quality of the faculty is one key to that success. Each of the departments
10 members has tremendous accomplishments and deep experience in their
disciplines, but beyond publications they have passion. For teaching person
to person, one on one. Reed biology professor Robert Kaplan, in fact,
was chosen from some 600 college and university faculty members as U.S.
professor of the year in 1996-97 by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement
Reed students come here expecting a level of engagement with the
faculty that makes the whole teaching experience personal and unique for
each student, Kaplan says. All our students want to be excellent,
and they are a pleasure to be around for that reason.
Another key is a think-or-swim approach to the subject.
not aware of another undergraduate biology department that has you read
primary literature from the get-go, immerses you in experimental design
and execution in every class, holds journal club-style seminars, and just
generally expects you to behave like a scientist, says 2000 grad
Jason Oakes. The scientific literature is, to be sure, a serious stretch
for college freshmen in an intro biology classits often not
that easy to comprehend for biology grad studentsbut it gets Reed
students thinking and analyzing the form and results of other scientists
Kaplan agrees: As a faculty we have developed over decades a style
whereby we maintain an ideal state for our ourselves as functional
scientists. This means we all have research programs where we articulate
testable hypotheses, design and execute experiments, analyze data, and
present results at meetings and in the primary national and international
peer-reviewed literature. How to maximize our teaching effectiveness by
trading off research-universitylevel research with close
collaboration with undergraduates is an awesome task that all
of us work on in our own unique ways. We hope that students can then make
the best decisions for themselves about particular career goals, and of
course when they decide to become medical doctors or lawyers, or public
health workers or teachers, we are proud of all of them and glad that
we made the effort to give them a glimpse into what scientists actually
The final piece of the puzzle is the independent projectthe second
half of each semester, from sophomore year forward, is spent by biology
students on an in-depth independent research project of their own choosing.
Rather than spend every moment learning about the findings of someone
elses biological researchthe staple of most
undergraduate programsReed students get a chance to do some discovery
of their own (see Spider woman).
This is honest-to-God science in six-week bursts, says Steve
Black. The independent project is so important to preparation for
the thesisthe students will have gotten the fundamental mistakes
out of the way and theyre ready, plus they have homed in on what
they want to do. The independent projects are small in scope, but they
are original and student-centered.
Independent projects, senior theses, faculty researchall will be
enhanced by the new biology building, made
possible by a powerful combination of gifts, grants, and other funding.
For example, the 3-D confocal microscope (the department chairs
opinion: What a killer microscope! Well be able to see into
cells and embryos in ways that were not possible before.) was provided
by a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
mission of the Reed biology department is the integration of teaching
and research, Black says enthusiastically. This new facility
makes that easier by bringing everything and everyone together. All the
tools the students need, including us, are right here. It all comes down
to accessibility and interaction between teachers and students.
And it all comes from the rare atmosphere of Reed, where budding biologists
study art and literature, and humanities majors staff nuclear reactors.
There must be something to the formula. Donald Kennedybiologist,
editor in chief of the journal Science, and president emeritus of Stanford
Universitynoted that through the 1990s Reed, along with Swarthmore,
nearly doubled the proportional Ph.D. production of Harvard and Yale and
said, If the laboratory lights go out at Reed, its going to
get dark all over the country. [Kennedy
talks more about the need for strong college science programs.]
The coming years will put even more focus on biologyand the ethics
of what were able to do with it. From stem cell research to the
debate over human cloning to genetically modified foods, the questions
of what can be done and what should be done will be front-page news. And
the students training today in Reeds respected biology department
will be among those providing the answers.
We have made every effort to be a broad-based liberal arts biology
department in a world where such a beast might be on its way out,
Robert Kaplan says. We maintain our ability to look further forward
into the future and understand that preservation of the health of biological
systems, from individual human health to global health, will require biologists
who understand deeply the relationship between genes, organisms, and environment.
Its already gotten very interestingits going to get
more so. Watch this space.
Schwartz is a Portland-based freelance
writer. This is his first article for Reed.