Twenty years ago, as a UAB faculty member, Dr. Kent Keyser approached the Dauphin Island Sea Lab with an idea.

"A friend of mine and I had experiences of a biological lab at Woods Hole when we were students, so, we decided to do something like that here," Dr. Keyser said.

For almost three weeks each summer, around a dozen graduate students travel to the Dauphin Island Sea Lab for an Introduction to Neurobiology course. Lectures, labs and individual projects give students a chance to learn about the fundamental basis of neuronal communication. Labs include isolating muscular nerves in crayfish to learn about action potentials and stimulating limulus optic nerves to learn about light sensitivity. Students also learn about patch clamping and voltage clamping techniques for studying the responses of individual neurons.

"Several years ago, we did a not very scientific study," Dr. Keyser shared. "And our data suggested that students who took this class before going into graduate school at UAB do better in their graduate classes the first year."

Keyser believes the students' success is linked to the students working and living together at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab.

"They have this cohort of students when they get to UAB that they can hang out with," Keyser explained.

This connection allows the students to enter graduate school with a grounding in the basics of neuroscience, learned vocabulary and concepts, as well as, a strong study group.

Another strong point for the class is that it's not just for neuroscience majors, and covers a variety of biological science fields thanks to a team of UAB faculty members. Dr. Christianne Strang, a veteran of the class and part of the UAB Department of Psychology, directed the classes 20th year with the help of:

  • Dr. Frank Amthor, Department of Psychology
  • Dr. Mark Bevensee, Dept. of Cell, Developmental and Integrative Biology
  • Dr. Robin Lester, Department of Neurobiology

"This is a very unique program that is rigorous and challenging, but in an atmosphere that promotes camaraderie among students and faculty, supportive learning, and fruitful discussions of science and becoming a scientist," Dr. Bevensee said.

Many of the students agree the class benefits their graduate studies and beyond.

"What I think with neuroscience, something that is really important, is understanding the many different resolutions that we're all studying and having some kind of common understanding and language to speak across the different types of studies that we all do," Sangeeta Nair, whose PhD studies will focus on autism, said.

But why the Dauphin Island Sea Lab?

"This course only works at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab where students and faculty are able to retreat from typical everyday life, and focus on both self and team-based learning in a beautiful marine environment," Dr. Bevensee explained.

Dr. Keyser and his team are grateful of the partnership with the Dauphin Island Sea Lab and look forward to the program's next 20 years.

"The Dauphin Island Sea Lab has bent over backwards to help us make this course work every year," Dr. Keyser stressed.