Biochem Blogs

Biochemistry blog, science writing

A few words about classroom etiquette




I’ve noticed over the past few years as electronic devices become more prevalent in our society, that students are now bringing the devices to the classroom, particularly laptop computers and smart phones. Most times these devices are welcomed into the class as professors incorporate online materials into the traditional classroom lecture. The devices are viewed as great tools to assist the instructor as well as the student, through downloading online lecture notes, videos, problem sets and the like. The electronic devices are also filled with many apps that do not pertain to the current topic taught in the classroom, however, so in addition to their use in the learning environment the devices may also present distractions to the student, and student behavior while using electronic devices can be distracting to the instructor and to other students. As we start a new year at the University, it seems appropriate to mention expectations and etiquette for electronic devices and student behavior in the classroom.

1. Students who attend lecture should be prepared to focus on the material presented by the instructor. Many students don’t know that faculty spend countless hours outside the classroom discussing curriculum, teaching methods, and student performance. We take your education very seriously, and we expect that you will too.

2. Cell phones should be turned off during lectures. Unless your instructor has a specific use for smart phones in the classroom, I can think of no reason why a student should have a cell phone in the class. I’ve observed students texting, checking email, visiting social media sites, watching videos, and listening to music during lectures. If you are doing these things with your smart phone, then you are not focusing on the professor. It is also very distracting to the professor to observe that students are more interested in looking/listening/responding to whatever is on their phone than they are in the class discussion. In my own class, I’ve observed students receive phone calls during class, and rather than turn off the phone, the student answered the call while exiting the lecture hall. In case you are unaware, these behaviors are rude. They distract the entire class from focusing on the lecture. Turn off your phone before entering the classroom.

3. Attend class. In my experience at NC State University, students who regularly skip class do not do well in their courses.  There are approximately 35 hours of lecture time scheduled during a semester for a three credit lecture course. Two to three of those hours will be dedicated to examinations, so students can expect ~32-33 hours of lectures by an instructor. At our current tuition rate of ~$700 for a three credit course, the student pays approximately $22 for each hour of lecture ($700/32hours), not including extra fees added to tuition payments by the university. In addition, NC State University is a state institution, so the citizens of North Carolina subsidize college education through their tax dollars. One should note that the tuition is paid before the start of the semester, so one assumes that students will attend ALL classes since they are paid up front. If you think that you can skip many of your classes, learn the material on your own, AND have a successful career at university, then you are mistaken. If you are the type of student who can skip class, only take the exams, and make an A in the class, then you are very, very rare. But, guess what? You are being rude by not attending class. Some day you will need recommendation letters for your future endeavors, and then you will learn that the boorish behavior has consequences.

4. Be on time for class and plan to stay until the lecture ends. Whether the class is held in a large lecture hall or in a small conference room, students who come to class late, or who leave class early, are distracting to the instructor and to other students. If you are unaware, perpetual tardiness and exiting class during a lecture is rude. If you can’t be on time to class or if you have to leave class early, then you should discuss the situation with your professor before the class. Don’t be surprised if your professor locks the door a few minutes after class starts to prevent late arrivals.

5. Laptop computers. Some instructors require students to use laptops during class, while some instructors prohibit the use of all electronic devices. A few instructors use a middle ground where they tolerate laptop computers in the classroom. If you use a laptop computer in the classroom, then you should use it only for materials pertinent to the course. Students are tempted to engage in social media while in class. Although this behavior on a laptop computer is less disruptive than similar behavior on a smart phone, the student can not focus on the course material while simultaneously engaging in other topics online. In my opinion, there is little difference between students who regularly skip class and students who spend most of their lecture time participating in other online activities.

As noted above, faculty spend many hours developing curricula because we want students to be successful in their endeavors upon graduating. This is our job. We take your education very seriously, and we expect you to as well. If you don’t want to be here, then don’t be here. You were accepted to the university while other students were not, and one can assume that they want to be here but don’t have the chance. Faculty assume that you are here because you want to be here. If this is true, then attend lectures and be present and open to learning. Engage in discussions with faculty and fellow students, ask questions during class, attend office hours, and learn the material.

