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Bio 2010: Transforming Undergraduate Education for Future Research Biologists
ronmental studies, for instance. Thus the critical recommendation is that chemistry teachers not simply teach “pure” chemistry, but instead stimulate student interest by showing the breadth of the current science and future science in which chemistry has an important role to play.
Some students complain that much of what they are learning in chemistry courses does not seem to be directly relevant to their current interests. Such complaints often confuse the roles of education and of training. Training may well address the current needs of students—how to clone a protein, for instance. Education gives them the base on which to build understanding of future scientific advances. Such understanding is needed for them to function creatively in the science of the future, and it is also needed for their self-respect. Even if they could perform cloning by following a recipe, with no understanding of what is going on, this would reduce them to narrow technicians rather than competent scientists.
Many courses on organic chemistry are currently taught as sets of disconnected facts. Students would benefit from a combinatorial approach emphasizing principles and concepts. Organic chemistry students often have difficulty translating what they have learned with simple molecules into an understanding of macromolecular behavior. Complex processes should be covered in class. Some professors have experimented with teaching the topics of a traditional yearlong organic class in a new format. All topics are covered quickly during the first semester. This gives the students a general understanding of the concepts. It helps them to see how they are interconnected when each topic is repeated in greater detail during the second semester. The first semester is principle-oriented, not watered down. This approach also allows more biochemical topics to be introduced during the second semester. This twice-through approach is used in Dan Kim’s book at MIT. Dale Poulter tried it with his classes at the University of Utah. He found the students to be very frustrated during the first four weeks of the first semester. However, by the end of that semester, the students were happy, and he was satisfied with what they had learned.
In his organic chemistry course at Carleton College, Jerry Mohrig integrates material on carbohydrates (which he believes are undervalued by the chemistry community) by having a capstone to his yearlong course on “Why do we get the flu every year?” Information on glycobiology, molecular recognition, and cell-cell interactions is integrated throughout both se-