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The Curriculum

"The courses in biology are carefully designed and arranged so as to give a thorough and broad understanding of biological fundamentals. The object is to equip students, in the first place, with knowledge useful to them in living; in the second place, with a good foundation for biological specialization. With the related sciences, these courses furnish thorough preparations for the study of medicine, for which a broad biological foundation is especially desirable."
(From the 1931-32 catalog)

Coincident with the increasing size and breadth of the department, the curriculum was evolving to reflect the increase of biological knowledge and the burgeoning of new fields. The courses offered during the early years were: General Biology; The Life of Animals; Animal Physiology; The Life of Plants; The Behavior of Organisms; Embryology; Evolution, Variation and Heredity; Selected Topics; Teacher's Course; The History of Biological Theories; and Seminar in Biology. This last course was the beginning of what has become the Senior Thesis, and as described in an early catalog, was a one semester paper written in conjunction with that seminar. In the 1916-17 catalog the following statement appears: "Reed College proposes to take advantage of its freedom from traditions. While endeavoring to profit by the experience of other institutions, it plans to study the needs of Portland and of the Northwest, and so to develop each department that it will serve the community more effectively than could any merely transplanted institution." This never became a major undertaking of the Biology Department, but shortly thereafter two new courses appeared seemingly in keeping with that philosophy; Field Biology (Survey of the Reed Campus), and Fishes and Fish Culture. (At that time there was a hatchery on campus built by the State Fish and Game Commission to collect gametes of the salmon and steelhead runs that came onto the campus via Crystal Springs creek.). In addition, a course taught jointly with the Education department, The Teaching of Elementary Biology, was introduced and persisted into the thirties. This particular course was also (apparently) the vehicle for providing some student assistance in the laboratory sections of, especially, the General Biology offering.

The general range of subject matter coverage in the department has changed relatively slowly, but the content of the courses has kept pace with developments in modern biology. Course titles have changed (e.g., The Life of Animals eventually became Comparative Anatomy, then Vertebrate Biology which included Embryology; The Life of Plants became Plant Evolution and Plant Physiology; Evolution, Variation and Heredity became Genetics). Some subjects have come and gone - A History of Biological Theories; The Biological Foundations of Society; Parasitology; Bacteriology - and a whole host of courses offered to take advantage of the special interests of some temporary member of the faculty who was on campus, for example, as a leave replacement.

In 1970, partly in response to the increasing realization that many students were interested in pursuing careers that would benefit from education in scientific disciplines, but did not want to become practicing scientists, a program in Alternate Biology was introduced. This major had many of the elements of the full major, but included a requirement of 6-8 courses in another field. Examples are Economics, Psychology, Political Science, Anthropology, History, and in one or two cases, Literature. The thesis is typically written from the perspective of both the science and the alternate field of study and the student normally has a Biology adviser supplemented by consultation with a faculty member in the alternate field.

Another major area was introduced in 1991 when a joint program between the Chemistry and Biology departments, called Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (BMB), was devised. The catalog description is "The BMB interdisciplinary major was designed in recognition of the increasing intimacy of the subject matter, objectives, and methodology of biochemistry and a variety of biological disciplines." This major continues to attract a significant number of students each year.

By way of comparison, the courses listed in the 1999-2000 catalog are: Introductory Biology; Plant Physiology; Vascular Plant Diversity; Biology of Animal Behavior; Developmental Biology; Genetics and Gene Regulation; Microbiology; Genetics and Molecular Biology; Population Biology: Ecology and Evolution; Cellular Biology; and Animal Physiology and reflect the professional expertise of the current ten members of the Biology Department. A second offering by each member of the department consists of a 0.5 unit participatory seminar course in one or more fields of special interest to the instructor, usually restricted to upper class students (listed in the catalog as Biol. 431, Seminar in Biology; Contemporary Topics). The current catalog lists 14 of these seminars. One of these seminars evolved into a course offering in Immunology.

In addition to what might be thought of as primary field subject matter courses, there have been from time to time the introduction of "technique" or practical courses. In 1919 and for a few years thereafter, a course entitled "Microscopical and Embryological Technique" was offered, and again in1935, "Histology and Microscopic Technique". These courses were relatively short-lived, probably because they represented a special interest of a then current faculty member and the recognition that much research at that time often included the preparation of biological materials for microscopic examination (fixation, embedding, sectioning and staining), and there was insufficient time in the subject matter courses to become proficient in "microtechnique".

In 1991, however, a more ambitious practicum course was devised and made a requirement for the major. There was some initial support from funds included in a grant to the college from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. It was considered to be at the sophomore level, numbered Biol. 201 (one-half unit for one semester) and titled "Introduction to Experimental Biology". The catalog description is: "An introductory conference-laboratory in contemporary scientific investigation in biology. Students will evaluate hypotheses, experimental designs, and limitations of data from selected classical experiments in biology and develop the quantitative skills necessary for critical scientific thinking. Computer exercises and laboratory experiments will relate quantitative skills and molecular biology to the various disciplines." The course, however, was not offered in 1999-2000 and in all probability will not be offered again in its described form. The reasons for its demise are probably varied, but difficulty in staffing (it amounted to an unfunded overload for most of those teaching in the course), the limited range of procedures that could be offered and continuing differences of opinion on what was "most important" are among them. The course probably had an impact on the curriculum in that some of the subject matter was incorporated into the General Biology course and influenced one or two other offerings once Biol 101/2 was discontinued.

The actual titles of the courses offered are not very different from those one would find in any undergraduate biology curriculum. The differences between the Reed program and that of many other undergraduate colleges is the limited number of offerings coupled with the breadth of each of the courses, and the fact that each one usually includes a significant period (3-5 weeks) at the end of the course devoted to an "independent project" or "research project" devised by one or more students in consultation with the instructor. Even in the Introductory course there is an element of independent study introduced. This means that each student, by the time the senior year is reached, with the necessity of choosing a thesis topic, has had considerable experience in not only the practicality of research but also in the formulation of hypotheses and the analysis of data and the production of a coherent paper reporting the project. The participatory seminars give experience in the presentation of scientific results as found in the original literature. This entails interpreting data, presenting them in a way that can be understood by others and leading a discussion of that particular paper or topic. There have also been a few voluntary "Journal Clubs" where faculty and students with some common interests met weekly to discuss the current primary literature. These were not for credit, but gave students practice in reading, interpreting, and presenting topics that were just appearing in the literature.

The Faculty
The Curriculum
The Research Paradigm
Research Time—Principles and Expectations (1997)
Student Research: The Senior Thesis
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