Biology 121: Genetics, Evolution and Ecology
Instructor: Greg Bole. The fact that he sometimes dresses up as Darwin for campus events should give you an idea of how awesome he is. Greg had crystal-clear explanations of concepts, gave us tons of interesting examples and case studies, and somehow managed to keep my attention for the entire 50 minutes of class time (which, for me, is a huge accomplishment). I would highly, highly recommend having Greg as an instructor, especially if you have trouble grasping biological concepts right away.
Textbook: Same textbook as Biol 112 and Biol 140, Biological Science, 1st Canadian ed. by Freeman. Don’t stress too much about the edition. I had the 3rd edition, and the only things that were really different were the page numbers and the case studies/research boxes (which I tended to skip anyway)
What We Learned: Three units of study – ecology, genetics, and evolution. Ecology included a history of life on Earth, different levels of ecology (organismal, population, community, ecosystem), food chains/webs, and human impacts on ecosystems. Genetics included mitosis and the cell cycle, meiosis, Mendelian genetics, pedigree analysis, sources of genetic variation, sex-linked inheritance, codominance, incomplete dominance, and gene recombination. Evolution included Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, gene flow, genetic drift, mutation, speciation, and human evolution.
Assignments/Homework: My class had weekly VISTA quizzes worth 5%, iClicker questions in class worth 5% (one point for answering, two for getting the answer right), and a 5% assignment where we went to the Beaty Biodiversity Museum on campus (the building with the giant whale skeleton!) and got to look at fossils. Other sections had to do a research assignment instead of the museum thing though.
Midterms/Final: My section had 2 midterms. The first one was on ecology and was worth 15%, and the second one was on genetics and was worth 20%. The average on the first midterm was in the high 70s, but the genetics midterm was 52%. Both of the midterms were fair though. Genetics is just more difficult content and required more studying, which I guess a lot of people weren’t prepared for. The final was worth 50%, and included all 3 units with a huge emphasis on evolution. You get a cheat sheet for the midterms and final, but don’t use it as a crutch–most people end up barely needing it to write the exams (I actually thought I forgot mine for the final and didn’t use it, even though it was in my backpack the whole time). Also, as opposed to Biology 112, the midterms and final for this course were written response.
Comments and Tips: Written response exams can be a little tricky, especially in biology, since the marking scheme has very explicit phrases and words that you must use in order to get full marks. Pay attention to the language your instructor uses in lecture as well as the words in your textbook. Also, when all else fails, just write as much as you possibly can about the topic. Work on understanding the concepts instead of just memorizing definitions, especially for the evolution and genetics units. For ecology and evolution, think up your own examples and apply the concepts learned in class to explain them. For genetics, do plenty of practice problems (especially pedigrees!). Even though I wasn’t that interested in this course’s material at first, it ended up being one of my favourite classes of first year. I’m even using genetics as one of my IntSci specializations. So if you’re thinking that ecology and genetics aren’t your thing, just keep an open mind, and you might surprise yourself.