These are my three courses, which differ greatly in terms of format, size, and goals: Topics in Neuroscience, Neurobiology, and Human Physiology.

1-Topics in Neuroscience (BIOL 365). Capped at 15.

Neuroscience seeks to understand the function of a most complex and fascinating system. This course offers a primary literature perspective of the function of the nervous system and the methods to study it. This means we will be reading, presenting, and discussing, some extraordinary neuroscience articles. How best to do that? We will follow an old but wise piece of advice from Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852-1934): When reading an article in the field we wish to investigate we must focus, above all, on two things: the research methods the author has used, and the problems that remained unresolved.

This course is based on the primary literature, which is vastly different from a course that is based on a textbook. Although the course will begin with a review of some basic neuroscience concepts, we will rapidly move to the study, presentation, and discussion of research articles. A few of these articles are foundational, i.e., they marked key advances in neuroscience, whereas others represent the field’s cutting edge.

Learning Goals:

  • To develop a deeper understanding of important concepts in neuroscience. Depth will take precedence over breadth.
  • To develop a more in depth understanding of experimental design, including a sense for next steps to address the problems that remained unresolved.
  • To increase your understanding of modern experimental and analysis methods.
  • To improve your ability to communicate effectively through scientific presentations.

Class format and assignments (subject to change):

  • This course will be largely based on student presentations and participation in class discussions.
  • Two primary research papers will be assigned for each class. Each student should be intimately familiar with the content of these two primary papers. For some sessions, there may be a review article, or a news clip (such as Nature News & Views) that accompanies the class period. While the entirety of reviews won’t be covered in class, you ae encouraged are encouraged to discuss issues that arise in the reviews.
  • At the end of each class (time allowing), we will have a brief discussion about the next topic, for which we may use material from the assigned review articles or from textbook passages.

Student workload:

  • Presenting 2 research articles (no more than one per class session), 45 min each.
  • Selecting and presenting a “short communication”, 15 min. Examples include, but are not limited to, Nature News & Views, methods video (e.g. www.jove.com), popular scientific press article, etc.
  • Participating in class discussions
  • Reading Dazzle ‘Em With Style (see assigned readings)
  • Completing an evaluation form for every student presentation.

Textbook and Supplemental Readings: Textbook readings won’t be assigned for this class, but Neuroscience, Fifth Edition (2012) by Purves et al. is written at a solid, intermediate level, and it should serve as a useful reference. Another valuable resource is Principles of Neural Science, Fifth Edition (2013) by Kandel, Schwartz, and Jessell. This tome is the “Gold Standard” in Neuroscience, but some find it large, intimidating, and somewhat unapproachable for an undergraduate course. The University of Texas School of Medicine (Houston) maintains a free online textbook edited by John Byrne (http://neuroscience.uth.tmc.edu/). Finally, some reviews are included in the article folders. Reviews are generally more comprehensive than research articles.

As stated, a key goal of this class is to improve your ability to communicate effectively through scientific presentations. A helpful, and required, guide to meet this goal is Dazzle ‘Em With Style: The Art of Oral Scientific Presentation (http://www.amazon.com/Dazzle-Style-Second-Scientific-Presentation/dp/0123694523). Despite a somewhat cheesy title, it’s a trove of trustworthy advice.

Evaluation and criticism: All students are expected to participate in the course as neuroscience scholars. Students should come prepared to discuss and debate topics presented in class. Everyone should expect to be called upon to state their opinions frequently. Participation in discussions will be worth 20% of the final grade. Criteria for grading will include assessment of familiarity with the primary paper and a willingness to ask and answer questions.

After your first presentation, I will gather and review all the evaluation forms for your presentation. Based on my own evaluation of your presentation, and after critically considering the evaluations provided by your peers, I will provide you with a written evaluation. This evaluation will point to strengths and weaknesses, and will make concrete suggestions to improve your subsequent presentation. You are encouraged (but not required) to make an appointment during office hours to discuss your evaluation.

Attendance and Participation: Attendance is essential. Participation in class discussions (which naturally requires steady attendance) is the basis for your participation grade.

2-Neurobiology (BIOL386, 387). Capped at 20. In progress

3-Human Physiology (BIOL332, 333). Capped at 48

The Human Physiology course covers the mechanisms responsible for diverse functions of the body. The course also seeks to help you learn how to apply physiological concepts to questions and cases effectively. Course topics include cellular physiology, and the physiology of key systems (nervous, circulatory, endocrine, excretory, respiratory, digestive, etc.). The laboratory includes a variety of experiments focusing on the function of the human body. Typical schedule:


I know you have your own reasons to enroll in Human Physiology. Among them we can include (from the pre-survey for the course) to increase in-depth knowledge and confidence about human body function, to help with the MCAT, to facilitate work in medical school, and to improve future work as a physician or health professional. Let me add four quotations from highly successful physiology students. The first is from Dr. Arthur C. Guyton, a legendary physiologist and author: What other person, whether he be a theologian, a jurist, a Doctor of Medicine, a physicist, or whatever, knows more than you about life? For physiology is indeed an explanation of life. What other subject matter is more fascinating, more exciting, more beautiful than the subject of life? Indeed, this great quotation points to the significance of human physiology, and to the fact that many find the workings of the human body fascinating, regardless of their professional field.

