Issue: Engaging Microbiology

17 May 2022 article


Hello and welcome to the May 2022 issue of Microbiology Today! The theme for this issue is ‘Engaging Microbiology’ and focuses on two areas – how we engage with the general public in microbiology outreach, and how we engage with our students when teaching microbiology.

As with most things over the past two years, we have all faced significant challenges in the successful delivery of outreach and/or teaching. Yet for many of us (myself included!), education and outreach are some of the most fulfilling and enjoyable aspects of our careers. In this issue, we explore some of the challenges we continue to face in higher education and hear some perspectives on the delivery of engaging outreach.

Our issue begins with a look at the evolution of learning environments and the accessibility of information in higher education. Chloe James explores the increasing use of online and digital content, which has only accelerated as a consequence of the pandemic. Chloe discusses the challenge of navigating our students through the sometimes-overwhelming volume of information and how extended reality (XR) technologies can help us to achieve this, with some wonderful examples of her own XR resources.

Next, Andrew Kirby, Jane Freeman and Alison Ledger describe the challenges faced in teaching microbiology to medical students. Despite comprehensive coverage of microbiology topics during medical education, embedding this content in a way that leads to effective recall during clinical practice remains an issue. To combat this, Kirby, Freeman and Ledger describe the development of ‘GermBugs’, an alternative learning strategy reliant on character-based storytelling to improve recall and student engagement.

An area of significant concern in higher education is the presence of awarding gaps between different demographic groups. James McEvoy, a member of the HUBS Bioscience Awarding Gap Network, shows that black students and individuals from certain ethnic groups tend to be awarded worse degrees than white students and makes a case in his article for developing inclusive curricula and moving towards more active learning approaches as a way of closing this gap.

Moving away from higher education, we have our first article on microbiology outreach from Linda Oyama. Linda describes her personal experiences of science outreach as a child before explaining how her work as a Society Champion allowed her to gain experience in developing her own outreach activities. Linda goes on to describe the importance of introducing children to microbiology at a young age and her passion for delivering microbiology outreach at primary schools. Indeed, it is inspiring to see that Linda has delivered outreach activities at 34 schools this academic year alone!

Continuing on the topic of outreach, we hear from microbiologists and science artists Lizah van der Aart and Eliza Wolfson about the power of art in communicating science by ‘showing’ instead of ‘telling’, and how science art can deliver memorable stories which embed scientific concepts in audiences. Indeed, in their article, Eliza and Lizah show you science art in action with a comic drawn specifically for Microbiology Today!

In our last article, Victorien Dougnon, another Society Champion, provides a fascinating perspective on his career as a microbiology academic working in Benin. Victorien describes the work he and others have carried out to overcome two specific challenges – that of delivering undergraduate and postgraduate training in microbiology, and developing the infrastructure for carrying out microbiology research in a lower-middle-income country.

We conclude the May issue with a Comment article from Mel Lacey. Titled ‘Changing with the changes’, Mel looks back over the COVID-19 pandemic and reflects on its impact on students and educators alike. As a teaching-focused academic, a lot of Mel’s comments resonate with me very strongly. Indeed, despite the pandemic fatigue from which we are all suffering, it is an exciting time to be involved in higher education as we see the innovations developed during the pandemic become a part of the ‘new normal’ of our teaching practice.


Chris Randall


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Image: iStock/newannyart.