Course: MOL 342
Instructor: Getrud Schupbach ft. Levine and Donia
S 2017-2018

Description of Course Goals and Curriculum

  • The purpose of MOL 342 is to introduce to the next generation of molecular biologist the fundamentals techniques and key concepts in the field of genetics. The course begins with a brief introduction to the history of genetics and in Mendelian genetics. From here the tempo of the course accelerates and the direction changes as the class begins to focus on topics new to even the most experienced molecular biology students: Epistatic Interactions, Gene Penetrance and Expressivity, Dosage Compensation, Molecular Markers & Pedigree Analysis, Genetic & Linkage Mapping, etc. Luckily in between these difficult and new topics comes some familiar subject areas as well: Dominance and Recessive Genes, Meiosis & Mitosis, Statistical Methods & Chi-Square Testing. Progressing forward, and in time for the midterm, the course begins to tackle arguable one of the most difficult sections: Chromosome Theory and Recombination. In this section students are taught about chromosome abnormality and recombination events and, using this information, are expected to apply their diagnostic knowledge to determine what genetic event was responsible for the chromosomal deviation: deletion, duplication, inversion, translocation, non-disjunction. After the midterms, the course begins to think of genetics in a broader sense, focusing now on genetic networks and pathways in human diseases, population genetics, and microbial genetics. The course’s final lectures focus on the future of genetics and its applications including stem cell technology and genetic editing / gene therapy.
  • In the most straight forward sense, the instructors want you to learn from the course not the specific names of genes or the precise terminology but instead the general concepts of genetics, the techniques used in the field, and most importantly how geneticist thinks. I guarantee to you that if you approach the course with these 3 things in mind you will find a great amount of success with the class, as well as less stress and more enjoyment with the subject.
  • While the flow of the course is not necessarily chronological, there is a progression in the main themes of the course with the class broken into discrete modules.There is a general trend in the course of going from very detailed and intricate topics to broader subjects: use this as a kind of compass to get a bearing of what ideas you should understand most within the lesson plan.
  • The greatest challenge I found about this class is the abstractness of its topics (in fact I found organic chemistry to be more straight forward than genetics). The problem with genetics is that its concepts transcend different levels, where the set of rules are different in each; for example, discussing something at the genetic level is different than at the protein level which is also different from the cellular level and the organismal level: keeping this in perspective and understanding the differences is crucial. Furthermore, genetics requires a student to have the skill to visualize and imagine the biological process that is occurring. This is why I strongly recommend that only students who have already taken MOL 214 (Intro to Molecular Biology), MOL 348 (Cell and Developmental Biology, MOL 345 Biochemistry and MOL 350 (Core Lab) sign up for Genetics (MOL 342); however, the only real requirement for the course is MOL 214. This is because having all these classes in your tool belt help in one form or the other understand the most difficult and abstract concepts in genetics. MOL 214 gives you the basic foundations of molecular biology and the techniques that are available, MOL 350 gives you the actual hands on lab experience in the field to understand and apply molecular biology techniques to genetic questions, MOL 345 gives you a firm understanding of pathways and the ability to deduce cellular interactions, and MOL 348 forces you to memories and understand the specific intricacies of cellular processes and the detailed parts of the cell. It is for this reason that MOL 342 is the recommended last core class in the MOL sequence.
  • MOL 342: Genetics is different from any other MOL course in the department as it really is more of an application class (similar to a math course); a course that requires more deduction and reasoning rather than blunt memorization and regurgitation. The best approach to tackle the class is to take the problem sets and practice material seriously: work independently on these materials and then collaborate with a group of friends and see whether your interpretation and logic are similar. It’s especially important to discuss and debate ideas on the problem set with a group, as this is really where I think the most mastery of the course comes from. Reading the book and reviewing the lecture PowerPoints are important as well, though they come second in priority to actually applying your knowledge in the practice material.

