Course Syllabus

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Term & Location:

Summer 2022 - DIS Copenhagen

Type & Credits:

Lab & Research Session - 6 credits

Major Disciplines:

Biology, Biomedicine/Biotechnology, Neuroscience


One year each of biology and chemistry at university level. Laboratory experience at university level is recommended

Research Mentor:

Blanca Irene Aldana Garcia, PhD

RA Supervisor:

Jeanette Erbo Wern, PhD 

Research Director:

Tina Mangieri, PhD 

Academic Support: 


6-Credit Research Assistantship

The 6-Credit Research Assistantship (6RA) is an experiential learning opportunity promoting the development of research skills in an international, professional, research setting.  As a Research Assistant, you perform research under the supervision of a Research Mentor (a lead scientist in the external research group). The mentor is able to offer both academic and professional advice. In addition to acquiring research experience, the goal is to develop a student/mentor relationship that benefits both the DIS student and Copenhagen-based research institutions.

Research Project Description

Blanca Aldana´s laboratory (NeuroMet) focuses on the study of brain energy- and neurotransmitter metabolism and its impact on neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer´s disease and Frontotemporal dementia. Presently, the investigations in NeuroMet take advantage of diverse brain-derived preparations including cell cultures of neurons and astrocytes, brain slices and cutting edge cell-based model systems such as hiPSC-brain cells and brain organoids, as well as high-output biochemical methodologies for dynamic metabolic mapping and for investigating bioenergetics.

Research Assistantship: Two 6-credit research assistantship projects are offered, with 1-2 students per project.

Project 1: Dynamic mapping focusing on pathways relevant for energy metabolism in neurons and astrocytes in an Alzheimer’s disease model. In this project, you use techniques including brain cell culturing, 13C -labelled isotopes and gas chromatography coupled to mass spectrometry (GCMS), as well as HPLC. You have the opportunity to work with a unique disease model, the 5xfAD mouse. This transgenic mouse harbors five different mutations found in patients with familial Alzheimer´s Disease and is increasingly being used as a research tool. The principle mentor will be Blanca Aldana, but you are also partnered with a lab technician.

Project 2: Neurodevelopmental metabolic changes in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). In this project, you investigate brain organoids from ASD patients. The brain organoids or ‘minibrains’ are hPSC-derived three-dimensional in vitro culture systems that recapitulate the developmental processes and organization of the developing human brain. You apply diverse biochemical techniques such as 13C-subtrate incubations, GCMS, HPLC, Seahorse analyses to investigate alterations in energy and amino acid metabolism at different developmental stages. This is a great opportunity for basic science-oriented students. The project involves close collaboration with the University of Southern Denmark.

Learning Objectives

  • Obtain hands-on research experience in a laboratory setting
  • Plan, conduct, and critically evaluate experimental laboratory data
  • Perform self-directed and self-motivated experimental research
  • Actively participate in scientific discussions with a critical approach to the research
  • Write a research paper and present experimental data in a professional way
  • Learn ethical standards and academic integrity in a research process
  • Experience the authenticity of research, including the unpredictabilities, the unexpected challenges, and the unknowns that are a common part of conducting research

Research Assistantship Hours 

Students will spend 180 hours directly engaged in research, together with 20 hours in co-curricular activities during their summer study. You will arrange a schedule with your mentor which will allow you to complete, per week, an average of 22 hours of lab-work, 10 theoretical hours of reading and writing, and 3 hours of Introduction to Denmark, to complement your research and provide context for your time abroad: 35 hours in total each week. Note: there may be peak times in the research process where all Research Assistant students are expected to spend a few more hours, and then possibly a few less another week – to reflect the individual research project and process. Also, the total hours may to some extend vary according to research opportunity and expectation of your mentor.

Lab Location

This DIS Research Project is located at an external institution. Make sure you have arranged your first meeting with your mentor before arriving in Copenhagen including where to meet and how to get there.

Research Mentor

Blanca Aldana

PhD in Sciences with a specialization in Neurochemistry at the Biomedicine Research Institute, UNAM (2013). Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Department of Pharmacobiology, CINVESTAV (2014), and then at the NeuroMetabolism Research Group (Helle Waagepetersen lab, 2014-2018), University of Copenhagen. Co-Head of the NeuroMet Group (2018) and Assistant Professor (2019-present) at the Department of Drug Design and Pharmacology, University of Copenhagen.  Dr. Aldana is a scientific member of the Metabolism and Inflammation Research Cluster.

Approach to Mentoring

In general, the 6RA is designed for highly motivated students with a strong interest in developing their research skills. You will experience a hands-on class in a laboratory setting also including theoretical hours, where you will read, write, discuss, and prepare your research. You will be part of an active research team and experience the dynamics of a European research institution. You will be provided with the basic scientific knowledge of the field and be introduced to the methods and techniques needed to conduct the experiments. Regarding teaching style, especially in the laboratory setting, our approach is "learning by doing." For the theoretical focus, you are expected to immerse yourself in the topic and take responsibility so you achieve the highest learning outcomes by actively participating in discussions and presentations. 

Responsibilities and Expectations of the Research Mentor

Your research project will be part of a larger, ongoing research project at the research institution. Your mentor and/or co-mentors will guide you on methodology, techniques and advise as to ethical considerations, provide feedback throughout the research process, and help you find resources to conduct your research on-site. The RAship encourages a gradual transition toward independence as you gain more confidence in the lab, transforming your work into a more self-directed and self-motivated project under the mentor’s guidance and supervision. It is important, that the project reflect your work, as a 6RA student, not only your mentor’s contribution.  

