equations on the chalkboard while
explaining that heat is in random motion. She drew a gas molecule inside a
box, and talked about its behavior at the molecular level, relating it to
macroscopic systems such as in proteins and nucleic acids.
“What makes Journal Club different from a typical lecture is that we have
some degree of freedom in our discussions,” Every says. “This allows us to
not only focus on one particular topic, but to digress to other related
topics that the class might feel necessary to cover in more detail. In a
way, this allows the students to have control over the lecture.”
Biophysics Journal Club is open to graduate and undergraduate students, and
may be taken repetitively. Enrollment is unlimited, although it’s geared most
closely for majors from chemistry and molecular biology and biochemistry.
The program will soon include a bioinformatics track in conjunction
with the Center for Integrative Genomics and the Biology Department, and students from any Natural
Sciences and Mathematics department are welcome.
Faculty participants in the Molecular Biophysics Program attend the class
meetings and offer input when necessary; at least one faculty member is always
present to lead the class.
“The idea of Journal Club is for students to learn about the cutting edge of
science in this area outside of their own research project. This also
provides students experience with discussion of diverse subject in the area,
and to get some teaching experience by preparing short lectures and giving
them to each other and the faculty,” explains one of the class instructor
David Beveridge, the University Professor of Natural Sciences and
Mathematics and co-coordinator with Ishiuta Mukerji of the program. “Club is
not quite the right word but is the local parlance for this kind of thing -
a skull session, workshop, brainstorming session. Faculty serve as a
resource and offer appropriate feedback. We are aware that various degrees
of experience and language capabilities are in the mix so we expect to keep
the class atmosphere friendly and constructive for students.”
Molecular Biophysics Journal Club II is a non-exclusive companion to
Molecular Biophysics Journal Club I, which is held Fall Semester 2006. Biophysics
Journal Club I is not a precursor to Journal Club II; each course has a
different focus. In Journal Club I students lead active discussions of a series of
current research articles in the field of molecular biophysics and
biophysical chemistry. They read articles from the Biophysical Journal,
Biopolymers, Current Opinion in Structural Biology, Journal of Biomolecular
Structure and Dynamics and the Annual Review of Molecular Biophysics and Biomolecular Structure.
Journal Club II focuses its attention on only one book. This semester it's
Biological Physics by Philip Nelson. This book, Beveridge explains, is
highly regarded in the field and emphasizes understanding the principles and
applications of biological molecules as molecular machines. Each student
prepares their presentation based on one chapter, or part of a chapter, from
the Nelson text.
“It will possibly take us two semesters to get through the whole book,” he
says. “Students will find that preparing lectures is far more time consuming
than they expected.”
The Journal Club is part of Wesleyan’s Biophysics Training Program, which is
funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, an arm of
the National Institute of Health (NIH). As part of this grant, the NIH requires
that participating students receive ethical and quantitative training on the
nature of their interdisciplinary area.
During the class, Andrew Moreno, a graduate student in chemistry, provided a
lesson on probability, to relate the distribution of molecules in their
physical states to the likelihood of a molecule being in a specific state.
He took Journal Club I last semester to discuss current research that is
outside his field of interest. In addition, he hopes improve his teaching
“It is difficult to get in front of your peers and teach, but at the same
time, it’s rewarding because they can give you insight on what was good
about your lecture and what was bad,” he says.
While some of the students are less comfortable speaking in front of their
classmates, it now comes naturally to Every, who has taken the Journal Club
for 10 semesters, her entire graduate career.
“It is not difficult as long as you have some idea of your peers’ background
knowledge,” she says. “I prefer Journal Club over a standard lecture course
because it forces you to be an active learner. We usually spend 15-20
minutes in lecture and the rest is spent discussing or analyzing the topic.
This requires you to learn the information as well as analyze and apply it
to different systems.”
After graduating with a Ph.D., Every hopes to continue research in
biophysics. She is considering a post-doctoral position. Moreno also plans to
continue doing research and eventually wants to teach.
“I have not yet decided if I would like to be a professor, but either way, I
think it is important that I have some experience teaching because it has
trained me to clearly understand different topics as well as be able to put
into words what I have learned,” Every says.
The Molecular Biophysics Journal Club is open to the campus community.
Meetings are held 1:10 to 2:30 p.m. Wednesdays in the NSM Conference Room.
For more information e-mail
Ishita Mukerji or
Laure Dykas, a Ph.D candidate in chemistry said student guest lectures
Andrew and Alicia did “an excellent job” teaching.
“I hope I can do as well,” Dykas says, smiling. “I give my presentation next
By Olivia Bartlett, The Wesleyan Connection