As I explain to my students, some of whom also work outside jobs while attending university, if I were to visit their place of employment and act rude to them or their fellow employees, then I would expect them to say something to me about my behavior. If you behave in class as I’ve described here, then don’t be surprised if your instructor says something to you about your behavior.

Most Bizarre Advising Session Ever

Chuck Hardin

Chuck HardinI'm on ScienceSeeker-Microscope

On the bench of the 5th Hole at Cedar Rock Disc Golf Course During the 2013 U.S. Masters Disc Golf Championships

For fun relaxation, exercise and competition, I play disc golf. I do it a lot – it keeps me mobile and connected to nature. It’s good to come up on a snake every once in a while and know what to do. I get poison ivy a couple of times a year – it’s an occupational hazard!

My 70-year-old friend Ken also loves the game. I’m perfectly happy to wake up at 5 am, drive halfway across the state to meet up with him then go play at some astonishingly beautiful location. Many stories, I’ll defer.

I’ve been to several U.S. or World championship tournaments. For example, last spring we went to the U.S Masters Disc Golf Tournament in Burlington, NC. At 9 am, on a stunningly gorgeous Saturday morning, we placed ourselves behind the Men (the world champs, over 40) and in front of the Women (same). At each hole, we could watch the men throw monster drives and 50-foot chain-shakers! A plus was that Ken Climo, the Tiger Woods of disc golf, was in the lead pack.

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Introducing WolfPub – A publication management system for webpage development

WolfPubWe are pleased to announce the launch of WolfPub, an easy and secure way to manage your publications. WolfPub is a web-based system that allows you to maintain and store your publications, then WolfPub uses the database to format and post your publications to your webpage. As a faculty member, you can create an account and then start adding your new publications in a simple and secure way. You will no longer be required to open your webpages and edit them manually whenever you have a new publication in press. Just add the manuscript to the list of publications in your WolfPub account, and the WolfPub widget will take care of the rest.

WolfPub works with PubMed and it’s own database to manage your publications. On your webpage, it formats and displays your manuscripts that are “published” as well as manuscripts that are “in press,” if any. Users are only required to add publications that are in press in their WolfPub account. WolfPub automatically retrieves your “published” manuscripts from PubMed. WolfPub also updates the database when the in press manuscript lists on PubMed. During this process, if a publication added into the WolfPub database as “in press” has been listed on PubMed, your publication will be marked as “published.” The information displayed on your webpage will then be changed accordingly to reflect the journal volume and page numbers. Because of this feature, you are no longer required to keep watching your publications for a change in status.

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NCSU Biochemistry graduates stellar students

May Graduation 2013

May Graduation 2013

In the May 2013 graduation ceremony, the department conferred BS Biochemistry degrees to 56 students and PhD Biochemistry to 5 students.

Previous graduating classes were approximately 40:60 men:women; the current class is just about even at 52:48 [same as the ratio for December 2012 graduation!]. There was good diversity of the students who specified their ethnicity: 43% – non Caucasian with 20% Asian, 2% Hispanic, 11% Afro-American, 4% American Indian and 5% mixed.

The undergraduate students were quite accomplished, with an average GPA of 3.35.

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Matrone lecture by Dr. Robert Lefkowitz

Robert Lefkowitz


Dr. Robert Lefkowitz presented the 2013 Matrone Lecture in Biochemistry at NC State University on April 18.

The Department of Molecular and Structural Biochemistry, Biochem Blogs and NC State University present the Matrone Lecture by Dr. Robert Lefkowitz: click here to watch the 2013 Matrone Lecture.



The department held a reception prior to the presentation, and a slideshow of the reception is shown below.


Central Dogma: The Movie

Cindy Hemenway

Cindy Hemenway

It all started in 2004 when I was trying to explain the trombone model for DNA replication to students in BCH453/553 (Biochemistry of Gene Expression). The conversation went like this…

Student X:  Dr. Hemenway, it is really hard to visualize how that looping process works.

Dr. Hemenway: Yes, it would be nice if we could build a working model to understand it better.

Student Y: Can we do that for extra credit?

Dr. Hemenway: Great idea!