It is not expected that you pursue a project where you are able to obtain definitive publishable results. The project chosen and agreed upon between you and your mentor should be focused and designed to produce results within the DIS semester calendar. While it is not necessary for the results to be significant (in that the results find a solution to the problem or hypothesis proposed), arguably any results to the proposed question are significant to the next phase of a research project.  

Responsibilities and Expectations of the Research Assistant

Specific expectations of you as a student is agreed upon with your mentor at the beginning of the semester. However, in general it requires that you:

  1. Spend an average of 35 hours per week carrying out the research project including 3 hours of Introduction to Denmark each Wednesday between 13:00 - 16:00. You will need to arrange a schedule with your mentor which will allow you to complete the required hours performing a combination of theoretical and hands-on research at the external research institution.
  2. Arrange project check-in meetings with your research mentor and/or co-mentor(s) at mutually agreed upon times during the summer. Clear and continuous communication with your research mentor throughout the term is a necessary part of the research project and it is expected that you initiate these meetings. 
  3. Submit assignments on time including a literature review,  a written and oral outline of the research project, a journal club presentation, a final research paper and a recorded "talk-over" powerpoint or poster presentation (or another type of video format) as agreed on with your mentor.

As part of your theoretical focus, you are expected to read and write relevant scientific literature in relation to your research project and use your newly-gained knowledge to critically evaluate the research component, ask relevant questions, and actively participate in research discussions within the field. During the practical work, you are expected to actively engage by planning and performing your own experiments and carefully monitoring the conducted experiments and analyzing the collected data. You are expected/encouraged to critically evaluate possible issues if experiments do not go as expected and come up with ideas to modify or reflect on potential mistakes.

Overall, it is important to be enthusiastic about the project. Carrying out a research project is neither a straightforward nor predictable process as you are creating new (and at times unexpected) knowledge. This is part of what makes research exciting but, at times, also challenging! 

Evaluation and Grading

During the summer research assistantship, you are expected to fulfill various assignments. To be eligible for a passing grade, all of the assignments must be completed. Your mentor assesses your work and assigns your final grade.

Assignments and their weights are shown in the following table:

Participation - Lab work and theoretical hours


Participation - Introduction to Denmark


Literature Summary  Review


Outline of the Research Project:

Written Project


Oral Presentation of the Project


Journal Club


Research Paper:

Written Project


Recorded Oral Presentation




The literature summary review is an opportunity to seek out existing peer-reviewed articles and, in that way, enhance your scientific knowledge within the research area and kickstart your research project. In addition, it is essential that you have knowledge of previously produced research by the research institution with which you are working.

An outline of the research project will provide you with an overall research plan and help structure your research during the term. By creating an outline, you will be able to better comprehend the objective of your efforts. Your mentor will also be able to use the outline to assess areas in which your current knowledge and understanding may be lacking.

The research paper is the final product of your research assistantship. In the paper, you will explain your work throughout the term, including the methodologies you have used, the overall process, the project’s significance, and the contribution to the field of research in which you have engaged. Please note: this research paper is not produced with the intent of publishing, but if you put in the hours and effort it may end up being a publication. 

For the oral presentation, you will present the research you have carried out throughout the summer in a recorded format, agreed upon with your mentor and approved by DIS. The presentation should have a logical and clear structure and provide relevant information on the background, methods, conclusions, and future perspectives of the presented work. The original data reported in the paper should be presented and discussed in a clear way.

Participation is a central part of laboratory-based research and the international study experience. To receive full credit, you are required to be present at all the scheduled research sessions in and outside of the lab and actively participate and engage in the experimental work (both practical and theoretical). In addition, it is important to DIS that you learn not only about research in Copenhagen, but also about Copenhagen itself during your time as a Research Assistant with DIS.

Of the final participation grade, 25% is based on:

  • Attendance and the level of preparation, planning, and conduction of the experimental research work at the research place as well as your level of self-directed and self-motivated research work
  • Your overall contribution to research discussions with the research group in general, at journal clubs, and at project presentations

An additional 5% of the participation grade is based on your attendance and active engagement in the Wednesday afternoon Introduction to Denmark series, led by DIS Danish Language and Culture faculty, Mette Jungersen. Please see the corresponding Canvas page for these required weekly activities, designed to introduce you to the cultural context of your temporary home, enhance your time in Copenhagen, and deepen your understanding of Denmark.

Journal Clubs

Journal clubs are research presentations followed by discussions organized by the research lab. They are occasions for detailed discussions within a specific research area and for development of excellent presentation skills as required of researchers today. Journal club also provides experience in close, critical reading of research papers and experimental data.

The research paper that you choose to present during a Journal Club should be related to your research area. If you are more than one DIS Research Assistant in the same lab, the other student(s) should also read the paper and prepare questions for the journal club discussion.

The presentation should have a logical and clear structure and provide relevant information on the background, methods, conclusions, and future perspectives of the presented work. The original data reported in the paper should be presented and discussed in a clear way.


Note that many US colleges/universities require their students who are participating in research at home or abroad to acquire Institutional Review Board approval. Examples include:

  • Research involving human subjects
  • If the results of any research conducted during your term with DIS involving human subjects are to be made public or published in the US

You are responsible for confirming whether home IRB-approval is required and, if so, for seeking the approval of your home schools IRB. In addition, all research conducted in Europe must adhere to GDPR regulations.

Before Arrival in Copenhagen

Once accepted as a Research Assistant, you will be connected with your mentor(s) via email. Please note some mentors may give you 10 – 15 hours of research literature to read before your term start.

Academic Regulations

Please make sure to read the Academic RegulationsLinks to an external site. on the DIS website. There you will find regulations on:


DIS - Study Abroad in Scandinavia -


Course Summary:

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