Courses listed here were taken between September 2012 and April 2013. This is the only version of this post. “Fourth-year courses” actually just means any courses taken in my fourth calendar year of attending UBC.
Also see MICB 405, MICB 421, and PHIL 330A in Fifth-year courses in UBC Sciences.
List of courses:
Other posts of potential interest:
Despite the fact that I didn’t particularly enjoy MICB 322, this lab course actually wasn’t that bad — in fact, I learned a lot of new things and the labs were generally relaxing. THERE WERE NO LAB REPORTS. No midterm either, woot!
Practical (ie. do you know how to perform basic techniques like Gram stains and dilution series?) – 25%
General lab performance (ie. are you a good lab student, for example you turn off equipment after using it and such) – 10%
Lab notebook check(s) – 20%
Laboratory exam (in class, end of term) – 20%
Final exam – 25%
The laboratory exam was easily one of the hardest exams I’ve ever written at UBC, because no one really knew what to expect. What is DMCU? Why are we using it? What is the purpose of including this component of this media? What is ethanol used for in DNA purification? And a lot of other very technical details that I didn’t know QQ. Little of this information was in the lab manual, you had to rationalize it by yourself (or by asking or by trying to look it up). This means that you should probably make sure you know why you’re doing things a certain way by asking during the lab (or lecture) about that week’s lab rather than trying to “study” at the end of the term.
Format of Lecture and Lab Activities
There was a lecture scheduled for 2 hours every Monday in preparation for the lab activities. As in MICB 322, this involved going over some theories or concepts that would be used in the lab. Most of the time, the lectures lasted about an hour long, for which I am extremely grateful. However, I always felt like sleeping during lectures…
Labs were also once a week, just like in MICB 322/323. Although they were scheduled for 4 hours, I don’t ever remember staying longer than 3 hours, and most of the time, we got to leave quite early which was nice. However, there is often work to do outside of regular lab time, like plating or making observations. There were extremely few demonstrations done at the beginning of each lab, which was amazing because demonstrations in undergrad lab courses are usually a waste of time since all the instructions are in the lab manual! In this sense, MICB 401 students had to be fairly independent in the lab, although the instructor and the TAs were usually around.
In MICB 401, there was some partner work but most work was done individually. We were generally free to change partners between lab activities.
Lab activities included:
Isolating phototrophic bacteria from sewage samples
Isolating DNA from soil and amplifying 16S rRNA genes from the DNA
Isolating endospore forming bacteria from soil
Using fluorescence microscopy to estimate microbial biomass in soil
Isolating luminous bacteria from fish
Determining abundance of bacteria on our hands
Sampling bacteria from the air
Technically, before each week, you should have read the relevant material in the lab book. However, sometimes I didn’t read the lab book until during the lab LOL. Probably wasn’t a good idea, but whatever. Often, there are changes to procedures. These changes are either announced at the beginning of the lab (or written on the chalkboard in the lab room) or during lecture — make sure you make note of them.
What is very important to do that basically no one did is to make sure you understand the rationale behind every reagent and every protocol used. For example, why use media X instead of Y? Or, what does DMCU stand for and why are we using it? You need to know the reasons for why you are doing things a certain way in the lab because they may come up in exams later… the lab exam, that is
For the final exam, we had to read a couple of papers about culture-dependent vs. culture-independent methods (amongst other things). Do read these papers, but don’t memorize anything from them because you would be wasting your time doing so. Just understand the underlying concepts and the messages that the papers are trying to get across.
Average final grade ~80%. Very few people get 90%+.
ANAT 390 (now called CAPS 390)
I didn’t really like this course because it wasn’t interesting to me, and there was a lot of memorization going on. However, if you like memorization, this course will probably be a GPA booster for you. This course counts for upper-level Science credits.
Quizzes (4 total, each worth 5%, online): 20%
Midterm (32 MC, 8 short answer): 20%
Final (96 MC, 24 short answer): 60%
This course is about histology, which is about examining the microscopic structure of cells, tissues and organs. So it answers questions like “What does the skin look like at the microscopic level — what are the different layers and what kinds of cells are there?
