Dr. Karen Smith was easily the most approachable instructor I had all semester. She’s super passionate about her bacteria, absolutely hilarious (I’ll never forget the ‘cell bio’ rap she performed on the last day of class), and is apparently great during her office hours. I did, however, have a problem with her teaching style. Her explanations seemed roundabout and, combined with my 9 a.m. section, had me lost the majority of the time. The second half of the course was a whirlwind of definitions and trippy clicker questions for me and I think many others took issue with the way Dr. Smith introduced certain topics, particularly bacterial transcription. Her lecture slides were by far the most useful resource offered for the course. Her personality is worth showing up to class for alone, but the course is passable even if you nap every lecture (like me. Oops).
How Life Works (UBC custom edition) was a brand new textbook, never used prior to 2014W. Access to the ebook was included with the mandatory Launchpad access, so buying the physical book wasn’t actually necessary if you just bought the code. I found the actual book a lot easier to use than its online counterpart (you can’t read the ebook and complete the quizzes at the same time unless you struggle with Launchpad for a while), though, and I think most of us ended up buying it despite the alternative being made perfectly clear. You’ll also need an iClicker every class.
This course is basically a review of Biology 12 (in British Columbia). Most (but not all) of the material is covered in much greater depth than it was at my high school, however, with an emphasis on eukaryotic versus bacterial functions. Protein synthesis, DNA replication, cellular respiration and photosynthesis were all covered in pretty good detail, though the first two suffered big differences between the lecture material and textbook content — do not skip any of the protein synthesis lectures as exams are based on heavily activities completed in those classes.
There were two midterms and a final exam. The first midterm was worth 15% and the second 30% — had I actually known about this disparity I would’ve studied a lot harder for the second one. You’re allowed to bring in a cheat sheet to both midterms and the final, and I personally recommend putting as many labelled diagrams and flowcharts on it as possible, especially re:cellular respiration, photosynthesis and even transcription. I didn’t find any of the exams much harder than the others, but that’s not saying much, because I found all of the exams pretty darn hard. The multiple choice questions are designed to trick you, with many similar options and confusing combinations of phrases.
- Do the prereadings — not just because they’ll help you understand lectures (they didn’t help me much, honestly) but because the participation marks are a major grade booster. Same with the in-class activities. They worked really well for some people; not me. Point is, they’re marked on the basis of effort alone and putting in that extra bit of work will make up for that one question on the midterm you really wished you’d picked C for instead of E.
- Do the practice midterms. They’re long and time-consuming, but this course is known to recycle its exam questions (rumour has it the final never changes, but I wouldn’t bet on that one) and they really help you think critically about the material.
- Know your terminology. Part of the reason the second half of this course was such a mess for me was because I’d never gotten familiar with the vocabulary in the first place. Explanations went right over my head because I wasn’t sure what a sigma factor was, and I realize now I would’ve learned stuff a lot quicker had I figured out the basics at the start.
- Watch the videos. Every week, you download a targeted reading document that goes over the pre-lecture work. It often includes links to videos, animations and online activities. Use those. Seriously. At one point I decided I was too lazy to click into them but boy was that a mistake. Visualization is so key here. Bless whoever came up with the lac operon animation that literally saved my life.
Long post, but let me know if you have any questions about the course and I’ll try my best to answer!