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Virtual Labs Teach Research Skills


September 16, 2020

PCOM research students smile in a Zoom gallery video virtual conference.In response to the transition to virtual learning, Marina D’Angelo, PhD, and her team created a virtual research laboratory experience for students.


In the spring of 2020, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM), like many other institutions across the country, transitioned to virtual learning. This transition was carried out to help slow the spread of COVID-19. In response to this quick transition, Marina D’Angelo, PhD, professor, Bio-Medical Sciences, Patrisia Mattioli, senior research assistant and their team worked diligently to construct a virtual research laboratory experience that would enable their work study students and volunteers to continue learning the skills they would need to work in research laboratories.

Over the course of 10 weeks students were assigned a series of webinars from institutions such as the Center for Disease Control (CDC). They were also assigned complimentary articles from medical journals and met virtually every week to review what they had learned. During this time students learned essential skills such as how to properly make ribonucleic acid (RNA), how to set up a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and the correct protocol for culturing primary cells.

“Our goal in developing these virtual labs was to prepare students for real-world application,” shared Dr. D’Angelo. “The webinars that the students watch cover techniques that they would learn in the labs. The articles they read and the discussion that follows ensures that the techniques are sinking in,” Dr. D’Angelo continued. “We have also given our work/study students a deliverable for their time. They can show what they’ve learned and how they plan to use it in the future. Additionally, we’ve found that these students have a deeper understanding of why we follow certain protocols.”

In total, this group consisted of 11 students from the Master's in Biomedical Sciences and Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine programs. This group will continue their virtual learning and research during the fall 2020 term. The students in this group have also had the opportunity to work alongside researchers and assist them with on-going manuscripts.

“Overall, the students in this group have shared that this was a very positive experience,” shared Dr. D’Angelo. Going forward, Dr. D’Angelo hopes to share what her team has learned with other colleges and universities. “Since there is a very limited literature available on this topic, my team and I are currently working on presenting this idea to medical journals nationwide, so that other institutions can implement a similar program.”

Learn more about research at PCOM.

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  • About Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine

    Founded in 1899, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine has trained thousands of highly competent, caring physicians, health practitioners and behavioral scientists who practice a “whole person” approach to care—treating people, not just symptoms. PCOM offers doctoral degrees in clinical psychology, osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, physical therapy and school psychology, and graduate degrees in biomedical sciences, forensic medicine, mental health counseling, organizational development and leadership, physician assistant studies, school psychology, and public health management and administration. Our students learn the importance of health promotion, research, education and service to the community. Through its community-based Healthcare Centers, PCOM provides care to medically underserved populations in inner city and rural locations. For more information, visit pcom.edu.

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