Posted by: idm04 | 2012/09/02

Third-year Courses in UBC Sciences!

There will be no summary version or detailed version.  This will be the only version.  Courses listed here were taken from September to December of 2011 (Term 1) and I didn’t take any courses in Term 2 because it was a co-op term.

Thus, “missing” second term third-year courses are under “Fourth-year courses in UBC Sciences“.

Other posts:

Second-year Courses in UBC Sciences (Summary)
First-year Courses in UBC Sciences
Transition: First year to second year
Fourth-year Courses in UBC Sciences!
List of my “UBC Academic Stuff” posts (like this one)

List of all courses I’ve taken

Courses included in this post:

MICB 301
MICB 302
MICB 306
MICB 322
STAT 200 (elective)



MICB 301

MICB 301 was one of more enjoyable classes of the term, with somewhat engaging and thought-provoking lectures.  There were plenty of clicker questions and discussion questions and I enjoyed going to class most of the time.  However, the evaluation in the course could have been better in my opinion.

Grading Scheme

Clicker – 10% (participation)
Group assignments: Poster presentation and in-class questions – 20%
Individual written assignments – 10%
Midterm – 20%
Final – 40%

There was little or no scaling as far as I remember.


All material was related to prokaryotes as far as I remember.  A lot of emphasis on the process of regulation, details of molecular mechanisms and enzymatic pathways, and a lot of names for different enzymes and different prokaryotes that do different things.

1) Cell division and growth: How do prokaryotes grow and perform cell division at the molecular level, and how do they regulate its processes?
-Peptidoglycan structures and synthesis, function/regulation of the replisome (DNA replication), divisome
2) Respiration: How do prokaryotes build macromolecules and break down macromolecules to obtain energy?  How do the respiratory methods of prokaryotes affect our environment?
-redox, electron transport, metabolism: glycolysis, citric acid cycle, pentose phosphate pathway, respiratory diversity, denitrification, etc.
3) Sensing and responding to the environment: How do prokaryotes sense changes in the environment and what are the molecular mechanisms that comprise a response?
-chemoeffectors, active transport, kinases and phosphorylases, signal integration/amplification/transduction
4) Organic compound biodegradation: What are the molecular/enzymatic mechanisms behind the degradation of organic compounds by prokaryotes and how does this affect us?
-carbon cycle, decomposition of wood (lignin, cellulose), biodegradation of alkanes, aromatic rings, bioremediation, oxygenases
5) Anaerobic food web – What is fermentation and how does it compare to aerobic respiration?  How can we exploit fermentation?
-definitions of fermentation, kinds of fermentation (and pathways), food webs
6) Phototrophy – How do different prokaryotes perform phototrophy?
-purple bacteria, green sulfur bacteria, cyanobacteria, different kinds of phototrophy, metagenomics

In-class activity

Dr. Mohn shows Powerpoint slides during class, and there is a lot of room for discussion and asking questions which is great.  The material itself is presented in a thought-provoking way, and sometimes there are opportunities to discuss in small groups.  Later in the term (after the midterm I believe), groups of four are formed to do a poster project (more on that later), but these groups are also used for discussion and sometimes you will have to hand in answers to certain questions.  These questions either pertain directly to the material or to a special reading assignment like a literature paper or article that was previously provided.

There are plenty of Clicker questions every class, make sure you write down the answer because the questions and not the answers are posted on VISTA.


Dr. Mohn definitely knows his stuff.  Some people disagree because he pauses a lot to think, but it’s because the course subject — microbial ecophysiology  — is such a broad subject and obviously he’s not going to know everything about it.  However, he knows what he needs to know: he knows what’s in the notes (because he wrote them himself), which is sufficient.  Dr. Mohn tries to incorporate group discussion and critical thinking into his lectures and he is successful in doing so.  However, his learning objectives are very vague, as are his criteria for the assignments such as the poster project.  The exams, unfortunately, do not test critical thinking, but rote memorization instead, for the most part which was a huge letdown in a way.  Sometimes he is late putting things up on VISTA which is very annoying.