Cell Adhesion, Extracellular Matrix
Basic Tissues, Integument, Female Reproductive System
Nervous Tissue, Endocrine System
Connective Tissue, Cartilage, Bone, Blood, Circulation, Lymphoid
Respiratory, GI, Urinary, Male Reproductive System
The slides are posted beforehand so you can print them out if you want, or just put them on your tablet/laptop if you have one.
Beware of people saving entire rows of seats, and people coming in super late every single class. If you’re going to bring a laptop, either sit in the very back row or don’t go on Facebook because it’s ridiculously distracting. Sometimes people play games or go on Facebook the entire class and I wonder why they even bother since there’s no clickers or in-class participation or anything (which frankly makes class boring).
Colour Textbook of Histology 3/e by Gartner and Hiatt.
UBC Bookstore price: $89.85 new, $67.45 used
I bought it used for: $40 on Facebook
It’s not very useful in my opinion, especially for the development section. It may have been more useful later, but by that time I had already forgotten about its existence. According to the instructors, all the material will come from the lecture slides anyway. I don’t know anyone else who used the textbook. It appears to be available online.
The exams are straightforward to prepare for, and it requires memorization. Basically, just read over the slides and look at the questions at the end of each slide set/section (and quizzes) because those represent the kind of questions that will appear on the exams. I highly recommend getting with other people and studying together, and even more so, getting together with people to do the quizzes, because they can be tricky and they are worth 5% each. If you work with a group of people on the quizzes, you should be able to get at least 18/20 on all of them.
Grades are pretty high in this course, as most people are taking it as an easy GPA booster. Average in 2012W is 75%, with ~15% of the class getting an A+.
Overall, this course seemed pretty easy, but it was too boring so I didn’t study very hard and I got a B lol. I don’t like memorization.
BIOL 334 (now called BIOL 234)
Highlight class of the term. One of my favourite courses ever, and ended up being a GPA booster for me, but I don’t recommend taking it if you’re looking for a GPA booster, unless you’re very confident — there are people who get 100% in this course every year. People tend to regard this course as difficult.
Midterm 1: 20%
Midterm 2: 20%
1. DNA, RNA, protein (central dogma)
2. Segregation and independent assortment
4. Mapping in Eukaryotes
5. Allelic interactions (dominant, recessive, etc)
6. Genetic interactions
7. Pathways & Complexes (Reaction pathways)
8. Chromosomal changes
9. Genome rearrangements
10. Population genetics
11. Quantitative genetics
The first few weeks of class is a review of genetics from BIOL 121 for the most part.
The material covered in this course will allow you to solve problems in genetics such as: “Given these two parents with these two genotypes, what would the genotype(s) of the offspring be?” and also doing the reverse: “Given the genotype of the offspring, what must the genotypes of the parents be?”
I really enjoyed learning the material in this course and the emphasis on problem solving over memorization. I chose to take this course out of interest, and I also think that an understanding of genetics is essential to knowing biology, and that the courses required by my degree weren’t sufficient in this regard.
A lot of the notes were not available online.
NOTE: I am selling the textbook with solutions for $70 (negotiable).
Introduction to Genetic Analysis, 10/e by Griffiths et al. with solutions manual
UBC Bookstore price: $152.65 new/$114.50 used
I bought for: $80 from Saveonbook.com
I highly recommend getting the textbook. Even if you don’t read textbooks like myself, you will need it to do the practice problems. Alternatively, you could just buy the solutions manual by itself, because it has both the questions and the answers (but they’re not segregated).
On reading the textbook: I didn’t read the textbook, I only used it to do problems. Reading the textbook is definitely not necessary to get 100% in the course, but doing the problems is, unless you’re a genius.
During tutorials, you just work on the problems the TA gives you, which are mostly from the textbook. I suppose it’s a good way to 1) get help, and 2) get yourself to do the problems. However, if you can do the practice problems by yourself, then you definitely don’t need to go to tutorial ever.
There are different tutorial sections and you can probably go to any tutorial you want, even though Craig says not to.
The midterms can be quite difficult, because they’re only 50 minutes long, and problem solving can take a long time. Not only that, problem solving shouldn’t be done under high pressure, and unfortunately, high pressure is what you have to deal with when you only have 50 minutes to do 3 long questions.
