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BwogSalon: WiGH?

Dr. Mowshowitz knows Intro Biology

Name of Publication: WiGH? The Digital Media Project of The Journal of Global Health (JGH)

Edition: Episode 13


WiGH? is a science philosophy podcast and digital publication managed by the undergraduate publication team of The Journal of Global Health (JGH) at Columbia. We seek to examine the moral quandaries faced by researchers and scientists at the decision-making level and whether these dilemmas are the same ones faced by people involved in entirely different fields of discourse. By fostering greater interdisciplinary dialogue on the fundamental moral questions in health, we hope to synthesize cross-curricular and cross-cultural solutions to major public health problems in a globalized world.

Selected Article:

The task of educating the next generation of scientists, engineers, and doctors is a daunting endeavor filled with ideological and practical obstacles. In the latest episode of WiGH?, “Monkey Wrench Problems in Intro Biology”, Deborah Mowshowitz, Ph.D. discusses the role of undergraduate science teaching in preparing undergraduates for a career in the biological and health sciences.

Dr. Mowshowitz presently serves as Director of Undergraduate Programs at Columbia University’s Department of Biological Sciences, and she has taught introductory biology to Columbia undergraduates for nearly forty years. Her class is mandatory for all Columbia pre-medical students and biology majors. In 1999, Dr. Mowshowitz received the prestigious Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching. Reuben Saunders (CC’15) and Victoria Cui (CC’15) host this episode.

“How science works is much more important than learning a collection of facts that youcan always look up anyways. In most traditional biology courses you cover a very large number of topics, you learn a huge amount of vocabulary, and at the end of the semesteryou do a brain dump and forget it all.” – Deborah Mowshowitz, Ph.D., “MonkeyWrench Problems in Intro Biology” (WiGH?)

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  • aepibroseph says:

    @aepibroseph Undergraduate science teaching? The only thing she taught me that you can’t chug a natty in Intro to MollCell…

  • alum says:

    @alum I liked this. Thanks. This course was among the most memorable, but very challenging, courses that I took at Columbia.

  • I hate when people say 'anyways' says:

    @I hate when people say 'anyways' It’s anyway.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous first midterm in two weeks

  • Alum in Med School says:

    @Alum in Med School “In most traditional biology courses you cover a very large number of topics, you learn a huge amount of vocabulary, and at the end of the semester you do a brain dump and forget it all.”

    Do any other premed veterans feel like she’s talking out of her ass? Anybody who has actually taken her class in its entirety knows that it involves a mountain of raw memorization as well as listening to her excessively dense lectures (which always went 10-15 minutes over time) at home, even if you paid attention in class. She covers more topics in Biology, in more detail and at a faster pace than 3000/4000-level Bio classes I took my senior year. And no, that doesn’t make me appreciate her more.

    She does a better job of making Econ/Poli Sci majors out of premeds than making doctors out of premeds. That’s probably because students take this class sophomore year, when people are still trying to figure out what they want to do with themselves. In all her infinite wisdom about Biology, she’s not a physician, she doesn’t teach physicians, and she doesn’t publish things that physicians read (or anything, for that matter). She writes MCAT questions and teaches a prereq class whose aim is to intellectually haze her students. It’s a shame, because she’s also one of the best lecturers at this school. For future generations of premeds I really hope she opts to teach only advanced Biology classes where the students sign up for the rigor instead of being forced into it. Intro Bio should be taught someone who understands the function of the course, and to make it equal in difficulty to, say, Orgo.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous She covers topics in less detail and slower than AP Bio. You have no idea what you’re talking about.

    2. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous You’re 100% on point.

  • another alum in med school says:

    @another alum in med school I agree with “alum in med school.” I still have bad memories of that class (not to mention, the professor made me cry once). The only reason I continued on the premed path after taking this class, is because I was determined to become a physician; if I were at all “questioning,” I doubt this would have been the outcome.

    Oh, and fun fact: no upper level biology class that I took was as awful as Intro to Bio. I hope CC will consider giving its premeds/bio majors some options in terms of fulfilling the biology course credit (which, as we know, exists for both physics and chemistry).

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Honestly, this was the best bio class I’ve taken here. The course is rigorous because the problems force you to draw connections and see a cohesive whole instead of just a grab-bag of topics. Maybe it’s difficult for an intro class, but the upper-level classes fit together much better after going through Dr. M’s class.

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