Course: MOL214
Instructor: Notterman
S 2014

Description of Course Goals and Curriculum

This course has undergone significant changes since this article was written. Talk with your instructor about what information included here is accurate--and not.

  This class introduces students to molecular biology, the study of the structure and function of macromolecules primarily that of proteins and nucleic acids. The course examines the various experiments that led scientists to discover and subsequently fully understand these macromolecules. In doing so, students revisit the topic of the scientific method and learn to question nature’s ways. Additionally, the students learn about the applications of detailed knowledge and understanding of the macromolecules that are essential for life. Logistically speaking, there are two hour and twenty minute lectures each week and an approximately three-hour lab period. Lecture introduces and describes these applications, while lab sections allow students to see first-hand the usefulness of molecular biology. The end of the course features “Special Topic Modules” taught by different professors in the Molecular Biology department that aim to show students the various research possibilities that become available if one pursues a molecular biology degree. There are two midterms, a final, seven lab reports, and twelve lab quizzes. Finally, there are optional problems sets and review sessions each week. The Molecular Biology department offers two equivalent introductory courses: MOL 214 noted above and MOL 215: Quantitative Principles in Cell and Molecular Biology. The courses are equivalent in that they cannot be taken multiple times for credit, but are different in the goals and purposes. As the title of the course suggests, MOL 215 is more quantitative and emphasizes the underlying physical and engineering principles of molecular biology. For example, students will learn to calculate the distance between the two backbones of DNA in both the minor and major groove. On the other hand, MOL 214 would only cover the structure of DNA and note that there are minor and major grooves that form when DNA is created. Thus, students that are more math-inclined should take MOL 215 while those who are more detail-oriented should take MOL 214.

Learning From Classroom Instruction

As with most classes at Princeton, the amount of material covered in MOL 214 is vast. Lectures move at a very fast pace and thus keeping up with readings can be quite challenging. Additionally, the first few lectures are often a partial review of AP Biology courses offered in high school, and thus it is easy to fall in the “I know this already” trap and decide to skip the readings. Finally, although the problem sets provide examples of old exam questions, no other exam preparation is provided and thus it is very difficult to anticipate what the expectations will be. Thus, when studying it becomes quite difficult to decipher what are superfluous details and what are the details you must memorize. As noted above, one of the biggest challenges of the course is to prevent oneself from falling into the “I know this already” or the “I understand this from sitting in lecture” traps. Teaching in the form of lectures is often referred to as a passive learning in that students listen to a professor speak and accept the material at face value. MOL is one of the few 8:30am classes offered and thus, due to student exhaustion, lecture often become even more of a passive exercise for many. The introduction of Lecture Tools, a program that allows students to answer questions posed by the professor and ask questions regarding the material, has lessened the passive nature of lectures. Yet, as studies have shown that active learning allows for improved cognitive outcomes, it is important for students to do more than attend lecture. Every few weeks a list of required and recommended reading for the following lectures is provided – a quick glance at the document reveals that there is much less required reading than recommended reading. It is easy to convince oneself that because one ‘understood it in lecture’ one can merely read the required reading and be successful. Yet as noted above, lecture is a mainly passive exercise, so it is important to reinforce lecture material with not only the required reading, but also the recommended. Although in many classes this is not the case, I have found that the recommended reading is particularly helpful for this course. In suggesting it to friends that had done poorly on the first exam I was told, “The textbook is so helpful, if only I had read it I would have done better on the exam.” When reading, take notes, draw flow diagrams to explain processes described, and bookmark pages or concepts that were difficult. After doing the readings, I would recommend doing the problem sets posted for each section to make sure you have understood the topic. If you do poorly on the quiz, there are plenty of practice problems and explanatory videos on the book’s website. Many students are unaware of this resource as it is not emphasized in class, but I would definitely recommend using it either to further understand a topic or to gain practice for the exam. Finally, when studying for the exam look through the notes you took while reading, the lecture slides, retake the quizzes (with the answers covered of course), and meet with a study group to discuss concepts you are having difficulty with.
I personally found it most helpful to do the readings after lecture for this class. The textbook is quite dense and it is difficult to know what to remember from the readings if you don't know what to focus on.

Learning For and From Assignments

External Resources

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

After completing this course you will have a basic understanding of the structure and role of the various macromolecules that are essential for life as well as the mechanisms required to create them. The course is very well taught and very interesting as it explains the very precise workings of our cells. For some this may be simply a requirement, but for others it may spark interest in molecular biology or help in choosing between various majors.
Introduction to Cellular and Molecular Biology

One thought on “Introduction to Cellular and Molecular Biology

  • September 28, 2017 at 12:26 am

    I personally found it most helpful to do the readings after lecture for this class. The textbook is quite dense and it is difficult to know what to remember from the readings if you don’t know what to focus on.

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