To prepare for the exams, you should do lots of practice problems from the textbook. In the syllabus, there is a list of questions that you should do after each chapter. I tried to do the problems on a weekly basis (in addition to reviewing my notes), and then a week before the midterm I did all of the problems for all the previous chapters again, this time as fast as possible (remember, the midterms are short so speed is important), and then maybe two days before the midterm I would have my cheat sheet written out, and then I would redo some of the same practice problems if I was having issues with them, or the practice midterm(s) if that was available, or problems in the textbook that were not explicitly recommended but similar to the ones recommended for extra practice.
Average is 71% in BIOL 234 in 2012W, ~15% of the class gets 85% or higher. Similar statistics for BIOL 334.
Again, this was my favourite class that term and I learned a lot of stuff and much enjoyed the problem solving aspect; however the course wasn’t exactly a walk in the park.
Quite an interesting course, and quite different from the rest of the courses I’ve taken. I took this class online.
Participation in online discussions: 10%
Two essays (30% each): 60%
I like the course description from PHIL 433 written by Dr. Doran Smolkin, so I’ll just copy and paste it here.
“Is euthanasia morally permissible? What is the relationship between patient autonomy, competence, and informed consent? When, if ever, is paternalism morally justified? Under what circumstances, if any, is abortion morally wrong? Is it morally permissible for women to obtain and for doctors to provide medically unnecessary Caesarean sections? Should doctors provide alternative, unproven therapies to their patients who request them? When, if ever, is two-tier health care just? What, in general, makes an act morally right or wrong, a person virtuous or vicious, a policy just or unjust? In Philosophy 433, we will explore answers to these questions from a variety of perspectives. We will, in short, critically examine some leading philosophical theories, and some important, and difficult, ethical issues in health care.”
I took this class online. The course schedule consisted of weekly readings, followed by discussions on the discussion board online by posting answers/responses to two questions about that week’s material. The readings took 1 – 2 hours a week on average, and thinking of good things to say for the discussion took 0.5 – 1 hours on average a week. Readings were from the online notes (which are fairly concise) and the textbook.
There were also three essay assignments (1500 – 2000 words each), and we were to choose to do two of them. The first was due on Oct 18, the second Nov 15 and the third Dec 6 which is at the beginning of the exam period. I chose to do the first and the last essays. I recommend doing the first two essays because the feedback is important and will help you on your final exam, and if you do the last essay you won’t get the feedback until after the final exam unless it’s scheduled really late in the exam period by chance.
Debating Health Care Ethics by Smolkin, Bourgeois, and Findler
UBC Bookstore sold for: $94.90 new, $71.20 used
I bought for: $40 off Craigslist
I usually did readings and the discussion board assignments every second week rather than every week because of my laziness. As I said above, this amounted to about 3 hours a week on average spent towards this course, which isn’t really a lot.
I started off readings by reading the notes online, followed by the textbook. I also made a word document every time I did readings so that I could take notes. These notes were based off the learning objectives provided online. Sometimes, if the notes I wrote based off the online notes were sufficient to fully answer the learning objectives, I would stop there and not bother reading the textbook. Most of the time though, I did read the textbook, or at least skimmed through it.
My notes, if you want them (they are sorted chronologically):
PHIL 433A- 2012.09.06- 1.1-1.9
PHIL 433A- 2012.09.06- 2.10-2.13
PHIL 433A- 2012.10.15- 3.16
PHIL 433A- 2012.10.22- 4.17-4.23
PHIL 433A- 2012.11.13- 5.24
PHIL 433A- 2012.11.19- 6.25
PHIL 433A- 2012.12.10- Final Exam Notes
Dr. Smolkin is very specific about what is covered on the final exam. The exam consisted of definitions, short answer questions, and some essay questions. For the short essay questions, five questions were given to us online before the exam, and it was said that two of these five questions would appear on the exam itself, and we would choose one of them to answer. For the longer essay questions, three questions were given to us beforehand, and two would appear on the exam and we would choose one of them to answer.
This obviously means that you should not study to answer all five of the short essay questions and all three of the longer essay questions, and I have a feeling some people did. You only have to study for four of the short essay questions and two of the longer essay questions to cover all your bases. I took a risk and only studied three of the short essay questions, due to time constraints, and luckily that didn’t screw me over.
