CASE STUDY #12
Computational Biology Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie Mellon offers instruction in computational biology through three courses that are taught in a coordinated fashion. Students without programming experience who are interested in learning about the diverse ways in which computers are being used to solve biological problems can take Introduction to Computational Biology. This course has three major sections: Computational Molecular Biology (seven weeks, primarily focusing on sequence analysis), Biological Modeling (six weeks), and Biological Imaging (two weeks). Students with similar backgrounds but who are mainly interested in sequence analysis can take just the first half of the course. These courses are mainly taken by biology majors looking for basic knowledge of this important new field, as well as first-year biology PhD students who are not interested in doing their thesis in computational biology.

For students with strong programming skills and knowledge of computer science fundamentals, the computational biology course covers the same three topics in more detail. It makes use of the same lectures but has an additional one-hour class session per week in which methods are discussed with greater computational and mathematical sophistication, both through lectures and by reading papers from the literature. This course is taken by all computational biology majors, by double majors, by computer science majors with at least an introductory-level biology course, by biomedical engineering majors, and by computational chemistry students. It is also taken by first-year PhD students in biological sciences (interested in computational biology thesis projects), a few PhD students in computer science, and by computational biology MS students. The three courses combined typically have 40 students.

There are two major hallmarks to Carnegie Mellon’s computational biology degree programs. Students receive extensive formal training in computer science by taking at least four courses from the normal undergraduate sequence in the School of Computer Science. This permits those students to be taught by faculty who are experts in computer science and gives them the skill set and vocabulary to frame computational problems and communicate with (non-biology-oriented) computer scientists. The second hallmark is the exposure of the students to a full range of computational biology topics, not just sequence-oriented methods.

For more information: http://info.bio.cmu.edu/Programs/Undergraduate/compbio.html



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