The next one is by Bill Heerman (‘2004), now practicing medicine at Vanderbilt: There are a few disciplines that form the backbone for the competent practice of medicine, and physiology ranks highly among them. It is hard to overstate the importance of having a solid understanding of physiology as it is essential to properly understand immunology, pharmacology and pathology. I took the physiology course at Carleton, and while it was essential for doing well on the MCAT, the knowledge that I learned helped me excel in medical school, and consequently as a physician.

The next one is from Andy Indresano (‘2003), who sent this while doing his surgery residency at UCSD: You cannot fully understand a disease, or disease process, without a base of knowledge firmly rooted in human physiology. Every intervention, whether deciding to give fluids, prescribing medications, or placing various tubes or lines, requires a detailed knowledge of human physiology.

The last one is from Sarah Frenning (‘2001) who completed her pediatrics residency at the University of Minnesota and who practices in Minnesota and in Ethiopia: As for physiology, it seems fitting that you sent this message my way shortly after I finished a month in the pediatric intensive care unit. Everything is about physiology there, it seems. Every minute of the day (and night), I was interpreting patients’ vital signs, physical exam, and labs, so as to understand what was going on with their heart, or vessels, or lungs, and to give them the right therapy to help them. Underneath everything an intensivist does, there needs to be an understanding of how a body is supposed to work and how it will respond when a certain manipulation is done. It helps explain why one patient will need IV fluids when their blood pressure is 50/10, but another patient would respond better to pressor medications. I don’t think I’ll end up in the intensive care world, but good understanding of physiology will still be key.

TEXTBOOK AND STUDY STRATEGY. Required text: Vander’s Human Physiology (15th Edition): The Mechanisms of Body Function (20018) by Widmaier, Raff and Strang. A substantial fraction of the text is assigned for reading. This textbook was chosen for its relative accuracy, acceptable figures, good ­coverage, clarity, and up-to-date information. It includes many details that will not be covered in class, so it can be challenging to figure out where to focus your attention. More on that below.

Other texts on closed reserve in Gould Library. Textbook of Medical Physiology by Guyton and Hall (2006). This classic is best used as a reference, i.e., to clarify a particular concept. Do not use it for general studying; even veteran physiologists can find it overwhelming (best used to go deeper into a given concept). The same applies to Medical Physiology by Boron and Boulpaep. Boron has excellent figures that can help you visualize important ideas. The library has two copies of each text available on closed reserve, please let me know if you are having a difficult time finding them available.

My strongly recommended study strategy:

  • Do not fall behind in your reading! Following this recommendation is essential for our Team-Based-Learning (TBL) approach. Remember that you will have to read the material anyway, why not do it early? In course evaluations students have been asked to comment on the course’s workload. The most typical responses are:
    • The course (particularly the reading) is quite challenging.
    • I wish I had done more reading ahead of class from the very beginning.
    • First RAT is harder (a lot more specific) than I expected.
    • I wish I had organized a study group earlier.
  • Re-read the text after class, using your class notes and handouts to identify the most important sections of the text, and make sure you understand the main points.
  • Ask questions.
  • Do at least some of your studying in groups (ideally, but not necessarily, with your team).
  • Use additional sources of information including encyclopedias and the other texts to get alternative explanations and illustrations of key concepts but only if you find the text confusing.

Class Activities: There is an ancient Chinese proverb, attributed to Confucius: “I hear, and I forget; I see, and I remember; I do, and I understand.”

  • Team Application Exercises (TAEs) are designed to help you understand the material by challenging you to “do” stuff with it. Let me know if you need clarification or guidance on any question – I’m happy to help. I’m open to suggestions to modify class activities. At this point, no laptops, or phones in class, please.
  • Readiness Assessment Tests (RATs): As part of our Team Based Learning approach, we will conduct five RATs. These will consist of multiple-choice questions. Typically, these will comprise 20-25 questions, with a time allowed of approximately 25 minutes per question (I will determine this time according to the level of difficulty). Questions are highly specific, but always focused on key systems and processes. If you feel you may need an accommodation based on the impact of a disability, please contact the Office of Disability Services for Students in the Wellness Center (x4464) to coordinate reasonable accommodations. This also applies to other exams.
  • Exams (midterm1 and midterm2). These will include open, and short answer questions. They will focus on key concepts. There will be no multiple-choice questions.

CLASS PARTICIPATION AND ATTENDANCE. You will get more out of the course and will help others get more out of the course, if you raise your hand, ask your questions, state your confusion, and/or answer my questions. I promise, the things that confuse you have confused countless other before! I am a better teacher if I respond to your questions in class. Don’t hesitate to speak up. Office visits are also good. Class attendance is important for team success. I will monitor attendance and unjustified absences are likely to lower your grade.


  • 1st midterm 25%
  • 5 RATS=4 (8+3) = 44% (your worst RAT score will be dropped)
  • Attendance/participation/effort/office hours attendance = 5%
  • Team peer score=1%
  • 2nd midterm 25%

RATs are worth 11% each, split between the individual score (8%) and the group score (3%). If you feel that any grade is unfair or mistaken, please talk to me right away.

Course Scale:

  • 93.0 and above = A
  • 90.0-92.9 = A-
  • 87.0 -89.9 = B+
  • 83.0-87.0 = B
  • 80.0­82.9 = B-
  • 77.0-79.9 = C+
  • 73.0­-7.0 = C
  • 70.0-72.9 = C-
  • < 70 = D
  • < 60 = F