To “study” for the essay questions I simply went over the relevant concepts and then drafted an outline of the essay.
And to study for the other questions I merely reviewed the relevant sections in the notes that I had made during my readings.
Average was 73% in 2011W, ~20% of the class gets 80% or higher.
I’m glad I took this course because it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be, and I was introduced to ethics which I think is pretty interesting and allowed me to talk/argue/discuss ethical problems with people later on. It was also a nice break from memorization-based Science.
Probably my favourite course of the term — very different class format from most courses I’ve taken.
10% – for attempting the HW (online Connect assessments)
10% – for answering 100% of the HW correctly
10% – for attempting 90% of the clicker questions
30% – midterm
40% – final
There are some opportunities bonus marks as well.
This course is basically about bacterial regulation of gene expression — how do bacteria turn on/off particular genes in response to an environmental stimulus? In particular, this question was studied at the molecular level. We also spent a long time studying the lac operon. There was some intro to bioinformatics analysis as well, in terms of analyzing DNA sequences. Pretty interesting stuff, in my opinion.
Topic 1: Genes, mutations, alleles, genetic screens/selections
Topic 2: Genomes, chromosomes, plasmids, homologous recombination
Topic 3: Gene expression, regulation
Topic 4: Plasmid mediated gene transfer
Topic 5: The lac operon
Topic 6: Genetic complementation to study gene regulation
Topic 7: More lac operon – negative regulation
Topic 8: More lac operon – positive regulation
Topic 9: Intro to gene cloning to investigate regulation
Topic 10: Restriction enzymes, fragmentation of DNA
Topic 11: Selecting/screening for recombinant plasmids in E. coli
Topic 12: Screening of recombinant plasmids by trans complementation of a mutant, restriction mapping
Topic 13: Sequence analysis of cloned genes
Topic 14: Use of cloned genes to study transcription
Topic 15: Use of cloned genes to study regulation
Topic 16: More cloning and regulation
Topic 17: Response regulators
Topic 18: Sensor kinases
Topic 19: Suppressor mutations
Topic 20: cis active sequences, DNAse footprinting
Topic 21: Intro to genomics, gene knockouts, directed mutagenesis
Topic 22: Site directed mutagenesis, tagged protein overexpression
Every Monday and Thursday, there is a quiz online that usually takes 30 minutes for myself. It involves two written questions. Both of the questions are marked for completeness, but only one of them is marked for correctness (they do not tell you which beforehand). The questions are generally not that difficult; however, the TA seems to enjoy taking off marks for very minor details, so be very careful with your wording. Also, sometimes the questions are easy to misinterpret, so I highly recommend talking to as many people as possible to discuss the question.
The topic notes are written by the instructor and you are expected to read them before they are covered in class. They are only a few pages each so I would say it’s pretty light reading.
During class, the instructor will ask if there are questions about the assigned readings/topic notes and then he will most likely start doing clicker questions. This class has lots of clicker questions — about 5 – 10 per class, every class. New material was rarely covered in class — you are expected to read the material on your own and then ask questions if needed. What I like about the class is the level of participation. Basically everyone is participating by answering the clicker questions, and most of the class time is spent answering people’s questions about the clicker questions or about the topic notes. I think this is the key difference between the teaching style in this course and the traditional lecture style.
I find this teaching strategy to be very efficient. After all, I’d rather not pay $500 for someone to read off slides to me when I can read them at home by myself. Further, the clicker questions promote conceptual understanding over memorization and it means I don’t have to go home and do practice problems.
Grades are pretty high in this course. The midterm average was 86% and the final grade average was around the same. The final was more difficult than the midterm, but still fairly easy in my opinion. The final was very long and I didn’t have enough time to check over the whole exam. I managed to get 1 wrong on the pre-test and 0 wrong on the post-test. Try to beat me bwahaha :D
All you need to do in this class for ‘studying’ is 1) read the topic notes 2) go to class and 3) do the online quizzes. There is no other “studying” that you have to do before any exam. On average, I spent an hour or two outside of class for this course, and most of this time was just submitting the Connect assessment.
