Involving undergraduates in genomics research to narrow the education-research gap

Serghei Mangul and Lana Martin, together with Eleazar Eskin, recently wrote a paper describing a model for training undergraduates in Bioinformatics. Our paper is available online as a preprint and is under review at a peer-reviewed journal.

The Education-Research Gap in Universities.

While the benefits of undergraduate research experiences (UREs) are recognized for undergraduates, the advantages of UREs for graduate students, post-doctoral scholars, and faculty are not clearly outlined.

Based on our experience mentoring undergraduates in ZarLab, we believe that the analysis of genomic data is particularly well-suited for successful involvement of undergraduates. In computational genomics research, undergraduate trainees who master a particular skill can contribute sufficient work to gain authorship on a peer-reviewed paper.

In our paper, we offer a framework for engaging undergraduates in genomics research while simultaneously improving lab productivity: first, identify particular “low-level” tasks that may take up to a week for an undergraduate to complete. Second, encourage students to “outsource” foundational education needs with workshops, online resources, and review articles. Third, genomics research labs can take advantage of department- and campus-wide undergraduate research and training initiatives.

The proposed strategy can be easily reproduced at other institutions, is pedagogically flexible, and is scalable from smaller to larger laboratory sizes. We hope that genomics researchers will involve undergraduates in more computational tasks that benefit both students and senior laboratory members.

Preprint copies of our manuscript are available for download here:

In tandem with this paper, we created an online catalogue of resources and papers aimed at bridging the research-teaching divide in computational genomics:

The full citation of our paper:
Mangul, S., Martin, L. and Eskin, E., 2017. Involving undergraduates in genomics research to narrow the education-research gap. PeerJ Preprints, 5, p.e3149v1.


Benefits of UREs to Research Lab and Undergraduates.

Addressing the Digital Divide in Contemporary Biology: Lessons from Teaching UNIX

Serghei Mangul and Lana Martin, together with Alexander Hoffmann, Matteo Pellegrini, and Eleazar Eskin, recently published a paper describing a workshop model for training scientists, who have no computer science background, to use UNIX. Our paper is available online as a preprint and will appear in an upcoming “Scientific Life” section of Trends in Biotechnology.

Scientists who are not trained in computer science face an enormous challenge analyzing high-throughput data. Serghei developed a series of workshops in response to growing demand for life and medical science researchers to analyze their own data using the command line.

Administered by UCLA’s Institute for Quantitative and Computational Biosciences (QCBio), these workshops are designed to help life and medical science researchers use applications that lack a graphical interface. Our paper presents a training model for these workshops—a flexible approach that can be implemented at any institution to teach use of command-line tools when the learner has little to no prior knowledge of UNIX.

QCBio currently offers similar workshops to the UCLA community. In tandem with this publication, we created an online catalogue of resources and papers aimed to provide first-time learners with basic knowledge of command line:

We encourage fellow instructors of Bioinformatics, as well as scientists who are new learners of the command line, to read our paper and share their thoughts! Email us at: lana [dot] martin [at] ucla [dot] edu.


The full citation of our paper:
Mangul, Serghei, Martin, Lana S., Hoffmann, Alexander, Pellegrini, Matteo, and Eskin, Eleazar. Addressing the Digital Divide in Contemporary Biology: Lessons from Teaching UNIX. Trends in Biotechnology; doi: 10.1016/j.tibtech.2017.06.007.

Advance preprint copies of our paper may be downloaded here:

First Annual Bioinformatics Minor End-of-Year Celebration

On Wednesday, June 7, faculty, staff, and undergraduates began a new tradition for the UCLA Bioinformatics Minor Program. Prof. Eleazar Eskin, chair of the Minor Program, hosted the first annual Bioinformatics Minor End-of-Year Celebration to recognize and celebrate undergraduates who completed the requirements for the Minor.

This year’s celebration took place in the Hacienda Room at the Faculty Center. In attendance were faculty and staff from the Schools of Medicine, Engineering, and Life Sciences, and from the Office of Academic and Student Affairs. The reception kicked off with a poster session presenting research completed during the Minor program. As a founding faculty member of the Minor, Prof. Eskin shared a few remarks on the small-scale origins—and upward-scaling trajectory—of the Minor Program. Since 2012, the Minor has succeeded at providing non-computational students with a solid foundation in, and familiarity with, active research problems at the interface of computer science, biology, and mathematics.

Greg Darnell, a UCLA alumnus who completed the Bioinformatics Minor in 2013 and is now a PhD student in Bioinformatics at Princeton, delivered a keynote speech. Mr. Darnell emphasized the extent to which the field of Bioinformatics has changed since he began coursework and research as an undergraduate at UCLA in the early 2010s. Recent “big data” explosions in the Biosciences have created exciting challenges and opportunities for emerging scholars—such as the graduates honored at this reception.

Twenty students were awarded certificates of recognition for their intellectual curiosity, creativity and dedication to interdisciplinary studies. These students join a unique and exemplary group of Bioinformatics Minor graduates who have made their mark in one of UCLA’s most challenging and unique academic programs, spanning Engineering, Biology, and Medicine.

In addition, Prof. Eskin presented three cash research awards to students, Brandon Jew, Ruth Johnson, and Michael Thompson, who demonstrated exceptional talent in their Bioinformatics research projects. Faculty and staff associated with the UCLA Bioinformatics Minor Program are excited to continue this new tradition, including the awarding of certificates and research awards, in future Spring quarters.

Congratulations to the 2016-17 graduates and graduating seniors in the Bioinformatics Minor! In addition to this year’s graduates, a certificate of recognition was also presented to past graduates Leah Briscoe (‘16), Alec Chiu (’16), and Greg Darnell (‘13). Go Bruins!

2016-17 Bioinformatics Minor Graduates:
Ariane Ayer
Andrea Castro
Elizabeth Chin
Qing Dai
Crystal Han
Brandon Jew
Ruth Johnson
Maegan Lu
Anastasia Lukianchikov
Cristian Medina
Douglas Meyer
Sepideh Parhami
Xingyi Shi
Christian Garrison St Pierre
Michael Thompson
Neerja Vashist
Linqing Wei
Anthony Bohr Zhu

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See other blog posts on undergraduate training at UCLA: