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Bio 2010: Transforming Undergraduate Education for Future Research Biologists
biomedical researchers came to their work after undergraduate or graduate education in another field, most notably physics and/or chemistry. However, there is often a profound communication barrier between these researchers and those educated as biologists. Increasing the amount of mathematics and of physical and information sciences taught to new biology students, and the opportunity for physical science majors to take courses with biological content, would improve the possibilities for productive collaborations.
Mathematics teaching presents a special case. Most biology majors take no more than one year of calculus, although some also take an additional semester of statistics. Very few are exposed to discrete mathematics, linear algebra, probability, and modeling topics, which could greatly enhance their future research careers. These are often considered advanced courses; however, many aspects of discrete math or linear algebra that would be relevant to biology students do not require calculus as a prerequisite. While calculus remains an important topic for future biologists, the committee does not believe biology students should study calculus to the exclusion of other types of mathematics. Newly designed courses in mathematics that cover some calculus as well as the other types of math mentioned above would be suitable for biology majors and would also prove useful to students enrolled in many other undergraduate majors.
Role of Medical School Requirements
Another special issue is the impact of medical school admissions requirements on undergraduate biology curricula. The committee did not specifically address the needs of premedical students in making its recommendations. However, the committee recognizes that specific courses are currently required for medical school admission and that the need to prepare students for the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) constrains course offerings and content at most institutions. Departments of physics, chemistry, and mathematics, as well as departments of biology, feel pressure to cover the material tested on the MCAT in their introductory courses to the exclusion of other potential topics.
Incorporating mathematics, physical science, and emerging fields such as the information sciences into a biology curriculum is not easy, especially