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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."


Spring 2020 Seminar Descriptions:

BIOG 1250: Adventures in Cornell's Biological Collections

  • 1 cr., S/U, Wednesday, March 11- April 22; 7:30 PM- 9:55 PM; Saturday, May 2; 9:00am-11:00am
  • Instructors: Kevin Moss and others (Botanic Gardens); Kevin Nixon, Anna Stalter, and Peter Fraissinet (Hortorium); Matt Medler and others (Macaulay Library); Kathie Hodge  and Teresa Iturriaga (Plant Pathology Herbarium); Warren Allmon and others (Paleontological Research Institute); Corrie Moreau and others (Insect Collection); Vanya Rohwer, Casey Dilman, Mary Margaret Ferraro, and Charles Dardia (Museum of Vertebrates)
  • Course coordinator contact for all student queries: Irby Lovette (

Cornell is home to a grand natural history museum that contains many millions of biological specimens, but you won't find it in a single building; instead, our world-class collections are distributed all around campus and beyond in association with the units that specialize in each kind of organism. This evening seminar comprises field trips to seven different biological collections, with each visit hosted by one or more of the expert curators who is deeply passionate about their area of biology. You'll go behind-the-scenes with them to see some of Cornell's most intriguing biological treasures, while learning about the many kinds of research and outreach for which specimens are essential. The seven featured collections will be: Entomology (insects), Hortorium (plant specimens), Paleontological Research Institute (fossils), Museum of Vertebrates (fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals), Plant Pathology (fungi), Macaulay Library (digital specimens of animal behavior), and Botanic Gardens (living plants).

Our enrollment cap of 11 for this course is dictated by the size of our shuttle van, since four of these collections are a 5-15 minute drive away from the main campus. Please email the course coordinator if you have access to reliable transportation of your own as this would allow us to raise the cap accordingly.

BIOG 1250: Body Parts, Schemas and Images

  • 1 cr., S/U, Monday, January 27- March 16; 7:30 PM- 8:45 PM
  • Instructor: Bruce Johnson

    This seminar will explore how brain maps keep track of the position of our limbs and other body parts, how inanimate objects become elastic extensions of ourselves (body schemas), and how distortions in body image lead to unhealthy life styles.  Discussions around these general topics will address a variety of issues including feeling fat after losing weight, drunk driving tests that examine posture and coordination, why you duck passing through a doorway while wearing a cowboy hat, phantom limb pain, and other examples of mind/body integration.   We’ll consider the link between emotions and their physical expression, like why one feels dread in the pit of the stomach, and empathic, physical responses to someone else’s danger or injury.  Instructor and student presentations on these and related topics will be guided by the book “The Body has a Mind of its Own” by Sandra and Matthew Blakeslee.

BIOG 1250:  The Microbial Community in our Bowel

  • 1 cr., S/U, Monday, January 27- March 10; 2:30 PM- 4:25 PM
  • Instructor: Jingjing Fu

    Have you ever heard of the term ‘the intestinal flora’? Are you interested in the scientific meaning underlying different prebiotic/probiotic market products? This 7-week seminar will cover intestine/gut microbiota topics that has been extensively studies, including physiological responses of microbiota in different environment, metabolic interactions between microbes and other organisms, and certain health concerns. Basic techniques to address microbial research will also be addressed. Reading assignments will be made from review articles or primary research articles relevant to the topics. There will be several class discussions that will help conceptual understanding and critical thinking. Throughout this course, students will gain basic knowledge about in gut microbiome and methodology in studying it.

BIOG 1250: Microbiology Myths, Legends, and Misinformation

  • 1 cr., S/U, Friday, January 27- March 10; 10:10 AM- 12:05 PM
  • Instructor: Rachael Fieweger; Shannon Murphy

    Microbes dominate our world, so it is natural that they would also become the subject of our urban myths and legends. For example, have you ever been told not to go outside in the winter without a coat, otherwise you will catch a cold? Or that a clove of garlic a day can keep the doctor away? These are just two of the many urban legends making up our society’s microbiology lore. This course introduces students to the world of microbiology by uncovering the scientific truth embedded in microbiology urban legends, news reports, and entertainment. Throughout this course, students will learn how to use evidence-based research to tease apart the truth from the misinformation and to develop the communication skills needed to accurately present science to the public.