The recent change to the Honours Life Sciences curriculum tops what has been a year of many changes for the program. The current curriculum draws in students looking for flexibility in course selections. Despite graduating with the same degree, students in the program have taken a variety of courses such as biology, psychology, ecology and more. The reasoning behind the changes in curriculum arose from concerns surrounding whether the flexibility ultimately held students back from developing the necessary skills that they need to progress past graduation.
For Biology professor Kimberly Dej, this is a major concern. “We knew that students appreciated the flexibility but we also worried about what students ended up with when they graduated. Whether you’re in health care, politics and policy – you have to think like a scientist … And what we found is that by fourth-year students were still taking a group of courses that were very broad and they were still experimenting with courses. So there was no progression upward through the years.”
A committee made up of all the contributing departments and two student members was assembled to revise the curriculum. While in the past, required courses were grouped by year level of the course, the new curriculum groups required courses by broader skill sets: research skills, communication skills and an experiential component. Courses that were mandatory before are conserved under this system, but are organized differently.
Under the umbrella category for research skills is the living systems laboratory course that aims to introduce students to novel research techniques. Making statistics a required course was done as a means of ensuring that students in science are able to understand and interpret data presented in research. Past analyses showed that most students take Genetics, so making it a required second year course was not considered to be a big change.
The communication courses ensure that students have the necessary skills to hold their own symposium, hold a debate and develop other skills necessary in the scientific field. Finally, the experiential component features a thesis or project course in third or fourth year, a placement course, community engagement course or peer-mentoring course.
“It’s a real shame if you graduate with a science degree and you’re never in a lab and all you do is fill in multiple choice bubble questions. I think we are letting down the students if they spend four years doing that, so we wanted to think about how they can apply these skills in really meaningful ways,” said Dej.
The number of electives that students are able to take is conserved in the new curriculum, meaning that there is no loss in flexibility to do a minor or to take courses outside of science.
Students currently in their second year of Honours Life Sciences and higher will not be affected by these curriculum changes. Students currently in level one of a gateway program that plan on entering into the Honours Life Sciences stream will take courses as per the new curriculum but will have the same admission requirements as the previous years. The following year will also see changes to the courses requirement for entry into the program, with math, biology, chemistry and physics being required.
“What we found is that by fourth-year students were still taking a group of courses that were very broad and they were still experimenting with courses. So there was no progression upward through the years.”
The next step is to develop subplans, or specific smaller sets of courses within Honours Life Science that allow for a greater variety of interests. Students will be actively involved in the development of these subplans, as they were involved in the development of the curriculum through surveys and a public discussion.
Students with questions or concerns are encouraged to reach out to the administrative department, as well as those who are interested in being involved in the creation of curriculum changes.
Photo Credit: Kareem Baassiri/ Photo Contributor