Course: MOL 348
Instructor: Rebecca Burdine and Danelle Devenport
S 2017

Description of Course Goals and Curriculum

This course seeks to cover both cellular and developmental biology. Roughly, the first half of the course covers cell biology (membranes, trafficking, the cell cycle, cytoskeleton, signaling pathways) and the second half of the covers developmental biology (cell determination and differentiation, tissue formation, stem cells, and an overview of the development of each of the major model organisms in biology). Throughout the course, you learn about different lab techniques and how they can be applied to study cell and developmental bio. Some examples include: microscopy, immunofluorescence, immunoprecipitations/pull-downs, in situ hybridization, RNA interference, and the Cre/Lox system. Basically, the professors give you a ‘toolbox’ of these lab techniques for you to use to apply the material learned in lecture.   The overarching goal of the course is to instill an understanding of how cells grow, differentiate, and proliferate, but instead of simply testing students on facts memorized from lecture, the exams in MOL 348 require students to synthesize these facts with an understanding of the lab techniques described above. Equipping students with an understanding of the research tools used to make discoveries in cell and developmental biology allows the professors to test you using real (or fabricated, but still reasonable) data that you must analyze. The class attempts to make you aware of the different model organisms used in biology (and how each of them develops), but most importantly it makes you a better critical thinker. This is an important skill when it comes to reading the literature in biology (and other STEM fields), and the problem sets and exams definitely set you up to think like a scientist.   The course is required of all MOL majors, but it is also a great option for an upper-level biology course to fulfill pre-med requirements. The class is fast-paced, but not unreasonably so. It is different than most other MOL departmentals in its emphasis on application rather than memorization; this is something that many students will have to get used to (especially in comparison to MOL 214).  

Learning From Classroom Instruction

Lectures meet twice a week for 80 minutes. The professors of the course post the lecture slides a few days in advance, so many students choose to print these lecture slides and take notes on them during class. iClickers are also used, which questions dispersed throughout the lectures. These clicker questions are not graded for accuracy, but they are a way to track attendance, which eventually factors into your participation grade.   The lecture slides are very clear in stating what the professors expect students to get out of each lecture. Before every section of the lecture, there is a slide that lists objectives. It can be useful to look at these objectives slides the night before lecture in order to frame your note-taking the next day. These objectives also make studying for exams very manageable!   Though this is a lecture-based class, the class is interactive in nature, with students arranged around round tables (with about 8 people at each table) rather than having students in a large lecture hall. The professors have group activities worked into the lectures. Basically, they will print out pages that have experimental data for students to analyze or group activities such as designing your own experiment. Lecture stops periodically to do these activities with the students sitting around you. Then, the professors will open the floor for students to participate and share their answers to the questions posed in the activities. They love student participation, though it is not required (they have no way of tracking who actually raises their hand to participate). Often, the professor might call on a specific table for an answer (as the tables are labeled with numbers), but they do not cold-call students by name. I would encourage attempting to participate as much as you can in these group activities. First, testing your understanding with peers and getting a chance to actually work through material how you might see it on an exam is invaluable. Second, the other students in the class can be incredibly insightful (helping you to prepare for exams just by sharing their thoughts).   Some advice for taking notes in lecture: -Focus on note-taking on things that the professors say that aren’t found directly in the lecture slides. Long bullet lists and other facts that are found verbatim in the slides can be copied down online outside of class, while additional thoughts/explanations given by professors cannot. Don’t miss these important add-ons by the professors (that will enhance your understanding of concepts) to type down exactly what’s written on the lecture slides. -Many images in the slides are not annotated with information at all. It’s important to give these images context in your notes (otherwise you’ll have no idea what they mean when studying for the exam weeks later!). -The professors are usually open to questions in class. So if you are really confused about something, ask because most the the class will probably be glad that you did   Precepts meet once a week and focus on going over lab techniques that were introduced in lecture but might not have been explained enough for students to apply them in problem sets and on exams. The setup is similar to lecture, where students in precept often work together on group activities to make sure material covered in lecture is fully understood. Also, a significant amount of the time is spent going over the most challenging questions from the weekly problem set in precept!