Technically, you could go through all the clicker questions before the exams since they’re posted online, and you could go through all the quizzes too, but frankly, I think this is kind of a waste of time because if you didn’t understand the material before, it probably won’t help trying to cram it in the few days before an exam. This course is more about conceptual understanding than memorization so cramming doesn’t help much.
Exam questions are similar to the online quiz questions and somewhat similar to the clicker questions. If you do plan to redo clicker questions at a later time, I recommend writing down the answers during class because the answers are not posted. Also be careful with your wording when you answer exam questions. They are very picky about wording and they will take off many marks for saying something like “A binds to B” instead of “A directly binds to B”. Which I think is stupid.
I wrote down notes during class all of five times during the term. Everything you need to know in terms of facts is in the topic notes, and all the practice you need is already present from the clicker questions (and online assessments). One concept that many people had issues with was homologous recombination — students generally failed to visualize crossovers or let alone draw them correctly. If you have problems with recombination, you’d better practice drawing them. I had plenty of practice in BIOL 334 where we did single, double and triple crossovers on a regular basis so the recombination in MICB 325 was an absolute breeze…
Overall, MICB 325 is a pretty fun course with relatively little weekly time commitment outside of class; and I highly enjoyed the teaching style. I’d even recommend it as an elective, or for int sci people who need MICB courses.
There were some interesting concepts I learned in this course — for example, how to determine whether a particular phenotype of a bacterium is a virulence factor or not. However, I found this course to be full of memorizing impertinent details and I kind of regret taking it.
Pop quizzes (5% each, best 2 of 3): 10%
The learning outcomes of this course have a lot to do with experimental design and proposals for research to design vaccines/therapies. In this sense, students are expected to be able to synthesize new knowledge.
-Definition of pathogen
2. Bacterial cell surfaces/structures
-Peptidoglycan, cell envelope
-Beta lactam antibiotic mechanism and resistance
-Glycopeptide antibiotics mechanism and resistance
4. Host defenses and microbial mechanisms for evasion
6. Techniques (to find virulence factors)
-Koch’s postulates, molecular version
-gain of function/loss of function experiments
-signature tagged mutagenesis
-hybridization based experiments
-zipper vs. trigger
9. Intracellular survival
-inhibition of phagosome-lysosome fusion (Legionella, Chlamydia)
-escape from phagosome (Listeria, Shigella)
-inhibition of protein synthesis (Diptheria, shiga toxin)
-interference with signal transduction (Cholera, pertussis toxin)-interference with actin polymerization (C. difficile toxins A, B)
-proteases (tetanus, botulinum toxin)
-pathogenicity islands, phages (V. cholerae)
There are three pop quizzes that are spread throughout the term. The first one was on Koch’s postulates, and I can’t remember what the other two were on. I highly recommend doing the first pop quiz because I think it is supposed to be the easiest. I will upload my pop quiz questions here if someone reminds me.
Class was usually spent with the instructor writing on a notepad and us copying down notes from her notes. She writes fairly quickly and I found it very difficult to both listen and understand what she was saying and also write down what she was writing down at the same time. There was not much opportunity for class participation. It was mostly a small handful of students that were answering the instructor’s questions, if she had any.
The pop quiz takes 10 minutes each, and sometimes they’re at the beginning of class, so don’t be late. This was an issue for some people, because during my year the class was scheduled in the Hugh Dempster Pavilion.
Probably won’t help you much. I did not read it, but who knows, maybe if I did I would have gotten 100%! Probably not. I heard it’s available online anyway.
In all seriousness, there was a question from the textbook that appeared on a pop quiz. Unfortunately, the answer to the question wasn’t in the textbook anyway, so it’s not like that would have helped much. (It was a relatively philosophical question)
The first step to doing well in this course is to memorize everything.
The second step to doing well in this course is to apply all that knowledge you memorized to the learning objectives. That is, for every bacterium or virulence factor in your knowledge base, you should be able to rationalize why a certain vaccine will work or not, and also how you would test if that virulence factor is indeed a virulence factor. Unfortunately, these questions were not explicitly addressed in class, so not only do you have to figure it out by yourself, you then have to hope that you’re actually correct and that what you made up about your theoretical vaccine or experiment agrees with the answer key.
On writing exams/pop quizzes in 308: Your answers should be very comprehensive if you want full marks.