Learning From Classroom Instruction

  • Lectures: Another unique aspect of this course, that makes it different from most courses you take at Princeton, is that the lectures are taught by 3 different professors: Schupbach, Levine, and Donia; each of whom have their own specialties and particular teaching style. Without a doubt, you will have find at least one of these professor’s teaching style to suit your individual preference. Lectures are a crucial part in this course and thus you should attend all of them.
    • Professor Schupbach: In terms of teaching style, Professor Schupbach uses both PowerPoints and the blackboard to present her material. Her lectures are usually very thorough and detailed and the problem sets that are based off her material are also of the like. What’s great about Prof. Schupbach’s lectures are that she will always print out the PowerPoint material for you and distribute it to all the students before class begins. Therefore, the best way to take notes for her class is to just write over the PowerPoint notes she gives you. Make sure when taking notes to copy down all the example problems she works on as they will show up in one form or the other on the problem sets or exams. Furthermore, if Prof. Schupbach repeats any ideas, it is usually a hint that you will see it come up again, so I would pay particular attention to these concepts. Professor Schupbach can occasionally be very quiet during lectures so I highly encourage sitting in the front two rows of the lecture hall so you can hear everything.
    • Professor Levine: In terms of Prof. Levine’s teaching style, it is completely opposite to Professor Schupbach. Professor Levine usually comes to lectures with 2 full pages of notes and, during the class, he would simply just talk about the material on the pages, occasionally illustrating on the board. Levine’s lecture are always very interesting and he presents the material in such an exciting way that it’s hard not to pay attention. However, a downside with Levine’s lectures is that he does speak very fast. I recommend that students sit in the first two rows in the lecture hall and have their phones out to record the lecture so that you can hear it again in case you miss anything. Also, I highly recommend not taking notes in your laptop as Prof. Levine loves to illustrate in his lectures and so it would be best to just use paper and pencil.
    • Professor Donia: As for Professor Donia, his teaching style is similar to Professor Schupbach’s, although he uses PowerPoint exclusively to present his material. Professor Donia’s lectures go at a pretty fair pace and he also prints out the lectures beforehand to distribute before class. Lectures are pretty detailed but some topics can be very confusing. Luckily Donia lectures usually end early and so if you have a question about a concept this would be a good time to ask.
    • All 3 of these professors are very friendly and understanding, so I highly encourage students to get to know them and go to office hours to seek help. I did, and I found it extremely helpful. Also, they are very interesting and amazing people in general. For example, Professor Levine help discover the homeobox which is pretty cool.
  • Precepts: Just other MOL core courses, genetics also has precepts. Precepts vary depending on the week and the instructor. On some weeks, the precepts are used to discuss last week’s problem sets, other weeks they are used to review the lecture material, and some weeks precepts are used entirely to discuss research papers. It really just depends on which preceptor you get and what preference they have in leading the precepts. I highly recommend going to different precepts to find which preceptor’s teaching style you most prefer. However, in general, all the preceptors were very nice and friendly, offering help to any genetics students.

Learning For and From Assignments

 1. Assignments: In genetics, there are no lab reports or papers but instead are composed of problem sets exclusively. There are a total of 8 problem sets in the course and each is worth roughly 2.5 % of the overall grade. Each problem set has around 6 questions however these assignments take time and require a great deal of thinking. Therefore, I recommend allocating at least 3 hours to work on the problem set by yourself and then spending an hour or so discussing with peers. It’s very important to take these problem sets seriously and to attempt them individually before working with a group: these questions mirror the type of questions that are on the exams! Problem set questions are mostly posed as either free response or a calculation. If there is any questions on the wording of a problem or if you just need clarification in generally, email the preceptors or the professors as they usually respond very quickly.  2. Exams: There are 2 exams in genetics, the midterm and the final, which are worth 35% and 40% of the overall grade respectively. The exams in the course are tough and very time sensitive (you might not be able to finish the entire exam) even though the total exam time is 3 hours: there are roughly 10 questions. Therefore, I highly recommend, when taking the test, to go through the entire exam and answer the questions you know how to do first and then approach the questions that you are unsure about. Also, although the test is broken up into 10 equally long questions, each question is not valued equally. Therefore I highly recommend going for high point questions first and then go after the questions worth fewer points: genetic exams require a bit of strategy in order to succeed. As for studying for the exams, I highly encourage redoing each of the problem sets and practice exams thoroughly and completing them in real testing situations (ie. time yourself and do the problems without referring to notes). If you have questions on anything, talk to the professors and preceptors; don’t make the mistake of ignoring the issue and thinking that the question won’t come up on the exam because it probably will (the test are fairly comprehensive). Once you have gone through the practice material, then reread the lecture notes and review the lecture slides. There is often this belief with a lot of Mol students that the best way to study for this exam is to just read the lecture notes and slides again, but this is a mistake in genetics. Only by doing practice problems and truly applying your knowledge can you succeed in this course.

External Resources

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

Overall MOL 342: Genetics is a unique course in the MOL Department and requires students adapt to a different learning style to the one they have previously been accustomed to. However, if students approach the course with a willingness to think critically and put in the effort needed, they will find success in the subject as well as an appreciation for the discipline.  

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