Textbook and Exams

There are “six” sections of the “textbook.”  It’s not actually a textbook, it’s just a set of notes written by Dr. Mohn.  They come out on VISTA when Dr. Mohn decides to upload them there, usually on time or barely on time for you to read before class.  Sometimes there are minor mistakes but usually someone will point them out, if not Dr. Mohn himself.  Overall, they are very well written though, and very important.  I usually print them out full size and study from them for the exams because they contain all the info you need to know.  According to Dr. Mohn, the lectures cover part if not most of the notes but not necessarily all of it, and you are required to know everything from the notes.  Pretty much if you memorize (and understand) the notes, you will do well on the exams.

The notes are difficult to understand at first, and as I said earlier, the material has a lot of emphasis on molecular processes/mechanisms, enzymatic pathways and regulation.  There are a lot of different genes and proteins, all with different names that are involved so you really do have to go through the notes slowly (so give yourself plenty of time) and repeatedly before you can grasp their meaning sometimes, let alone memorize the information.

The first midterm was covered by Chapter 1 if I remember correctly.  The average for the midterm was about 75% which is pretty high, and the standard deviation was low.  The highest mark was either in the low 90s or high 80s.  The key to the short answer questions on the exams is having the correct phrasing (ie. the EXACT same phrasing as the notes) so that you don’t get marks docked.

The final exam covered everything (ie. it was cumulative, unfortunately.  Really shows the emphasis on critical thinking and NOT rote memorization *sarcasm*).

Poster Session

There was a poster session sometime in mid-November and it was three lecture sessions long.  Basically all the students would stand in the atrium in LSC with their posters instead of having class time, while the professor and the TA went around evaluating each poster.  Each group of four had a poster, which meant there were about 20 posters and it took about 10 minutes for them to evaluate each poster.  Additionally, each student was assigned three posters to evaluate themselves.  The topic of the poster is chosen by each group and it had to do something with symbiotic relationships involving microbes.  I don’t remember the exact genus for our bacteria, but my group’s poster was about a bacteria that was living inside another bacteria that was living inside a bug, and essentially protein products were being exchanged between the three species and they were all dependent on each other for survival.

Be very careful with the wording of your topic proposals (just like the wording in the short answer questions on the exams) and with any other online submission because the criteria provided is vague and I really couldn’t figure out what they wanted.  I tried to follow the criteria to the best of my abilities but there would always be a large chunk of marks docked for something and it was very frustrating.  I guess the lesson is to clarify as much as possible.

MICB 302

They’re using a new textbook this year.

I found this course difficult.  There is a lot of material and a lot of pre-reading.  Exam questions are asked in a manner that is thought provoking, which requires some level of critical thinking.  However, the answers you write, which are often in paragraphs, are marked for specific phrasing (similar to MICB 301 above) and for having sufficient detail, which means having as much detail as possible.  This, ultimately, results in a course that emphasizes memorization, even if not mainly memorization.  Questions on the midterm usually say, “Please only use 4 sentences” but according to the TAs (who were marking the exam), this means you should write four paragraphs.  Needless to say, this caused a lot of frustration and regret, so I encourage that you clarify with the TAs (if they’re going to be marking it) about these answer length rules.

On readings: It’s difficult to say really how useful and how worthwhile it is to do pre-readings.  Certainly it would help, but is it worth the amount of time that it takes?  I think time would be better used pre-reading the lecture slides on VISTA, and then doing the textbook readings after the lecture to clarify concepts that were missed, and for the overall picture.

MICB 306

MICB 306 was enjoyable during some parts of the course, but overall it was difficult to keep up with and it felt like information was just being force-fed to us.

