Students Highlight the Independent yet Collaborative Nature of Biology-600

Biology-600, the highest level biology course offered at Andover, is an elective exclusively for Seniors, which meets every day for at least two terms. The course puts an emphasis on independent research and application, with extensive work in the laboratory at Gelb Science Center, as well as reading scientific journals to craft effective experiments.

Claire Song ’22, a Biology-600 student, is currently studying cartilage regeneration in stem cells after inserting the “TGF-beta-1 genes through gene transfection.” Song highlighted the increased individualized aspect of the research-oriented class, taught by Catherine Kemp, Instructor in Biology, in comparison to previous courses in biology.

“This class is really a tight-knit small group of students who are really interested in biology and pursuing our interests in biology through independent research. [In the fall, we were] working in small groups to do labs and research. Then, as we transitioned into Winter Term, [it became] more of pursuing our separate, individual interests––using what we learned in Fall Term and then applying that to our individual projects,” said Song.

After going through multiple STEM related courses, and Biology-600 being the last one in her Andover career, Song found the focus of Biology-600 to be divergent from other STEM courses. She noted how the prioritized aspects of Biology-600 were not completely the same when compared with other STEM courses offered at Andover.

“I definitely think I’m learning a lot more biology in the sense that it’s not just textbooks or tests and quizzes. We don’t have any tests or quizzes or assessments––this course really helps me and my peers experience what it’s like to be in a biology lab. It’s not like we’re just students memorizing facts or memorizing material to take a test. Our goal isn’t to get a good grade on a test, it’s to learn and experience what it’s like to actually do research and experiment.”

Phillip Ko ’22, a student in Biology-600, also mentioned the student-driven nature of the class and organized class layout. Ko finds that this freedom is helpful in being able to learn about topics that he finds interesting, such as his research topic, which is examining how exposing different flies to two separate probiotics impacts their sleep patterns.

“Compared to other STEM classes I’ve taken, [Biology-600] gives me a lot more freedom to really look into the ideas and the concepts I find interesting or really meaningful. It’s definitely a lot less structured in terms of the things you need to get done. Dr. Kemp, especially, is extremely flexible with us designing [our] process the way we want to, [such as] organizing certain parts of how we’re graded in this course, versus other classes where it’s all strictly decided for you. It’s mainly just a lot of self-discovery into what you want to do,” said Ko.

Ko added, “It’s really independent, as the name implies, but it’s also really self-driven, self-led, and there’s a big emphasis on taking responsibility for what you want to do, what you want to get out of that course. So what you put in is what you get out,” said Ko.

Despite the reputation of independence that Biology-600 has garnered, there still is a sense of camaraderie between its students. Sonia Marnoto ’22, Biology-600 student, researched a protein complex called the dystrophin complex and its relationship to a heart disease named cardiomyopathy. With such a challenging research product, Marnoto expressed gratitude towards her peers and the supportive environment they have cultivated.

“I think one of my favorite parts is just being able to work in a space where I can be independent but also have a group of students who are going through the same thing. We’re always talking during class and being really supportive towards one another, asking how each others’ projects are going, sharing notes if we’re able to. But it’s not competitive at all because we’re all doing different things, so it’s really just an organized, collaborative space,” said Marnoto.

Kayla Lang ’22 echoed Marnoto’s sentiments and believes that leaning on her classmates and Kemp makes the challenging class more manageable. Lang stated that a combination of seeking out help and being present in the class makes the research process easier.

“It definitely is challenging, especially since it’s a two-period commitment in Senior Year. Because you have to take five classes, and it ends up being a six-course load… A lot of the class is about being present, using class time really well, engaging in discussion, and just seeking out our mentor, Dr. Kemp. It becomes a lot easier [to] lean on not only the peers in the class but [also] the mentor because she is really there for you, and she tries to make this class manageable. So a combination of all of those things is really helpful,” said Lang.