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New biology major requirements encourage interdisciplinary study

Published: April 26, 2013
Section: News, Top Stories

New changes to courses and requirements in the biology department will offer a more holistic, interdisciplinary approach, according to Dr. Melissa Kosinski-Collins, professor of biology. The new changes will go into effect for students matriculating in the fall semester of 2013.

The updated curriculum introduces a set of three new one-semester courses: BIOL 14a (Genetics and Genomics), BIOL 15b (Cells and Organisms) and BIOL 16a (Evolution and Biodiversity). These courses will stand in place of BIOL 22a/22b, which currently focus on cell biology and genetics, but will no longer be offered beginning this fall. Additionally, these courses have no prerequisites and can be taken as early as the first year. As an already matriculated student, you have the option of either staying within the current rules or completely switching to the new rules; however, there will not be any mixing of the rules allowed.

Other changes to the curriculum include Physics I, II lecture and lab being required only for the BS, not for the BA. BCHM 100 is no longer required for the BS and there are five electives required for the BA and six for the BS. Currently, only two electives can come from the School of Science elective list. Soon there will many more elective choices available.

According to Dr. Kosinski-Collins, there were two major reasons behind making changes to the curriculum. First, the biology major has been criticized for being too “molecular” heavy in which the focus has solely been on cellular biology and genetics. This has prevented students from being able to take biology in their first year, because general chemistry has been a prerequisite for the core biology semester set.

“There was a group of students coming through the major that didn’t have this group of interests,” Dr. KC said. “Students had to wait until sophomore year to take biology, and they weren’t able to take ecology or evolution until much later on. Students were signed up as biology majors but weren’t taking any of the core classes until their sophomore year.”

Thus, Dr. KC and other science education faculty began to consider breaking down the biology core courses into different interests to encourage more participation in the major.

Overall, the changes are designed to give students more of a variety in their coursework and encourage them to be excited about the courses they’re taking.

“In such molecular-heavy classes, you lose students who are not as excited by math,” Dr. KC said.

Students who are active in the biology department, such as biology lab TA Deepti Kanneganti ’14, have expressed their excitement over the new curriculum and are looking forward to seeing it develop during the next few years.

“I strongly believe in using an integrated approach to problem solving in any field, and this new major really does allow for opportunities for students to take classes in other sciences and make connections between these disciplines. There will be a confusing and hectic grace period, but after a few years I think Brandeis will have an even stronger science program than it already does,” Kanneganti said.

The second main reason behind the curriculum changes is to ensure that students who are planning on taking the MCAT are prepared with a more diverse background. Recent changes in requirements to this test are now looking for better critical thinkers and problem solvers.

As a result, the new biology curriculum is designed to teach a more holistic approach while leaving time and space to also think about scientific literacy.

The effects will impact non-pre-med students as well as pre-med students, but Dr. KC believes that this will primarily affect students who are both on the pre-med track and also biology majors. Students on the pre-med track will still have to take Bio 14 and Bio 15, as well as general chemistry, organic chemistry, and all of the other requirements needed to apply to medical school.

The new changes will also impact other majors that have cross-listed classes under biology, such as HSSP and biochemistry, because these majors will have to consider which biology classes can count for their requirements.

Kanneganti, a rising senior, will still follow the curriculum track she is on, but has high hopes for the new changes.

“I honestly think that these changes are really good for Brandeis, especially for students that are interested in biology and the sciences in general. I think the first reaction to major changes such as these is a lot of confusion and wondering what was wrong with the old requirements for the major. However, once you look closely at these changes, it is easy to see that the new major allows for a greater exploration and integration within the field of science. Students now have a way to begin their interest in biology from the beginning of their Brandeis experience, but are never limited to this one field,” Kanneganti said.