Grading scheme

Quizzes (in-class and online) – 5%
Two midterms – 17.5% each
Final – 60%

Final may be worth more if you do better on it than the midterms, but don’t rely on it.  There are some written assignments that you can hand in for bonus marks; these will be announced by Dr. Horwitz.  The quiz that is in-class may very well be a pop quiz.


Basic Virology

In this course, you will learn about the history of viruses, their classification, and vague, general information about many different kinds of viruses, including picornaviruses, togaviruses, flaviviruses, calciviruses, coronaviruses, negative RNA viruses (?), filoviruses, influenza, small DNA viruses, Herpes viruses, Pox viruses, retroviruses and hepatitis viruses.

A lot of material and a lot of memorization.  What’s important to know in particular for the midterm (among other things) is the Baltimore system of classification of viruses, which categorizes viruses into six categories based on how mRNA is made from the viral genome.  For each virus category, you will typically learn about the hosts, cell tropism, associated disease, vaccines/treatments, transmission, structure, and replication strategy.

The problem with the exams are that there are no set learning objectives for the course, or they are overly vague, which means it is extremely difficult to know what exactly you need to know for the exam.

In-class activity

Dr. Horwitz would simply go through his Powerpoint slides, which are often either really full of text such that it’s really hard to copy down or; nearly empty such that you don’t really know what to write down if anything.

There were some short video clips, those were fun to watch.

Each lecture, we would go through maybe 50 slides, sometimes even 80.  Sometimes I didn’t even know what I was learning…


Dr. Horwitz is a nice guy and is knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the subject matter.  I think he’s a very entertaining lecturer and I’ve been to some of his research talks in the LSC.  I just personally don’t like his exams or lecture slides.


I highly disliked the wording of the midterms because some of it was vague.  Midterms are generally quite long (could be over 10 pages in length) and you are only given the class (50 minutes).  Most of the questions are just fill in the blank or short answer.  Questions are often open-ended, even for fill in the blank ones, so interpretation of the question (and the answer key) is necessary, very difficult, and very subjective.

Your best bet is to know all the material well, and then be mentally prepared for any kind of question to pop up during the exam.  There was one question on my midterm that read: “What three components constitute a virus like Influenza?”  My answer was: “negative strand RNA, multiple segments as genome, and hemagglutinin proteins.”  My answer ended up being marked as incorrect, and the answer that he was looking was simply: “protein, nucleic acid, lipid.”

The average for the midterms were in the 60s for both.  The final exam was easier than the midterms, but it was cumulative and mostly consisted of straightforward multiple choice.


In the past, a textbook called “Basic Virology” by Wagner et al. was used, and I happened to buy it.  I do regret buying it as it was not helpful.  I also regret buying the “Interactive Lecture Notes for Virology” which was written by Dr. Horwitz himself, because 1) it was way overpriced and 2) it didn’t have any information in it, just a lot of blank space for you to fill in… often, it didn’t align with the lecture slides which was very confusing.  In summary, I don’t recommend buying anything for MICB 306.  Note that some people have been able to buy the course notes from the Bookstore, take out the spiral/spine, photocopy the book (e.g. at Copiesmart in the Village), replace the spine, and return the book.  Of course, I do not endorse this and I am merely saying it for your amusement… is a useful site for looking up different families of viruses and their characteristics.

Overall, what I took away from this course is that there are many different viruses and I will never be able to know everything about all of them, because of how easily I forgot the different characteristics of ALL the different viruses I “learned about” in this course.

Note: If you are considering taking MICB 407 in fourth year, then you must take this course by the end of third year because it is a prerequisite.

MICB 322

Unfortunately, I don’t remember a lot from this course.  But basically you’ll learn some extremely basic molecular biology and microbiology techniques, including plating, API staining, bacterial isolation and identification, plasmid digests, and running agarose gels.

I had Dr. Benbasat as my professor, which means the course format may be different since she retired right after teaching us.

