So, you’ve chosen to enroll in the PLTW Biomedical Sciences program at your school. Congratulations! Or maybe you are trying to decide. Take it from me, you can’t go wrong if you do enroll. I have been a college educator for many years, and our institution enrolls a number of former PLTW students. Even those who don’t choose a major in the science disciplines are highly successful and better prepared for college than most of their peers. Here are the top seven skills you’ll develop in the PLTW Biomedical Science program, in order of importance (at least in my opinion) –
7. Technical Skills – The techniques you are learning and the equipment you are using are the same things you will do and use in any science laboratory at the college level and, in fact, in the professional scientific world if you should decide to pursue a career in biotechnology or research. Believe it or not, the majority of high school laboratories aren’t using this kind of equipment and students aren’t learning these techniques. You will be starting with a leg up on many of your college classmates.
6. Scientific Knowledge – You already know you are learning a lot of science in the PLTW Biomedical Sciences program. Trust me, it will come in handy. Much of what you are learning will be covered in your introductory science courses in college, which will make those classes a lot less stressful. But it’s not only the topics you are learning that are important. You are learning to apply the concepts to practical problems. Many research studies have shown that people remember information and learn better when they are applying their knowledge and actively solving problems. This is absolutely true! Because you are taking PLTW courses, you will have a much stronger foundation in scientific knowledge (that you will remember) on which to build as you enter your college science classes, particularly in biology or biochemistry.
5. Presentation Skills – You are probably tired of all of the presentations you have to do, particularly if you don’t consider yourself much of a public speaker. You better get used to it, though, because I guarantee you will be doing presentation after presentation once you get into college – not just in your classes, but also with whatever groups you may decide to join on campus, within your department, and in many other places. There will be presentations to small groups and large groups, formal and informal, anything you can imagine. And just wait until you get into the professional world…
Public speaking is not necessarily a natural ability. Even those of us who seem very comfortable in front of an audience still get nervous. You know what our secret is? A LOT of practice. That is exactly what you are getting in your PLTW courses and it will serve you well not just academically but in life.
4. Writing Skills – You say you don’t like to write and that’s why you want to be a science major? Well, I hate to disappoint, but writing and communication in general is a crucial part of any scientific career. If you’re doing some groundbreaking research, you want to be able to communicate it with your professional peers. You will also want to be able to communicate with the public and non-scientific groups who might be in a position to support your work. If you are in a medical field, you need to be able to write reports and charts for your colleagues and communicate in many different ways with your patients. Perhaps you even will need to write up cases for research purposes and publication. The point is that you can’t be a good scientist if you aren’t able to communicate your findings in various formats to people who will have very different levels of scientific knowledge.
In the PLTW Biomedical Sciences program you are writing in the format we ask our college-level science students to write – both in your laboratory notebooks and in your laboratory reports. You also gain a lot of experience in communicating scientific topics in popular formats for lay audiences. Again, you will be much better prepared to enter your college science classes and complete the writing assignments that seem to take many science students by surprise AND you are laying a strong foundation for your professional life, which I guarantee will require a lot of writing and communication.
3. Teamwork skills – No one ever does anything completely on his or her own. There is a misconception that a career in science means toiling away by yourself inside a dark basement lab. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Science relies on collaboration to be advanced. If we didn’t work together, present our work and get feedback, there would be no meaningful advances in medicine, human health, engineering, biotechnology, environmental science, or any other field. It definitely “takes a village” as they say, and this applies in all areas of science – research, medicine, engineering, allied health, forensics, etc. And you won’t always be able to choose your team.
The skills you are learning in your PLTW courses – respect for all team members, determining and leveraging individual team members’ strengths, delegating work, managing conflict, meeting deadlines – these are all incredibly important in college and beyond. Basically, you are learning to work and play well with others – a lesson that is important in all areas of life.
2. Research Skills – I bet all of the research you do in your PLTW courses is not really your favorite part of the class. Understandably, most students’ favorite part of the PLTW courses are the hands-on labs, particularly the dissections. And while all of that seems much more exciting, I can assure you that the research is crucial. It may not seem like it’s very hard or important, but you are learning and practicing skills that will enable you to find the answer to any question you may have. You are learning how to distinguish reliable from unreliable sources. If you’ve ever typed a phrase into Google and gotten thousands of results, most of which are not relevant, you know the ability to effectively search for specific information and quickly evaluate whether a source is relevant or reliable is an extremely valuable skill. Your college professors will thank you when you don’t use WebMD or Wikipedia as a source in your papers!
1. Self-sufficiency – In my opinion, this is the most important thing you are learning and practicing in your PLTW courses. Even though your PLTW teacher is probably one of the best teachers you’ve ever had and he or she is incredibly supportive and always available for questions, you are ultimately responsible for your learning in your PLTW courses. Think about it, how often does your teacher lecture or just give an answer to a question? Most likely, he or she answers your questions with another question which forces you to think about what you know, maybe do some more research, and then apply your knowledge to finding a solution to your problem. You are expected to keep up with the work and meet deadlines and you have to hold up your end of many group projects and presentations.
This is exactly what will happen in college and beyond. No one will hold your hand and constantly remind you of deadlines or give you extensions. You need to take ownership of your learning, determine what you need to do and when it needs to be done, and recognize when you might need some help and take the initiative to seek it out. It’s not that faculty in college aren’t willing to help you learn. They most definitely are. But you need to actively engage and take responsibility for your learning. This is something I see many students struggle with, particularly the high-flying students who are used to knowing everything and succeeding with minimal effort. These students often don’t know what to do when they encounter difficulty for the first time. The structure of the PLTW courses encourages and even forces you to take responsibility and initiative in ensuring your learning. In many ways, it is building the confidence you need to strike off on your own and start the next phase of your journey. The confidence and self-sufficiency you are gaining through your participation in PLTW cannot be underestimated and will serve you well for the rest of your life.
You may find it surprising that a college professor and dean thinks that the technical skills and scientific knowledge you are learning in your PLTW courses are the least important things you will gain from this program, especially if you are considering pursuing a science major in college. However, what we know and are able to do in science changes constantly and it isn’t possible to know it all. You can look up things you don’t know and learn new techniques as they develop. Though the knowledge and technical skills are important to your future success, the other skills you are learning and practicing will stay with you throughout your professional and even personal life. You are laying the groundwork for tremendous success!