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BIOG 1250: Biology Seminar

Small groups explore a topic in biology while learning to think like a scientist

Are you interested in catching the excitement of biology by talking with a faculty member and other inquisitive students? If you answered yes, then consider enrolling in a BIOG 1250 Seminar that is facilitated by enthusiastic faculty members who love teaching. Topic based seminars target first-year students and enrollment is limited to 20 students. The courses are usually held for two hours over seven weeks, and is awarded 1 credit with an S/U grade only. The seminar goals are outlined below:

  • Increase the opportunity for students to have a meaningful interaction with a biologist
  • Perpetuate excitement in studying biology
  • Develop critical thinking skills by exploring topics in the biological sciences (review at least one scientific paper)
  • Increase sense of community by expanding social and academic networks
  • Learn the value of collaborative learning
  • Discuss ethical issues in science

Student evaluations have been very positive: 92% responded that the seminar helped develop critical thinking skills and 99% reported being able to interact comfortably with the professor. Many faculty seminar leaders enjoyed the freedom to use a more inquiry based learning model while giving students the opportunity to choose papers to review and take leadership for helping facilitate discussions.

Student Feedback

Random responses from students who were asked if they would recommend the seminar to other students:

  • "I definitely would. It piqued my interest in marine life. The lecturer was instrumental in doing that."
  • "Yes, it’s a great foundation-builder in biological research skills!"
  • "Yes. This course helped me feel less intimidated by scientific papers, introduced me to a variety of topics, and helped me understand the general format of scientific papers required by different journals."
  • "Yes I would recommend the course, it was very informative and would especially benefit anyone with an interest in botany or pharmaceuticals."
  • "I would definitely recommend this course to others. Not only did it help me understand some medical issues seniors have to face, it also helped me understand the economics of the US healthcare system. This class also exposed me to concepts I have never touched upon and it was interesting."
  • "It was good to study a variety of topics chosen by students who had an interest in them. An awesome idea for a course – combining both discussion of papers and practical laboratory skills."
  • "Yes, but only to those people who are serious about majoring in science and who want to improve their communication skills (i.e., as they present)."
  • "Yes. It’s a great experience in a wide range of areas/skills. I definitely would, it is a great way to learn a bit about microbiology. I really was not thinking about taking microbio but I think I will now."

Fall 2019 Seminar Descriptions:


BIOG 1250: Seven Nights in the Museum of Vertebrates

Cornell has long been a world leader in the scientific study of vertebrates (mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, and reptiles). Our huge research collection of two million preserved vertebrate specimens helps us understand anatomy, physiology, ecology, and evolution while providing essential information for classifying and conserving the diversity of wild animals. With some specimens dating back to the very founding of the University and new material added daily, Cornell presently leads the field in combining specimen research with cutting-edge technologies like CT-scans, genomics, and sound and video studies of animal behavior.

This course is a fun and friendly introduction to the fascinating world of specimen-based research. Students will have a rare behind-the-scenes experience that highlights all of the vertebrate collections and their many uses, while also having the chance to prepare a few new specimens of their own that will become a permanent part of the collection (note: no killing is involved since we use animals that died of natural causes, which in the museum world we term ‘salvage specimens’). We will discuss the ethics of specimen-based research and explore the types of studies done with specimens, including potential opportunities for undergraduate research projects. The Cornell Museum of Vertebrates is located about ten minutes off campus; Cornell van transportation to and from each class will be provided, with pickups (at 7:30) and dropoffs (at 9:15) on both North and West campus.


BIOG 1250: Tools to Succeed Based on Bio Education Research

  • 1 cr., S/U, Thursdays; August 29-October 22; 2:30pm-4:25pm
  • Instructor: Claire Meaders clm347@cornell.edu

Universities across the country, including Cornell, are responding to national calls to use evidence-based teaching practices in their classrooms. What does this mean for you as a student, and what lessons can you take from the literature to be prepared to make the most of your courses during your time as a Cornellian? In this seminar we will focus on biology education research literature, but you will develop reading skills that you can transfer across disciplines. We will take a student-centered approach in this course and use small group discussions to guide our exploration of different topics within the field.

A central goal of this course is to help you succeed at Cornell by giving you a peek into how learning works, and by establishing a community of students that will help you during your transition from high school to college. The final project of this class will be to collaboratively design evidence-based “action plans” to succeed as students, that will not only help you but help your peers! 


BIOG 1250: Under my Skin Digital Morphology using CT data

This is a 7-week introduction into the realm of digital morphology using data from CT scans. We will highlight a few of the many ways that CT data are used in comparative biology, invite students to learn to use open-source and commercially available software packages to make 3-Dimensional reconstructions and prepare high quality figures for digital and print publications. We will introduce research opportunities that are part of our ongoing undergraduate research programs and outline opportunities for independent research in vertebrate morphology.


BIOG 1250: Try Your Hand at Science Journalism

  • 1 cr., S/U Mondays; October 21–December 2; 7:30–9:25 P.M.
  •  Instructors: Miyoko Chu mcc37@cornell.edu; Gus Axelson gaa58@cornell.edu, Hugh Powell hdp8@cornell.edu, Jay Branegan braneganj@gmail.com
  • If you’d like to take the course, contact instructor Miyoko Chu at mcc37@cornell.edu. Include your name, year, major (if known), and a brief sentence or two about why you’d like to take the course as well as any interests related to birds or the environment.

Do you enjoy science and writing? Have you ever wondered what it takes to write about science for newspapers and magazines? In this seven-week course, you’ll try your hand at science journalism, coached by professional journalists, science writers, and editors. You’ll also learn about other careers and opportunities in science communication, whether as a future scientist and/or writer.

At the beginning of the course, you’ll learn the difference between a topic and a story, and will choose an assignment—or pitch your own—to write a science news article of 500-750 words to be considered for publication in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Living Bird magazine or All About Birds website. Each week, the instructors will teach a new set of skills you’ll need along the way, and you’ll put them to practice in break-out sessions with instructors and students as you develop your own article. You’ll learn how to understand and write for your audience; do effective reporting and research; create a draft using the structure and best practices of news writing; and work with editors to revise your draft into a compelling and polished story, ready to be submitted for possible publication at the end of the course. In the last session, you’ll also learn about the wider world of careers in science communication and the steps you can take to build on your experiences now and into the future.