Scientific Leadership Course

All RNA Innovation trainees complete a course in Scientific Leadership. This course will provide trainees with a well-rounded and current understanding of scientific ethics, issues regarding gender and minority representation, and professional communication. Experts in these fields will be brought in to facilitate learning and lead discussions. Students are expected to be involved in the selection of appropriate literature, preparation of presentations and written reports, and discussion of papers. Additionally, as part of the course, students will prepare their thesis project proposal. 

Our fall 2020 course was instructed by Dr. Ute Kothe, University of Lethbridge.

Course Structure

gender and minority representation

• Students will explore and assess the challenges faced by minorities and women pursuing science
• Current understanding of implicit bias, consequences of the imbalanced representations for
society and for the economy
• Methods to support appropriate gender and minority representation
• Work-life balance issues

Integrity & Ethics

• Conflicting ethical and/or professional obligations (e.g. whistle blowing)

• Scientific fraud and how to make better ethical decisions

• “Gain-of-function” research and its ethical assessment

• Ethical dimensions of potential therapies

Professional Communication

• Written communication: emails, formal reports, reference letters, blogs, scientific publications and newspaper articles
• Communicating with diverse audiences, networking, communication with
supervisors and senior administrators, and the public.
• Preparing letters, newspaper articles, and presentations to children and youth.

What do former students have to say about the course?

January 2021 – The practical applications of RNA research and innovation has never been more prominent than in 2020 with the development of the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA-based Covid-19 vaccines. The joint RNA Innovation program at the University of Lethbridge and Université de Sherbrooke aims to create scientific leaders in RNA research. This unique NSERC CREATE program enables trainees to gain relevant industry experience through industry-driven R&D challenges and internship placements. In addition, trainees participate in the RNA Innovation Scientific Leadership course (BCHM5850/7850). Developed by the U of L Board of Governors’ Teaching Chair, Dr. Ute Kothe, this exclusive course brought together students from around the world.

“During the Fall 2020 semester, we had students participating from Lethbridge and Sherbrooke, as well as India and Egypt,” explained Dr. Kothe. “We knew this course was going to have students spanning across Canada due to the unique nature of the RNA Innovation program. But due to the pandemic, we had students stuck outside of Canada still able to actively participate.”

Throughout the course, trainees received comprehensive training in leadership skills including scientific ethics and integrity, equity, diversity, and inclusion as well as professional communication.

“This course is a great supplement to any graduate student education,” says Emily Wilton, a first year U of L PhD student.

A wide variety of guest speakers were brought in to offer their unique perspective on scientific leadership, including Dr. Sarah Viehbeck, Associate Vice-President, Research Programs – Strategy at CIHR. In her talk, she discussed issues involving equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) at granting agencies and what these agencies are doing to address unconscious bias.

“It was shocking and surprised me (…) to know about the type of bias that exists,” expressed Bimaldeep Singh, a U of L MSc student currently still in India. “(Understanding) the presence of bias in ourselves, knowingly or unknowingly, helped me clear up my mind towards implicit bias.”

Collaborating with Dr. Michael Stingl and his graduate students, Michaela Thompson & Jodi Newman, from the U of L Department of Philosophy, RNA Innovation trainees discussed the ethics and integrity needed to make tough decisions.

“Being ethical should be the most dominant trait not only as a scientist but as a human,” says Riya Roy, U of L MSc student. “I was introduced to a totally unknown philosophical world. The simplified presentation, along with our comprehensive discussions gave a new dimension to my current thought process.”

Teamwork and collaboration were strong themes throughout the course and gave students an opportunity to gain different perspectives. Most projects were completed in groups, and frequently the students grappled with controversial topics in debates.

“The most effective portion of this class was the collaborative aspect of the group meetings,” said Daniel Rocca, a first year MSc student at U of L. “The benefit to the class was that overall, it prepared me for my transition to being a grad student. Moving into grad studies felt like there were more expectations on me despite not being any more prepared for them. This class has given me practice in basic professional skills that will help me succeed.”

Dr. HJ Wieden, Director of RNA Innovation explains “the RNA Innovation Scientific Leadership course is helping to prepare the next generation for the complicated world of work. We are teaching them not only cutting-edge RNA research but how to be critical and inclusive leaders in their field.”

Learn More About Dr. Ute Kothe

Sharing A Passion for Science

Why Dr. Kothe Chose Science

Why RNA Matters, with Dr. Kothe