A new lease on Life Sciences Following deliberations with both students and faculty, the Honours Life Sciences program has created new specializations aimed to introduce students to new fields


New specializations are coming to life for the next academic year.

With an enrollment of over 1,100 students in the Honours Life Sciences program, the School of Interdisciplinary Sciences has been working to devise new specializations for the benefit of this large cohort.

The surprising twist? Students themselves are helping to spearhead the design of these specializations.

Four Life Sciences students at the university currently serve as MacPherson Student Partners under the direction of Prof. Kim Dej, who holds the MacPherson Leadership in Teaching and Learning Fellowship.

Together, they are involved in a two-year project to analyze the impact of specializations on student engagements and academic success.

“Last summer, [the faculty] reached out to students, where we held a day-long workshop asking them what they would like to see. That workshop made us realize we should have been working with students all along,” said Prof. Dej, “[I think] an important part of life science curriculum development has these partnerships with students.”

Over the past year, the student partners have been working on curriculum design, looking at outcomes, as well as survey data. They have come up with eight tentative sub plans before finalizing two as optional specializations for the program.

The specializations gravitate towards the subject of human health and wellbeing to captivate student interest. Rather than merely serving as a gateway to professional school, the specializations are more so intended to provide exposure to diverse topics and many potential career paths.

Students working for students appear to be the key theme of this project.

“Talking to friends of mine who have either graduated or are in fourth year, they feel like they needed more structure in the program,” said Aisha Mohamed, a third-year Life Sciences student, and MacPherson student partner. “ It’s been nice getting feedback and knowing that we can make changes to accommodate them.”

“I would have wanted more guidance out of first year that would direct me for the next three years,” added Hannah Kearney, also a student partner.

“Talking to friends of mine who have either graduated or are in fourth year, they feel like they needed more structure in the program.”
Aisha Mohamed
MacPherson Student partner 

The two specializations, Sensory Motor Systems and Origin of Disease, are currently in the process of being finalized. Pending approval by the Senate, the new plans may be offered as soon as in the Fall 2017 curriculum.

Looking forward, Prof. Dej hopes to accomplish much more for the students in the Honours Life Sciences program by directing an interdisciplinary approach. Some of the areas she hopes to cover include public health, policy and science communications, among others.

“This isn’t the end; we want to explore more and hopefully explore outside the faculty to find things that cross these academic silos. Students who enter into the sciences are still interested in humanities and social sciences, and we wish to make these things thread together,” she said.


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