I wasn’t very fond of this course because I didn’t learn much from it — I had already done things like PCR, plating bacteria, running gels, etc. so it was very boring work to me.  I don’t think we got to leave early most of the time either.  Because of the plating, we often had to come in out of lab time (e.g. the day after our lab day) to take our plates out of the incubator and store them in the walk in fridge.

The exams were pretty brutal.  Lots of memorization but lots of application as well.  I definitely should have went over all the calculations for dilutions and for anything else and just practiced by re-doing them all.  Instead, I convinced myself that I could just rationalize it on the exam, which was true, except there wasn’t enough time to do that.  Also, one of the midterm questions involved graphing on a semilog graph, but the question didn’t specify which side was up (you had to know), which was confusing for some people.  Also, I didn’t remember what each media was made of, so I failed those questions lol.  Barely anyone finished the midterm early, it was just that long.

Example of a memorization question from the midterm:

a) Design a media that will allow you to differentiate between lac+ Staphylococcus aureus and E. coli.  List all components of the media, including those that are omitted and explain why you included or ommitted them (10 pts).

b) Name 3 other genus that contain bacteria that can inhabit the skin (3 pts).

c) Describe how you can differentiate S. aureus from these 3 species (5 pts).

The labs generally take 3 hours or longer, unfortunately.

STAT 200

Someone told me that this course is getting harder from year to year because they realized it was too easy — judging by the grade distributions, this is not true (as of June 2013).  I consider this course to be a GPA booster given that it is all about fairly basic calculations.

This course involves a lot of basic statistics with basically no calculus whatsoever.  Topics covered include probability, sampling distributions, inference, and ANOVAs.  You can read the course outline here:

This course was fairly easy, and minimal work was involved.  The labs were quite straightforward and took less than an hour a week.  The only thing that took some time were the assignments, which were approximately bi-weekly — however, they were good practice.

Both the midterm and the final had some multiple choice questions, which I thought was a pretty stupid way to test someone’s knowledge of statistics.  However, the questions were quite similar to those provided in lecture, or in the assignments.  As with mathematics courses, practice is pretty important and I highly recommend re-doing any in-class problems AND the assignment problems, because the assignment problems are a bit more challenging and they cover some material that is not explicitly covered during lecture but is still examinable — I found this out the hard way, unfortunately.

We were given a list of questions that we could try for practice from the textbook, and I did not do any of them.  I heard it’s a good textbook, but I didn’t read it and I don’t think you really need to read it nor do the problems unless you’re having issues understanding concepts in class.  If you think the in class problems and the assignments aren’t enough, then go for it and get the extra practice.





  1. stat 200 is indeed using a new text, its a book by Deveux, excellent book, I was part of the review panel for it

    • How did you get chosen for it?

      • She just asked some students to review a new text, and we got to keep it. CHA CHING.

  2. Do you know of any upper level GPA boosters? Preferably those available in term 2 LOL. I’m short a few :(

  3. I haven’t finished any upper-level courses that are known to be GPA boosters, so my suggestions are only based on what I’ve heard from others (and may not be true):

    ANAT 390/391
    BIOL 300/301
    CPSC 301
    IHHS courses in general
    FNH (some)
    ECON 310, 311
    CLST 301
    COMM 457/458
    MUSC 326A

    I’m sure there are others that I haven’t mentioned because I do recall people mentioning a few and I’m pretty sure they don’t appear on this list. There does exist a website that you may already of that allows you to look at grades for any course previously offered at UBC which may help you find potential courses to take.


  4. Have you heard of anyone taking BIOL300? (Is it an easy course? Pair reports says that the avgs are ~78-80%). Is it very different from STAT200?

    • No I don’t think it’s that different from STAT 200. I have heard from people that it is generally straightforward. I would have taken it if it had fit in my schedule…

  5. Was there a textbook for MICB 322?

    • No, just a lab manual!

      • Did you have to buy it from the bookstore or from MISA?

        • From MISA. It’s going to be ~$25.

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