The average for the midterm was around 85%. I got 88% on the midterm, but somehow I got 80% as my final grade — not sure how… and the class average was 73%.
Overall, I did not feel this course was as worthwhile as originally expected because I did not learn much. I felt that the level of detail was very high, and as a result I did not find the subject matter very interesting nor engaging.
Note: This course is a prerequisite for MICB 408 and 404. If you are considering taking 408 and/or 404 in fourth year, then you must take this course in third year, unless you have special permission.
Easily the most difficult course that term, and one of the more difficult courses I’ve taken at UBC. Not impossible, just annoyingly difficult in terms of the effort required. I personally would not fathom taking this course if it were not necessary.
Midterm – 50%
Final – 50%
Exams are not cumulative, thank goodness.
First ~1/3 was on fatty acid oxidation and synthesis, cholesterol synthesis, and lipid transport. How are fats mobilized in the body? What are the mechanisms and enzymes for how the cell processes fats (breakdown or synthesize) and under what conditions does fat breakdown/synthesis occur?
Next was nitrogen fixation, amino acid anabolism, amino acid catabolism, urea cycle, molecules derived from amino acids, integration of metabolism. Look at all these amino acid pathways. Memorize them please. And the amino acid structures too. All of them.
The above material was covered on the midterm.
The last section was on nucleotide metabolism, genes, chromosomes, chromatin structure, DNA replication/repair, PCR, RNA and transcription, protein synthesis. Nucleotide metabolism is basically how the four bases (technically, I am referring to the nucleotides) are chemically made from scratch, and also how they are broken down for excretion, and possibly what diseases are involved when certain enzymes in the pathway don’t work. The rest of this section of the course was just molecular biology — PCR, DNA replication, transcription, translation, etc.
The final was not cumulative.
I have heard that sometimes they will switch the material sections around or omit sections entirely, but I’m not too sure.
Anyway, the material had a lot to do with memorizing and understanding pathways and enzyme names and the enzyme’s inhibitors/activators.
Didn’t seem that useful. However, I didn’t get a good mark in the course, so maybe it would have helped. However, I have talked to several people and most of them recommended against using the textbook. All of the examinable material is technically in lecture anyway. The textbook appears to be available online.
Remember, both the midterm and the final are worth 50% each so you should treat both of them like a separate final exam. Fortunately, they are not cumulative; otherwise, I probably would have failed this course.
If you need to memorize the structures for amino acids, check YouTube for very helpful methods.
There are boatloads of material in this course, and so unless you have superb memorization abilities, I think that it is of utmost importance to keep up in this course. For me personally, keeping up in a course isn’t necessary in general, but in hindsight, it was for this course. Setting aside a few hours a week to tackle this course is probably a good idea. Your reviewing should involve regular review of your lecture notes, as well as any in class example problems. Additionally, if the prof has example problems, those should be done as well on a regular basis. You should definitely seek to attend all classes, because the profs, especially Dr. Maurus, say really important things about what you need to know/not know and he doesn’t write these things down anywhere. Furthermore, Dr. Maurus does not write down his explanations for some of the more difficult concepts. There is no good substitute for going to class and taking good notes in this course.
One interesting thing I noticed was that whenever I went to the morning class (8 am), most of the seats were empty. But when I went to the afternoon class, the room was completely packed… Hey UBC, let’s get rid of 8 am classes, they’re clearly not very effective… other schools have gotten rid of early morning classes, I believe we should follow them.
Another important thing is tutorial attendance. Obviously, it is not mandatory, but it can be extremely useful. Some of the TAs have assisted with the course for several years, and they are responsible in part for marking the exams as well. Therefore, they will know about the grades in the course and about what kinds of questions are asked on the exams. They are an excellent resource and they are basically the closest thing you have to past exams. Doing the tutorial problems (posted online) ahead of tutorial is highly recommended. Even if you do the tutorial problems before tutorial, you should still attend because the TA may review concepts that will reinforce the information in your brain. Also, they may tell you what to expect on the exam and what you need to memorize or what you don’t need to memorize, etc.
I recommend dropping in on multiple tutorial sections at the beginning of the term to assess for yourself which TA is best. Justin is not bad, and I really liked Alym’s section, so I usually went to those. You can choose to go to any section you want — hell, go to more than one section a week if you really feel the need to.
