Career readiness is always on the minds of students and teachers, both at the high school and university levels. As students think about future career tracks in biology, specific skills are needed to build up their readiness. They can begin thinking about them in the classroom.
We’ve identified six essential lab skills based on biology resume listings on the job platform, Zippia. Each lab skill is for biology career building, and we’ve included accompanying virtual labs that can help instructors teach them.
1. Lab Safety
Students need to know how to be responsible in the lab because lab safety is essential to prevent accidents and keep everyone safe. It’s important to understand how to dispose of chemical waste, react in the case of an emergency, and recognize standard hazard symbols.
In the Lab Safety virtual lab, students will survive their first day in the lab by identifying the different hazards they might encounter in an unsafe laboratory. They’ll be introduced to the lab dress code, safety equipment, and the do's and don'ts when working in a lab.
2. Cell Culture
There are approximately 37 trillion cells in your body, and there are specific ways to handle these cells and other mammal cells. Cell cultures are essential because scientists may use them to diagnose infections, test new drugs, and research (1).
Labster has many cell simulations, and one of them is Cell Culture Basics: Plate, split, and freeze human cells, where students will learn how to culture cells in a controlled environment. They’ll perform the different steps to keep cells healthy by using a standard cell culture protocol for eukaryotic cells. Students will also learn the aseptic technique. These experiments could take hours, but in virtual labs, they take seconds.
3. Data Analysis
If students want to get into a field like clinical research, they’ll need to know how to analyze data. Data analysis is looking at qualitative and quantitative data to condense, recap, and evaluate it. This may mean displaying the data in a graph, table, or hypothesis (2).
In Labster’s simulation, Cardio-respiratory Physiology: How can seals dive so deep for so long? Students do data analysis through calculations and results interpretation (calculating total oxygen stores, aerobic dive limit, oxygen consumption, and ATP generation from aerobic and partially anaerobic dives).
Hair color, the curve of someone’s smile, and even their likelihood of getting sick are at least in part determined by their DNA. It’s an essential concept that students need to understand before they can get virtually any job in biology.
One of the exciting aspects of virtual labs is you can see into aspects of DNA that are normally invisible. In Labster’s DNA: Structure and function simulation, students will learn what DNA is made of and how it works. They’ll also learn how DNA is structured and how the DNA code translates to functional molecules called proteins.
Students can’t learn DNA without also learning about RNA, as it carries messenger instructions from DNA. “RNA also plays an important role in regulating cellular processes–from cell division, differentiation and growth to cell aging and death” (3).
In Labster’s RNA Extraction simulation: Sample and purify mRNA from pigs, students will learn how to extract RNA from pig fat tissue samples and purify messenger RNA using magnetic beads. Students are immediately provided with qualitative data to check the quality of their samples.
6.) Documentation & Reporting
Documentation and reporting include compiling data and research to share with others and to record for future use. Retrieving data can lead to recommendations on which avenues of research and application to explore next. Documentation and lab reports are important for students because they train them to communicate complex concepts effectively.
In our simulation, Perform a Dry Western Blot, students have to report their findings at the end to the head of pharmaceutical research and decipher whether their western blot results validate the hypothesis they chose at the beginning.
Questions for consideration:
How do your biology students learn career readiness skills best?
What are other biology skills students will need to know? Try a search of Labster’s catalog to discover virtual labs that match each skill.
(1) National Cancer Institute. (n.d.). cell culture. Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/cell-culture
(2) Responsible Conduct in Data Management. (n.d.). Data Analysis. Retrieved from: https://ori.hhs.gov/education/products/n_illinois_u/datamanagement/datopic.html#:~:text=Data%20Analysis,and%20recap%2C%20and%20evaluate%20data.
(3) RNA Society. (2019). What is RNA. Retrieved from: https://www.rnasociety.org/what-is-rna