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Bringing Science to Life: Biology Presentation

Grades 11 and 12 biology students at St. Michael’s College School (SMCS) recently had the unique opportunity to speak with and learn from a faculty member at Yale University.

In February 2023, Dr. Jennifer Coughlan, assistant professor in Yale University’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, met with students over Zoom for a special presentation and Q&A on the history of genetics, science in the media, gene ‘hunting’, diversity in STEM, and much more.

SMCS biology students attending a presentation with a Yale professor

“I wanted our Grades 11 and 12 biology students to have the opportunity to learn about what is currently happening in the fields of evolutionary genetics,” says Jacob Lang, science and biology teacher at SMCS. “Furthermore, given who Dr. Coughlan is and her story, I wanted students to get a sense of possible career pathways in the subject areas as well as the current state and importance of diversity in STEM in general. I also felt it was important for the students to have the chance to see and hear from someone who might not be the first person who comes to mind when you think, ‘Yale Professor’, even though it’s 2023.”

The content of Dr. Coughlan’s discussion will be included in a future evaluation for students in Grades 11 and 12, so they will be responsible for their understanding of the topics. Grade 12 students also had the chance to submit a reflection for additional marks as part of a course bonus attained by attending virtual or in-person lectures by the Royal Canadian Institute for Science.

SMCS student participating in Q&A with Yale professor

“One of Dr. Coughlan’s strengths as a presenter and teacher is her ability to speak in a way that reaches many, especially young people,” adds Lang. “That combined with her brunt and honest demeanour, with a clever sense of humour, can bring science to life. In what was a whirlwind of a talk about a brief history of evolutionary genetics, Dr. Coughlan undoubtedly struck a chord with the audience when she connected the learning to what is happening in the world today with plenty of real-world data sets and implications for everyday people.”

Dr. Coughlan holds a PhD in biology from Duke University where she also received her certificate in college teaching. In addition, she has a master of science from the University of Toronto and an honours bachelor of science from Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario.

Her research includes the evolution of genomic imprinting and strong reproductive isolation and the genomic basis of climate resiliency. She has been published in several peer-reviewed journals and has received numerous grants and awards for her work, including the American Genetics Association Special Events Award and the Harold Sanford Perry Prize for Best Thesis in Plant Sciences.

SMCS biology students attending a presentation with a Yale professor

“This talk is hopefully just the very latest in terms of helping our students to develop the inspiration to truly change the world through faith, character, and service,” says Lang.

“Discovering the various ways in which what students are learning in Grade 11 and 12 biology are being applied to the real-world in the fields of evolutionary genetics will hopefully provide some ideas for students considering career opportunities in those disciplines.”

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Academics at SMCS

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