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Making Biology Attractive And Accessible To Majors In Other Sciences
Undergraduates majoring in the physical sciences, mathematics, and computer science will constitute an even larger proportion of the research community in the life sciences in the years ahead because of the heightened importance of these disciplines for biological research and the reach of many aspects of the life sciences into these other disciplines. The committee recommends that these students be given a sense of the excitement of biology and an appreciation of how the physical and mathematical sciences contribute to biological research.
Many outstanding research biologists were originally educated and trained in fields other than biology: Many geneticists and neurobiologists, for example, were educated as physicists. It is important for biologists to encourage the continued movement of other scientists and engineers into biological research. To this end, biologists need to convey the excitement of their field to students in other areas. The interdisciplinary or applied seminars mentioned in the previous section provide a good opportunity for interesting a wide variety of students, as they present material in a real-world ...
... context and can often illustrate topics that are relevant to students lives. It could also be advantageous for the future of research if some biologically trained students migrate toward specialties related to physical, information, and mathematical sciences. Their biological backgrounds will make them more approachable collaborators.
Students interested in highly quantitative approaches to biological research should be given opportunities throughout their undergraduate careers to develop their expertise in this domain. The committee recommends that schools establish and support interdepartmental programs that will enable these students to pursue quantitatively intense life science programs, such as biophysics, biomathematics, and computational biology.
Life science majors with an interest in and aptitude for mathematics and computer science should be encouraged to prepare for research and innovation at the interfaces of these disciplines and biology. These quantitatively oriented students will need a more extensive and deeper education in mathematics and computer science than is provided by the four-semester mathematics sequence mentioned earlier. Quantitatively oriented students should be permitted to take advanced mathematics and computer science courses in place of biology courses in meeting degree requirements. Biophysics major programs typically provide this flexibility, and new computational biology programs are also likely to do so. A complementary approach is to establish interdisciplinary options or concentrations within existing majors. For example, biology courses normally taught with little quantitation could be expanded, using special sections, to teach relevant mathematical concepts. This could readily be accomplished in areas such as physiology, ecology, and genetics. Project-based courses with significant quantitative content would also be very appropriate. In addition, quantitatively oriented students can be given opportunities to develop software tools and programming skills in relation to biologically significant objectives. This could be accomplished by offering courses in database management systems, information systems, computer graphics, and computer simulation techniques.
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