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Introductory Synthetic Biology Assignments and Grading

BIOC 313 is an ADVANCED laboratory course and requires greater independence than BIOC 211. The experimental procedures may be less demanding than those you performed in BIOC 211, and you write just one short paper rather than three full-length research papers. HOWEVER, just because the experiments may be more "cookbook" does not mean the lab requires less effort. I place a greater emphasis on analysis, interpretation, and presentation of data; if you keep a "sloppy" notebook and slap a proposal together at the last minute without really understanding "why" you did a procedure and "what" the results mean, you will be disappointed with your final grade.

Remember, the undergraduate program is a series of steps. Keep in mind that a level of performance that would result in a B/B+ or sometimes even an A at the introductory level, does not (and should not) translate into a high grade at the advanced level.
We forgive a lot of mistakes early on but you must recall the lessons learned from these mistakes when you conduct similar work at an advanced level. Additionally, the criteria we use to evaluate your performance in an advanced laboratory course are different from those we use in an introductory course.

"Fairness" in this course means everyone is evaluated on the same criteria.
Since everyone does not have the same ability, everyone does not get the same grade; this outcome is not "unfair" but rather is simply reality. GRADING SCHEME
Grade
Minimum %
A+ 98
A 93
A- 90
B+ 87
B 83
B- 80
C+ 77
C 73
C- 70
D+ 67
D 63
D- 60

You will be graded on an absolute scale by percentage, as in the table. This means that you will not be graded relative to the performance of others in your class.
Grades posted on Esther are FINAL and cannot be changed.


Assessing Laboratory Citizenship and Performance

Created by David R. Caprette, Ph.D., Rice University
Modified by Beth Beason-Abmayr, Ph.D., Rice University

It is highly unlikely that in a real job you will be given responsibilities that are so well defined that all you have to do is follow instructions. It is equally unlikely that you will be solely responsible for an outcome. Undergraduate laboratory courses, laboratory components to lecture courses, independent study, engineering design courses, and the like constitute the experiential part of the curriculum. They give you the opportunity to apply your cumulative knowledge and experience to specific problems. In particular, experiential courses enable you to polish up and apply teamwork skills and to exercise critical thinking.  Participation during the pre-lab discussions and question/answer sessions after the presentations will be crucial to your learning. Passive students who do not contribute to discussions or problem solving are less likely to do well on assignments and exams.

A completely satisfactory lab performance would be equivalent to an A.  A completely satisfactory performance requires that the group's performance be satisfactory as well. For example, if an "unknown individual" throws sharp glass or nondisposable items in a wastebasket and nobody catches it, everyone loses points. An exceptional performance will be rewarded with an increase in score and may include bonus points.  Punctuality, safe conduct in the laboratory, and efficient completion of lab responsibilities will enter into the evaluation of overall performance.

Expectations and Performance Criteria

You are expected to come on time, fully prepared and alert. You should be engaged in the work itself and be aware of your surroundings. You are expected to work efficiently, safely, and responsibly. Most of the specific criteria listed here characterize an effective member of a team.

Punctuality
All labs meet in ABL B03 and begin promoptly at 1:00 PM. Showing up on time is a sign that you are fully engaged in a project, are responsible, and that you respect your supervisor and coworkers. When you are late your arrival is likely to be disruptive. For example, you will interrupt the pre-lab talk for at least some people if you come in after it starts. As you settle in you will distract both the instructor and students in the vicinity. You may miss key instructions and even become a liability, affecting the efficiency with which your team works, and possibly compromising safety.

Courtesy
Just showing up on time is a sign of courtesy. So is cleaning up your lab station and keeping common areas such as sinks, balances, bench tops, hoods, and side benches clean and neat. Be aware that there are others working around you, and think before you blurt out a question, possibly interrupting a conversation between instructor and student. Think before you drop a backpack in the middle of an aisle, take the last latex glove out of the box, or pour something into a sink ignoring the fact that the drain is clogged. 

An exceptional performance might involve cleaning up a common area such as sink or side bench, or pointing out a major safety concern.

Attentiveness
During pre-lab talks listen carefully for changes to a protocol, for the locations of supplies and equipment, for pointers as to use of equipment, and similar details. Conversing during a pre-lab talk, fiddling with equipment, working on an assignment, or sleeping are not recommended behavior. Above all, be awake and alert. Occasionally a student shows up in lab nearly catatonic. It is impossible to learn when you are fighting to stay awake. Get a good night's sleep.

Preparation
Know the objectives of the day's work and how you will achieve them. Knowing how you will achieve them involves reviewing the course web site as well as reading assigned scientific papers (both for background preparation and for the presentations).  Meet with your team to discuss the lab and divide up tasks.  Watch for opportunities to apply a skill that you have learned in a previous laboratory session. When the pre-lab work calls for calculations, have them ready to go when you arrive to lab. If you do have trouble with pre-lab planning or calculations, give yourself time to work it out before you get to lab.

Students are considered to be exceptionally well prepared, for example, when they respond to questions with informative answers, ask especially relevant questions, or are readily able to adjust to changes to a lab protocol or troubleshoot an experiment.

Responsibility and Teamwork
Responsible students work safely and are careful about discarding materials such as broken glass. Responsible people double check to make sure that they conduct procedures correctly and watch for signs that something is wrong. They report when stocks are getting low instead of simply taking the last of something. They keep common areas clean, sinks and fume hoods clear of debris, advise others of unsafe or wasteful practices or report such practices. On the other hand, irresponsible people might waste supplies or damage equipment, allow their lab partner to make the same mistake they just made, throw away the samples that they need the following week, forget to enter data for the team, or enter data incorrectly. 

Exceptionally responsible students focus on the overall goals of the teaching laboratory and not just their own work. People who can organize a group and keep the team on track are especially valuable.

Efficiency
Students who finish earlier than most while successfully completing their lab work are usually noted as being exceptionally efficient. Students who take an exceptionally long time usually do so because of some omission in a procedure, unfamiliarity with the protocol, inattention to a pre-lab talk, or in some cases simply being too meticulous.  In any case we will take the effectiveness of a team into account. One important way to be efficient is to divide responsibilities so that one team member is working on one part of a study while the others focus on other parts. Efficiency requires that you take notes as you go along. Once you complete your lab work, you should not take more than five minutes to make the last entry and write a brief summary.

It is especially inefficient to "trade" notes when your team has finished the lab work--and in fact, it's an honor code violation. Such practice suggests that you've missed the whole point of timely recordkeeping. You are all equally responsible for a complete laboratory record. If you simply copy your teammates' notes you miss the opportunity to ensure that the notes are complete and accurate. Communicating with each other during the lab session allows you to catch each other's mistakes and helps you keep up with the recordkeeping as you go along.


ADDITIONAL COMMENTS ABOUT LABORATORY PERFORMANCE: We expect students to follow explicit instructions and to recall and apply previous training to each experimental procedure.

****Come to lab prepared and learn to work effectively as a TEAM. Focus on learning and you should do fine.****


Copyright, Acknowledgements, and Intended Use
Created by B. Beason (bbeason@rice.edu), Rice University, 10 January 2008
Updated 22 November 2013