Completing the Biology Major
As of this term, I am officially done with the biology major! Woohoo! I applied to Dartmouth as a biology major what feels like ages ago, but I had no idea what it would be like. After nine classes in the department, it finally feels like I'm qualified to share some details about what I've enjoyed most as a biology major (there's a lot!).
First, classes have been much more collaborative than I expected, especially the foundation courses. In the foundations, there are Teaching Science Fellows who hold regular twice-a-week study sessions, and there are also separate study groups you can sign up for (for free). In the upper-level courses, we usually have problem sets instead of exams, and we are encouraged to work with other students to reach the solution.
In some classes, we have a group project towards the end of the term, usually focused on either a disease or a laboratory technique like CRISPR. This has been another opportunity to get to know other biology majors and work with them to present a cohesive overview of findings in the field. It's also been a great way to learn how to break down confusing or elaborate topics for an audience without much prior knowledge.
As someone who plans to go to medical school, I've appreciated how most classes mention the specific human diseases that are relevant to the subject. For example, in my endocrinology class, we dove into the diseases that arise when there are parts of the hormone system that go awry. My professor explained that the best way to understand how a system works is to see what happens when it does not function correctly.
The upper-level courses in particular have been a really great learning experience, because I think they are more reflective of what real-world problem solving will require and what we will encounter in the future as researchers and doctors. One of my biology classes this term focuses on one or two papers each week, which has really taught us how to extract relevant and important information from scientific literature.
The most important skill gained from these sorts of classes has been critical thinking. In endocrinology, our problem sets presented us with information on a patient, and we had to use what we learned in class to figure out what was happening in their body. Similarly, one of the classes I'm taking now emphasizes how we should not believe everything presented in a paper, even if it is peer-reviewed and published. What techniques did they use? What are the disadvantages of those techniques? What can we really prove from them? It's these questions that will remain with us wherever we end up in the future, and which apply not only to biology, but to any field of study. Overall, I've had an amazing experience with my fellow biology students and professors and I will be so sad to leave my last biology class in a week!