In the middle of December I have to demonstrate to 3rd Year Biophysics and Structural Biology students on differential centrifugation. Essentially you get a pig liver and spin it really fast until it separates into it’s components. Fun and games for all the family.
I generally approach these practicals with a mixture of trepidation that something is going to go wrong and we’ll look like idiots and a distinct feeling of impending boredom. As demonstrators, we’re seen as the all knowing founts of practical biological knowledge which couldn’t be further from the truth. We got together two weeks ago to go through the experiment we’ll be demonstrating and ended up getting it wrong! Things didn’t go completely tits up, but the results were “interesting”. We’re just hoping the students actually follow the protocol instead of our attitude of knowing better!
Last year I had a student come up and ask me about a section of the experiment. She was wondering why we didn’t include a certain control. The minute she asked I had that feeling of dread that we’d overlooked something. And we had, she was right but luckily it didn’t impact on the overall results. So we congratulated her on finding the problem, sort of intimated that we’d put it there to see if anyone was paying attention and recommended she included it in her report so we could include it in this years practical! All knowing experts we are not, so it’s always a little worrying going into these things.
Students also have the canny knack of always asking the one question you haven’t prepared for. But this year I get to ask back! I’ve been asked to submit an exam question for them to take next year. It’ll only be a small one, but by God it’ll make ’em work! Now whether to go for the old “Compare and contrast” approach or my personal favourite “Discuss with references”, I don’t know but this feeling of power can really go to your head!