The rest is history.  After years of students asking if I had examples for them to see, I finally gave in and filmed them in action.  Although I was hesitant to do this because it might hinder the creative process, the reality was that I was finding it hard to get enough notes taken down on my grading sheet during their presentations.  And, there were so many memorable projects!

So, please enjoy the links below of the spring, 2012 BCH453/553 students modeling prokaryotic DNA replication forks, eukaryotic transcription and prokaryotic translation.


New Course Offered: ‘Physical Chemistry for Life Scientists’

Chuck Hardin

Chuck Hardin

Have you seen the bumper sticker “Honk if you passed P-Chem”? I recently finished teaching the first semester of a new course offering designed to make P-Chem “come alive” for our students.

It seems obvious to me that every dry, hyper-theoretical lesson one encounters in the standard P-Chem course deserves to be refocused to highlight how it bears on biochemistry. Not only does it reveal how the biochemistry works, it also provides a much more interesting and example-driven way to actually hook into the concepts. For example, we learned about diffusion theory by covering the limitations placed on the use of pheromones by the size of an organism and the rates of diffusion of both the pheromone and the organism. In another, we used the Boltzmann distribution to understand how voltage-gated ion-channels work. In a third, we looked at the use of lattice models and the canonical ensemble to understand how the search process that leads to protein folding works.

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Hardin and Knopp Publish New Textbook: ‘Biochemistry – Essential Concepts’

Chuck Hardin

Chuck Hardin

Editor’s Note: Drs. Chuck Hardin and Jim Knopp recently published a new textbook/workbook with Oxford University Press (2012, ISBN 97 80199 765621, website: Chuck described the process of publishing a book to Biochem Blogs.

So we wanted to publish a book? We had no idea what we were getting into. It turned out that developing, contracting and completing a textbook required way more than just writing the words. When viewed in the rearview mirror, it was more like pursuing and completing a research project.

Oxford really puts their authors through the ringer. For example, the book is full of illustrations. In fact, completing the composition process involved extracting 843 figures from the manuscript, documenting them, then sending them to the composition editor, who inserted all 843 figures into the officially composed print version. Whew!

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Visiting Poznan as a Fulbright Senior Specialist Fellow

Hanna Gracz

Hanna GraczI'm on ScienceSeeker-Microscope

The Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry Polish Academy of Sciences (IBCH PAS) was established almost 25 years ago, but its origins date back to 1969 when the Department of Stereochemistry of Natural Products was brought into being at the Institute of Organic Chemistry PAS. In 1980, the Department of Stereochemistry of Natural Products was transformed into an independent entity – Department of Bioorganic Chemistry PAS. In 1988, the latter was finally converted into the Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry Polish Academy of Sciences. Today, together with the affiliated Poznan Supercomputing and Networking Center, the IBCH PAS has more than 460 staff members, including 80 research scientists (33 Professors). In addition, about 80 Ph.D. students are currently involved in the research projects conducted at IBCH PAS.

gracz1gracz2The scientific portfolio of the Institute has many dimensions: synthesis and structure of natural products, in particular nucleic acids and their components; biochemistry, molecular and structural biology of model biological systems, genetic engineering, genomics and bioinformatics. IBCH PAS is authorized to confer the degree of doctor and habilitated doctor in chemistry and biochemistry.

The Institute is organized into 12 research departments and 10 research groups. Within the structure of the Institute, there are also other crucial units associated: the PAS Poznan Science Center, Scientific Publishers, Guest Rooms ( I like this place), and Library. In the latest years, the Institute in collaboration with the Poznan University of Technology have created a European Center for Bioinformatics and Genomics, a unique unit in Poland.

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A Happy Glucose Holiday Season

Clay Clark

Clay Clark – @biochemprof I'm on ScienceSeeker-Microscope


If you don’t believe in pathways, you might want to listen. Each year in his biochemistry class, Dr. Jim Knopp sings “the glucose song.” This year, he had special visitors from Ladies in Red, an all-female a cappella group associated with the Music Department at NCSU.

To kick off the holiday season, please enjoy The Glucose Song, as sung by Ladies in Red.

To see the lyrics:

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