50 things every biologist should know

D.K. dk at no.email.thankstospam.net
Thu Apr 7 19:14:12 EST 2005


On 7 Apr 2005 12:58:41 +0100, jeffhoul at unbsj.ca ("Jeff Houlahan") wrote:

In article <1112872639.b87865a0jeffhoul at unbsj.ca>, jeffhoul at unbsj.ca ("Jeff
Houlahan") wrote:
>Hi, Proteins members.  Like many Biology departments in universities across=
> Canada, our university, the University of New Brunswick at Saint John, h=
>as decided to phase out the comprehensive exam in favour of a proposal de=
>fense/qualifying exam as part of the requirements for completion of a Ph.=
> D.  The rationale for this, as we understand it, is that students should=
> not be expected to have a detailed understanding of the entire disciplin=
>e of biology.  

That's too bad. I think they should - it least basic concepts (such as the ones
listed below). 

>A proposal defense/qualifying exam is only expected to test
>a student on areas relevant to their Ph. D. research.  This is a concept 
>we support, but it does raise the concern that students could graduate 
>with a Ph. D. in Biology without understanding some very basic biological 
> concepts if those concepts are not relevant to their project.  For example 
>students doing research that has no explicit evolutionary context could 
>graduate without knowing the difference between evolution and natural 
>selection.  

That's too bad. It means the graduate did not have a proper undergrad
education and probably should not have been admitted to the grad school
to begin with. 

>Our discussion group has suggested that one way to deal with 
>this is to develop a list of "The 50 things every biologist should 
>know" and make those 50 topics fair game in a qualifying exam/proposal 
>defence.  Thus, our goal is to put together such a list.  We have put together 
>a preliminary list of 60 different questions (maybe) every biologist should 
>be able to answer (see that list below), but we are looking for broader 
>input.  We would love to hear from anybody who would like to add a question 
>or questions to the list, or make some comment about the questions that are 
>already on the list.  Ultimately, we will be putting together a survey to 
>rank the suggestions we get and identify the "50 things every biologist 
>should know" as ranked by survey responses.  We will distribute that list to 
>this group when the survey is complete.  Thanks for any comments you can 
>be able to answer (see that list below), but we are looking for broader 
>input.  We would love to hear from anybody who would like to add a question 
>or questions to the list, or make some comment about the questions that are 
>already on the list.  Ultimately, we will be putting together a survey to rank 
>the suggestions we get and identify the "50 things every biologist should 
>know" as ranked by survey responses.  We will distribute that list to 
>this group when the survey is complete.  

I think the very premise of it is flawed. Graduate school is not supposed
to give a general education - an undergraduate studies are for that. Grad school
is supposed to be tow things: 1) an advanced study in a specilaized
school is supposed to be tow things: 1) an advanced study in a specilaized
field, 2) hands-on apprentership-like experience that prepares one for
the "real" work. 

Grad school should not attempt to replace basic education. True, the undergrad
education is very sucky in most places but administering 
undergrad education is very sucky in most places but administering 
some know-it-all exam in graduate shcool is not going to fix this problem. 

As for the questions themselves...  I don't understand how anyone who can't
answer these questions can be *admitted* to a graduate school! They are 
high school level basic. I know I would be *very* disappointed if my daughter
graduates from *high school* without proper understading of 90-95%  of 
them correctly.  (Except for "slippery" ones like what is the difference between
theory and hypothesis. - The number of people who believe in one?) 

DK





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