Research Practicum is a non-classroom required course that provides research experience for students. In the course, students will implement the main components of a research project: understanding the problem at hand, reading and summarizing existing literature on the subject, organizing datasets, building a model (designing an experiment, devising a computational technique, etc.), programming the necessary algorithms to test hypotheses, reaching a conclusion, and formulating the answer in the context of the original problem.
The Practicum is completed over two semesters and consists of two 1-credit courses, BIST 7940 and BIST 7941, offered in the Spring and the Fall. Each course is graded separately and is completed under the supervision of a Department of Biostatistics, Bioinformatics, and Biomathematics (DBBB) faculty mentor or an outside faculty member (in which case a DBBB faculty co-mentor is assigned to oversee that the requirements for successful completion are satisfied).
What are the Goals of the Research Practicum?
The practicum will provide students with an opportunity to implement a combination of the skills they have acquired and to extend them in a limited context. Through the practicum, students will implement the knowledge and methodologies acquired during the formal academic process, gain practical experience and new techniques, improve their communication skills (both written and oral) and develop their capability to work as a team member.
In a few cases, the work completed in the Practicum, in the context of a bigger study, may result in a publication in a peer-reviewed journal.
How does the Practicum Fit Among Other Courses?
The Practicum runs concurrently with major courses. As students go through their courses, they update their background. However, the major work is supposed to be done over the summer, after the major courses are completed. Students are expected to be fairly converse in techniques. Many analyses require building a model, and having completed courses such as Categorical Data Analysis, Multivariate Analysis and Linear Models, and Survival Analysis should equip students sufficiently.
What are the Advantages of the Practicum for Employment?
One of the most important parts of the Practicum is to expose students to techniques that are not normally covered in the regular curriculum. This is crucial, as techniques covered are fairly standard, but upon graduation and subsequent employment, students may be required to perform tasks outside their “comfort zone.” Having learned new techniques helps them learn how to approach non-standard problems in creative ways; they learn how to learn.
The composition and requirements of the Practicum result in preparation of Master’s biostatisticians that are capable of working on various projects. Not only does the research experience complement the regular course work, but also it enriches the quantitative world view of our students.
What Projects were Presented at a Recent Practicum Defense?
Practicum projects may be of a methodological or an applied nature. There was a diverse range of research topics and projects presented by our recent MS graduates at the 2016-2017 Practicum Defense.