When microbiology students lost internships due to COVID-19, Nancy Boury had an idea to provide an alternative internship for her students.
Boury, a plant pathology and microbiology assistant professor, knew faculty could use a resource that tracked topics presented in “This Week in Microbiology” an American Society for Microbiology podcast. The podcast features microbiologists discussing current research.
“I decided to host a digital internship for students to annotate the podcast for easier use by faculty,” Boury said.
Lauren Ballard, a sophomore in microbiology who is spending the summer in Austin, Texas, came home early from a study abroad trip in Ireland because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only has the internship replaced her study abroad plans, it’s also helping her stay current on issues in microbiology and new research.
One podcast she listened to shared misconceptions about the Bubonic Plague, which occurred in the late middle ages in Europe. Ballard said new research indicates that the plaque was spread by human fleas instead of fleas from rats.
“I’m learning about research concepts that I know about, but I haven’t really studied,” said Ballard, who plans to pursue a career in medical diagnostics.
Leonardo Baumgartner, a senior in microbiology from the Sao Paulo region in Brazil, said the internship was a great opportunity in a region where such opportunities are limited.
“I found out I was chosen to be part of this program on May 15, my birthday. What a great gift!” said Baumgartner, who hopes to work in a medical laboratory after graduation.
This summer, Martin Leyhe, a senior in microbiology, was supposed to conduct research with Yuba Kandel, an associate scientist in plant pathology and microbiology. He was looking forward to doing lab and field research on soybeans. Instead, he had to return home to Indianapolis and is now working at Fort Harrison Indiana State Park.
“I'm a big fan of podcasts, and I'm excited to help share this one with other students,” Leyhe said.
Boury said she’s hoping this project will make it easier for faculty to find topics for classroom use. Faculty use the podcasts in class assignments to relate microbiology issues to everyday life.
“One goal is to provide detailed information about several episodes, so faculty can craft assignments and connect students to current research and discoveries,” Boury said.
This summer, most students don’t have access to hands-on lab internships, which improve critical thinking skills. Boury said listening and cataloguing podcasts is another way to hone those skills.
“At the end of the process we will have tools faculty across the country can use, and it will increase active learning for students,” Boury said.
“This is also important because we’re in the middle of a pandemic and we can appreciate more than ever that microbiology is part of everyone’s lives.”