When the biology major splits into the ecology and evolutionary biology and molecular, cellular and developmental biology majors next fall, E&EB will decrease the number of required classes and broaden its curriculum in an effort to better prepare students for medical school.
The E&EB major will now feature two tracks, which do not yet have official titles. One track will be designed for pre-med students and include new required courses on comparative anatomy and comparative physiology, and the other will retain the current “core courses” of ecology, evolutionary biology and organismal biology. Two E&EB professors who helped design the changes said they hope that the availability of two tracks, along with the reduced number of required courses for all majors, will make E&EB more attractive to students who are concerned that current requirements might prevent them from simultaneously pursuing medicine or other fields.
“I think there is a growing interest in biodiversity, and we’re trying to tap into it,” said E&EB professor Thomas Near, who served on the committee that outlined the changes. “With the new track and added flexibility, the major will appeal to those who love [nature] … but want to go to med school.”
MCDB Department Chair Ronald Breaker said his department is also considering whether to loosen its major requirements, though he said discussions are still in their early stages.
Though the new E&EB track that focuses on medicine will simplify the challenge of meeting pre-med requirements for E&EB majors, Stephen Stearns, an E&EB professor and committee member, acknowledged that he is unsure whether the track will give students sufficient grounding in the nonmedical aspects of ecology and evolutionary biology to “deserve” the E&EB degree. Stearns sits on a committee that recommended that the American Association of Medical Colleges incorporate more material on ecology and evolutionary biology into its new version of the Medical College Admissions Test to be released in 2015. For now, he said professors teaching courses catering to pre-med students will have the responsibility of incorporating the fundamental concepts of the subject into their syllabi, adding that funding will determine which professors the department can enlist to lead the classes.
Aspen Reese ’12, an E&EB major who served on the committee that drafted the curricular changes, said she thinks E&EB and other science departments need to prioritize improving the quality of teaching as they develop new courses.
“New classes taught to new students, but with the same emphasis on PowerPoints, memorization and literature reviews, will not be truly changing anything,” Reese said. “While there are exceptions, generally speaking, teaching is put much below research in a faculty member’s priorities, and the undergraduate students lose out.”
Though E&EB professors said they hope the changes will increase student demand for the major, they said an influx of new majors may have the negative effect of reducing the amount of attention and resources the department can give to individual students. To address this potential issue, Near said professors may need to find their own ways to meet the needs of students. Near said enrollment his course on ichthyology rose from 14 to 65 students this year, but he has still tried to keep the class discussion-based. Anticipating a high enrollment next year, he plans to lead a smaller segment of the class on a field trip to the Carolinas over the fall break to create a more intimate learning environment, and he is considering offering a spring ichthyology seminar with limited enrollment.
The E&EB Department will host an information session on the new major on April 2. Rising sophomores, juniors and seniors will have the option of majoring in either biology or the stand-alone E&EB or MCDB majors, but incoming freshmen will not able to pursue a biology major.