Lab instructor Ginny Quinan has a deep interest in enriching her students’ academic experiences with hands-on-learning. At the moment, Quinan is the only neuroscience instructor to teach every single neuroscience major, because she teaches a 200-level lab that is required of all neuroscience majors.
Before arriving at Wellesley in 1982, Quinan studied biology at Regis College and Harvard University. This choice of study gave her a solid foundation that she built upon after she came to Wellesley.
“My path to neuroscience was a bit unorthodox in that in my time at Wellesley, I’ve worked in three different capacities. My journey here started when I worked in the animal facility, and I worked with animal models, which were used as both research and teaching models,” Quinan said.
When the neuroscience program branched off from the biology department in 2007, Quinan moved to develop the neuroscience program with her expertise.
“The neuroscience program uses lots of animal models, so it seemed like a seamless move for me, and it was. When I moved to the neuroscience program, I actually began as a lab specialist. So my job was to set up labs, to develop lab modules [and] to incorporate models into lab. In 2011, I became a lab instructor, and that’s where I stand now,” she said.
Since her undergraduate studies, Quinan has always been interested in hands-on learning because she feels it is the best way to impart knowledge.
“In the lab, hands-on learning is naturally what you need to do. You learn with your hands. You learn techniques. You can read information again and again, but I think learning happens with your hands. When you have to share the knowledge you learned in lecture with someone in lab, it solidifies the knowledge for you,” she said.
Quinan’s favorite models to work with for learning neuroanatomy are sheep brains and mutant mice models.
“The sheep brain is a really great model for learning neuroanatomy. You can really learn the structures and how they fit as three dimensional structures in the brain. It is one of the most exciting things for the students who do their NEUR100 practicum,” she said. “Students also have a journey through a model of a mouse they handled the entire way right to the end. They understand it right down to the point mutation. It is an amazing tool to learn so many things in a four-week span.”
Quinan attributes her own understanding of neuroscience to hands-on experiences.
“My neuroscience learning came alongside you students, working along with faculty, and exposure to the subject, learning as I go,” she said.
Quinan explained that the neuroscience department at Wellesley is unique for a number of reasons.
“My transition into the program speaks really well of the neuroscience program and Wellesley as a whole because it allowed me this unusual journey to where I am [and] to do what I love to do. It’s been this very cool transition from a support-oriented role to a teaching role,” she said.
She also believes Wellesley’s unique method of teaching neuroscience creates a thorough understanding of the subject.
“I get excited about hands-on learning, and I like getting the students excited about neuroscience because it really is a fascinating subject. There is so much we don’t know and so much we have to learn about the brain and nervous system,” Quinan said. “It’s such an interesting field because it pulls in so many disciplines. You need to know a little biology, chemistry, physics, and computer science can be helpful too. It’s just this great interdisciplinary program where you can tap into so many different programs, and the sky is the limit.”