The exams will require you to have memorized pretty much everything in your notes, and you’ll need to be able to apply the knowledge too. Again, cramming is a bad idea. Even if it worked for other courses.
This was probably my least favourite course of the term, due to the vast amount of material we covered and the vast amount of memorization required. I think the course covered two courses’ worth of material. Anyway, I wish I hadn’t needed to take it, but unfortunately it’s in my degree requirements. I don’t recommend taking this course unless it’s mandatory or unless you like biochem and memorization.
One of the more interesting and fun courses that I have taken at UBC. And different as well — I find that there was more problem solving and creativity involved, which was a lot of fun. I wish I had gone into Computer Science…
4% – clicker questions
4% – in class exercises
1% – participation (surveys)
25% – labs
1% – lab exam
20% – midterm
45% – final
First, we went over a brief introduction to programming and kind of computer science in general as well. Then we looked at basic scripts (code) in the program called Scratch. Scratch is a program designed by MIT for elementary students to learn how to program. It is quite basic and user friendly. I did not enjoy using it because it didn’t seem very practical to me. And I felt like we were being treated like idiots.
Thankfully, Scratch didn’t last long in the curriculum, and soon afterward, we looked at the programming language called Python. It is more interesting and since I’m not in Computer Science, I can’t say much in terms of the technical details about it. We learned the basic tools to read and write code using Python, to make the computer do things like… transcribe a DNA sequence into RNA (or amino acids); tell us the cost of a room paint job given the inputs of the dimensions of the room and paint cost; rotate and invert images, etc.
If you want more detail, you can go visit the course website.
Should I take this course if I don’t know anything about programming at all? Should I take this course if I am interested in becoming a programmer?
I get these questions a lot. To the latter question — if you’re interested in going into programming and/or computer science, I suggest taking the traditional route with CPSC 110/121. I believe it will provide a better foundation and it will allow you to take further computer science courses, whereas CPSC 301 will not.
As for the first question — you do not need any computer science knowledge to successfully tackle this course. It was designed for people who have no programming experience whatsoever, and it is not difficult, in my opinion. In fact, if you put in a reasonable amount of effort/time, no matter what your previous programming background, you should be able to get a good mark and also learn a lot of useful things. I had no programming experience going into this course.
In class, we went over lecture slides for that day, which were posted online ahead of time on the course website. George would go over the slides, and he usually explained concepts in a fair amount of detail. He also showed us scripts in the actual Scratch and Python programs themselves (I’m referring to the Python GUI called Wing).
There are also clicker questions. Some classes there were no clicker questions; sometimes there was one, and at most there were three. They do count for marks, although usually it’s only for participation. They are actually quite tricky. If you want to review the clicker questions later on, I recommend writing down the answers. I don’t think they are really good practice though, because there are so few of them and the exams are mostly non-MC.
The in-class assignments were short problems that we were expected to work on in groups of two or three. There was an assignment roughly every few lectures, and it wasn’t announced. They are basically marked by whether you wrote your name on it and whether you wrote something (anything) down on the paper. Nonetheless, they aren’t that difficult.
Aside from going through lecture slides and looking at code in Python or Scratch, there are also weekly labs. Despite being weekly, there were a fair number of weeks where we didn’t have lab, due to holidays/midterms. Labs are two hours in length, and involved working on a problem. For example, how to write a program in Python that transcribes a DNA sequence to the RNA sequence, and from the RNA sequence to the amino acid sequence.
You do not need to stay the entire 2 hours for lab. You simply work with a partner and then hand in the lab documents before the due date. Therefore, if you had completed the lab ahead of time (it’s posted online), then you could simply come to your lab time, show your TA, and then leave promptly, which is what some people did.
Preparation is pretty straightforward for this course. Go over the lecture slides. You do not really need to take notes during the course, but if you do, I recommend doing it on the lecture slides that are posted online. Obviously, going to class is recommended, but I didn’t show up several times and was able to catch up somewhat easily. However, I did miss clicker questions and a few in class assignments…
I didn’t review this course on a weekly basis. Actually, this statement is true for all of my courses this year. However, for this course, I definitely didn’t need to in order to do well. Reviewing regularly and going to class will make the labs easier though.
