Learning in a team environment is a bonding experience. We share our failures and our successes, and in doing so, build a sense of camaraderie. Through team learning, we not only learn from the assigned task, but also from each other. My greatest experience of team learning at UAB is in my Phage Genomics class. The Phage class is unique because it is continued over two semesters with the same students and professor. The class is made up of sixteen honors students, fifteen of whom are freshmen; our fearless leader, Dr. Denise Monti; and her sidekick, our TA Katrina. For many of us, this is our first experience doing research in a lab, so there is a big learning curve. Dr. Monti is overwhelmingly intelligent and extremely no-nonsense, so instead of wasting her time, we ask each other questions and learn from our own mistakes. At the beginning of each class, we do lab meetings where Dr. Monti lectures for twenty-five minutes, and we sit in a silent stupor as her words fly at alarming rates over our heads. I always leave the lecture feeling helplessly clueless, but I am comforted as I look around the lab and see fifteen equally clueless looks on my teammates’ faces. We are in this together, and if we go down, we are going down together. This thought is more encouraging than it should be.

Dr. Monti has created a culture in the lab that is very collaborative and conducive to positive team learning. We do an activity called Journal Club, in which we analyze academic journal research relating to phage genomics. We work in groups different from our lab teams and try to decipher these articles that may as well have been written in Mandarin for all I can understand at face-value. However, because each of us has different skills and are taking different science courses, we are able to figure out these articles because each of us brings something unique to the table. We did another assignment where we were given the task of writing a mini grant proposal. The only requirements were that it needed to involve phage in some way and follow the correct outline and experimental protocol. In class, we were broken up into four groups and were each given a set of anonymous grant proposals that our peers had written. In the simulation, we were now on an executive council getting to decide which proposal was worthy of our funding. And boy were we tough. We marked up our proposals, picked them apart, and ranked them. At times when we disagreed with each other, we were able to work out a compromise through civil, and sometimes not so civil, dialogue (there may have been some raised voices). We then got together with the other groups to decide on a unanimous winner.

This was an invaluable exercise in team learning for many reasons. I worked with students that I had not worked with before, and in doing so, created new relationships that I had not previously had the opportunity to make. Through thoughtful discourse with my peers, I was able to come to new and improved conclusions about how an experiment should be set up and how to improve my proposal for the next time around. The assignment incited a friendly competition among us, which caused all of us to work a little harder. In the end, when I received my peer-reviewed proposal back, I was slightly embarrassed. I now have a new perspective, having analyzed what I liked in my classmates’ papers, and mistakes that I wanted to avoid. Next time, my proposal is going to be much improved, which I am sure is what Dr. Monti had intended for us to gain from this exercise all along.

As my classmates and I sit at our lab benches and conduct our experiments, we find solace in the fact that all of us are sharing this experience that unites us. It is not a cutthroat, overly-competitive environment as teams often tend to create, but it is an environment where we help each other, share our equipment, and sing along to Christmas music much earlier than socially acceptable. Looking back on what I have learned this semester, I realize that I am not as clueless as I had thought. I have learned a lot about phage and lab work, but most importantly, I have made fifteen new friends who I look forward to collaborating with in the months to come.