Learning For and From Assignments

Textbook sections are assigned bi-weekly (for each lecture), and are often very helpful in giving context to what you will be learning in class. I would suggest at least skimming the textbook before coming to lecture. This will help you to have a better understanding of what you are expected to take away from lecture. Don’t worry too much about making sense of every single concept; in fact, make note of what you do not understand in the reading so that you can keep your ears open for when the professor discusses that concept in lecture. The professors almost always cover what they expect you to know from the reading; oftentimes, they will even tell you explicitly how the lecture relates to the readings and what you should mainly focus on while studying from the textbook (SO MAKE SURE TO MAKE NOTE OF WHEN THEY SAY THINGS LIKE THIS!).   In addition to readings, you might sometimes be asked to watch an instructional video mainly to help you visualize how the mechanisms being discussed function in a cell. In general, the work assigned before lecture is simply  meant to help you. So, use them to your advantage. Many of the mechanisms and concepts being taught in this class can be hard to wrap your head around, so the more exposure and practice the better!   Problem sets are usually a combination of both multiple choice and open ended questions. Some of the questions will test you on concrete details that you will have to memorize for an exam. But, most of the PSET questions will ask you to analyze experimental data and figures. Because most these questions tend to be open-ended, make sure to explain your reasoning and how you got to your answers. Sometimes, you can even get full credit for an answer that does not match the answer key, so long as your reasoning is rational and well-explained! The problem sets are great practice for exams (and are often structured like exam questions), so make sure to really think through the problems. I strongly suggest meeting with a group of friends and discussing your answers after all of you have already tried all the questions. Not only will this help make sure that your answers are correct, but discussion will also help you understand important concepts enough to explain your reasoning to other people. Ideally, by the time exams come around, you will be more comfortable with explaining your reasoning in a cohesive way!   There are 3 exams in this class (two midterms and a final exam). As mentioned before, the problem sets will help you prepare for the exams. While exams questions might ask you to dig a little deeper or to think more critically, the problem sets still make you think in a very similar way. The exams will include some True/False, matching, and short answer questions. However, the bulk of the exam will be open-ended analysis of experimental data and figures (just like the problem sets). For the first exam, it is likely that you will feel pressed for time, but try your best to write something down for each of the questions so that you get credit! Pace yourself and do not panic!   General exam study tips: -Can’t stress this enough, but review your problem sets!! Try to re-visit some of the questions and answer them as if you have not seen them before. This will especially give you practice working your way through the more challenging open-ended problems. You could even try identifying which main concepts each question is testing (membrane trafficking, cell differentiation, etc.). -At the end of each week, the professors post a list of vocabulary words that they expect you to know for exams. Make sure to review these, preferably week-by-week, so that you at least have the terminology down. -Review the group activities and clicker questions from lecture. If you can, try to explain these to someone else, draw out some diagrams, try to connect concepts across lectures. Most likely, a few exam questions are going to ask you to synthesize what you have learned thus far! -Don’t forget about the main goals and objectives that appear at the beginning of every lecture! The professors have said that they go to these objectives and use them as a guideline to write their exam questions. The objectives are usually worded as questions or tasks (list different types of cytoskeletal components, explain why model organisms are useful for studying developmental biology, etc.) So, make sure you can walk yourself through all of the objectives before walking into the exam!  

External Resources

Office hours are a great resource to use if you are having trouble understanding something that was covered during lecture in MOL 348. Lectures often move very quickly (and cover a lot of information); if you find yourself overwhelmed and lose track of the material in lecture, contact your preceptor (or one of the professors) about their office hours. Each TA (and both professors) have weekly office hours when you can go to ask specific questions and get clarification. Go to office hours early rather than right before an exam!  

What Students Should Know About This Course For Purposes Of Course Selection

The professors tend to post most of the class materials and assignments on EdX(another teaching website) instead of on blackboard. This might take some getting used to, but the website is surprisingly organized and might even be easier to use than blackboard.   You are going to be expected to learn a lot of material in a relatively short period of time. But, you are also given many tools to help you learn the material, so don’t take them for granted! During class, really try to think through the clicker questions and group activities. If you don’t understand, don’t be afraid to ask the professors and preceptors for help (they literally walk around waiting for someone to ask a question)! While doing the problem sets, you are encouraged to work with people and this can be really useful.   This is not a class for which you can sit on the material until the week before an exam and not be overwhelmed. Studying weekly is highly recommended and almost essential! A lot of the concepts build off of one another, so seeing them multiple times will help you to remember so much more.   The class is designed to help you think like a scientist. It especially encourages you to appreciate the collaborative and cumulative nature of science. Though the material for this class can be a lot to process, the majority of it is actually really interesting, so try to enjoy what you learn! You will come out of this class with a better understanding of how to think critically about biology in general, which honestly feels pretty great :)          
Cell and Developmental Biology

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