Biology students used to anonymity in big lecture classes can find themselves face to face with professors in two biology seminars offered next semester.
Professor Iain Dawson will teach “The Eukaryotic Cell Cycle” and Jonathan Kagan GRD ’04 will teach “Cell Biology of Host-Pathogen Interactions” next semester, said Robert Wyman, director of undergraduate studies for molecular, chemical and developmental biology. The courses were approved by MCDB faculty members in a meeting last week, as a response to requests from undergraduates in the major for more small, upper-level courses, Wyman said.
“We have a huge number of majors and our faculty really hasn’t increased in the past 30 to 40 years, so we are stuck teaching large classes,” Wyman said.
Dawson said the ideal size for his course would be 10-12 students. He said in his course the students would present a paper to the class each week, so they would be teaching each other with his guidance.
“I did not want a course where I stood there and lectured,” Dawson said. “I really would like this to be a discussion course where students get involved.”
Wyman said there are not more small courses taught because of budgetary problems: The MCDB faculty is competing for research grants with medical school faculty around the country who do not have as many teaching responsibilities, and so can do more research.
Some of the “old guard” in the faculty did not think a non-tenure track professor, like Dawson, should be teaching the course, Dawson said. But he said that they were in the minority.
Wyman said a faculty member needs to have the “fire in the belly to teach” a certain subject. He said the recently approved seminars are on subjects that are hot topics that the faculty wants to teach.
Kagan said his course would cover how bacteria cause diseases ranging from food poisoning to pneumonia. He said the course parallels his doctoral thesis, in which he is studying the kinds of bacteria that cause pneumonia.
“It’s the best way [to learn] this subject,” Kagan said. “What you don’t get in a lecture-based course is the experiments that led to the conclusions.”
Kagan is teaching the seminar as an independent course this semester. He won the opportunity to teach the course after receiving the Prize Teaching Fellowship, a graduate student teaching prize.
The course meets two days a week with one day of informal lecture and the second discussing current and classic research articles, Kagan said.
Lindsay Mitchell ’03, a biology major who is taking Kagan’s course this semester, said she decided to take the course based on its content. But she said she has enjoyed the seminar-style because she has the chance to ask questions while the material is being presented, instead of trying to remember questions to ask later in section.
“I would not hesitate to say that this is one of the best biology courses I have taken at Yale,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell said the course is on recently discovered material, so it is not in a textbook yet, so the best way to study it is to read published articles.