There is some pre-lab assignment that you have to do before lab every week. Most of the time, it takes 20 minutes or less.
For exams, I highly recommend looking at the practice exams and going through them without looking at the solutions. Becoming a good programmer involves lots of practice, and there isn’t really a shortcut. Therefore, in a sense, you can’t really cram this course. That doesn’t make it difficult though — you just need to participate in labs and do extra practice if you need to. And doing the practice exam really helps. You should still do the practice midterm/final even if you are confident in your coding skills, and you should do it a couple days before the exam so you have time to brush up on areas you need work on. The questions on the practice exams are very similar to the ones that you will get on the real midterm/final, and they are more difficult than you may expect, which makes the practice exam actually useful.
Writing code on paper is kind of BS — you can’t debug and it’s hard to change your code. I recommend writing in pencil and writing double spaced so you can add lines between your lines of code if needed.
Overall, I enjoyed this course — it was relatively relaxing and I got to do more problem solving than memorizing useless facts. Also, it got me interested in programming, which I plan to continue doing outside of school.
I generally don’t like lab courses so I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this course. And there were some aspects I didn’t enjoy, such as the lab reports and long labs, but the exams weren’t too bad.
Final – 35%
Midterm – 15%
Lab reports – 38%
Lecture/lab work – 12%
Format of Lecture and Lab Activities
Lectures were once a week on Monday from 1 to 3 pm, and they did often take up the whole time. In lecture, the instructor would talk about the lab that was to happen that week. During lectures, the instructor sometimes gives out in-lecture assignments to do. They are marked based on participation but contain questions that are similar to the ones you would expect to see on the exams. Apparently a lot of people were sleeping during the lecture, and the instructor seemed a bit annoyed and said she would be keeping track of who was sleeping so that she could refuse to answer questions from them after class if they weren’t paying attention.
Labs were scheduled for 4 hours a week and they usually took approximately 3 hours on average. There was sometimes work to do the day before/after the lab outside of regular lab time. Unfortunately, demonstrations were often given for techniques in the lab, which I don’t like because most of the descriptions on how to perform a technique can be found in the lab manual or online, even on YouTube. Some of the labs had so much incubation or waiting time that some people just left to get coffee/food lol.
Lab activities included:
Lab notebook checks were performed on an irregular basis, on average once or twice a month. Make sure you keep your lab notebook up to date and that you’re writing everything in it that you’re supposed to, including trivial things like putting page numbers on every page and having a table of contents. The lab notebook check doesn’t happen very often, so you could lose significant marks if you don’t update it just one time. By the way, it’s probably best if you buy a notebook that has page numbers on it because writing it yourself is very tedious.
There were lab reports every other week or so, for a total of 6 lab reports. Some are done on your own and some are done with a partner. Unlike in MICB 401, once you have a partner you are expected to stay with them and perform all partner work with them. Some lab reports were only 2 – 3 pages in length, and others could be up to 15 pages! Unfortunately, some of the instructions for the lab reports were a bit vague so I highly recommend looking over the instructions and clarifying any concerns with the instructor as soon as possible. Writing lab reports took many long and painful hours… whenever a lab report was due, I’d have to dedicate at least an entire day to writing it, often more.
As usual, you’re supposed to have read the material in the lab book before the lecture every week. Most of the time, I didn’t read the book until the day before or the day of the lab. I think reading it before the lecture is helpful otherwise you might feel quite lost…
As mentioned earlier, I also recommend reading the instructions for the lab reports in advance because they can be confusing and you want to make sure you have time to ask questions.
It was generally clear what material would be tested on the exams. In terms of what the exam questions are like, they are either questions that ask for a description or definition of something; or they are questions that are problem solving/experimental based. There may also be questions that ask you to interpret results. Most of the questions do not require rote memorization but focus instead on conceptual understanding, which was greatly to my liking.
The midterm average was fairly low (somewhere in the range of 60-75); somehow I managed to get 94% on it. I studied by reading over the relevant parts of the lecture notes and lab manual; and by redoing the in-class lecture assignments.
I studied a good day and a half for the final, mainly focussing on concepts of experimental techniques. I ended up with 90% in the course.