Graduate Courses in Biology


10.1. Overview. Graduate courses are an essential part of the program of graduate studies for the MSc degree in the Department of Biology. Apart from providing a formal means for students to increase their biological knowledge, courses should test and improve students' skills at scientific reporting—both written and spoken—and should stimulate the research interests of both students and instructors.

The experience of the instructor in presenting course material and leading well-focused discussion is generally crucial. It is suggested, therefore, that some formal seminars or lectures be given by the instructor(s) in each course. The guidelines listed below reflect the structure of many current courses in the Department. Instructors wishing to teach a course involving major deviations from these guidelines should discuss these with the Graduate Coordinator.

10.2. Course Outline. A written outline of the course should be given to the students at the beginning of the course and should contain a marking scheme, a list of weekly topics to be covered, a statement of deadlines (due dates) for all assignments, and a statement of the penalty for failing to meet a deadline.

10.3. Weekly Meetings. All graduate courses are expected to involve regular weekly meetings totaling approximately three hours/week.

10.4. Level of Instruction. Graduate courses should be presented primarily at the level of the current research literature in the field. Students lacking the necessary background to cope with such a course should be given preparatory reading or coursework.

10.5. Structure and Evaluation. The structural organization and the method of evaluation of students must be discussed and determined at the beginning of the course. At least 50% of the final mark for a course should be based on written work submitted by the students. All written material (i.e., research papers, exams) should be returned with a written evaluation.

10.6. Formal Critiques by Instructor. If student seminars or "participation" are graded, a written critique should be provided by the instructor and should cover content, style, approach, delivery, etc. In order to improve the effectiveness of future presentations, this critique should be made before the student's next presentation.

10.7. Deadlines and Grade Reporting. Grades for graduate courses will be submitted at the end of the term in which each course is given. Students who have not completed the course requirements when grades are submitted will be assigned an incomplete (IN) and a mark based on the work to date. That mark will be submitted as the student's grade for the course at the end of the next term (4 months after course completion) if no further marks are received. Thus extensions will not be granted for more than one term. If a deadline extension is granted for an assignment, this should be communicated to the student in writing (usually by email).

10.8. Number of Instructors. Whenever possible, two instructors (or more) should be involved in each graduate course. This provides students with a diversity of opinion and expertise and helps ensure objectivity of evaluation.

10.9.  Biol-897.  Biol-897 is a seminar course for MSc students that should normally be completed by the end of the sixth term of study.  If it is not completed within this time-frame then MSc over-time students must complete it in the seventh term.  All PhD transfers from the MSc program must complete the course by the end of the first term after the transfer occurs. 

Biol-897 may also double for the required MSc Seminar with the proviso that it is within one-term of the MSc defense.

10.10. Open courses Biol-951* - Biol-960* - Advanced Studies in …..

This option is available to provide instruction in particular areas in which there is no regular course available. Students may take each numbered course only once but double numbering in different disciplines allows a student to take a maximum of two Advanced Studies courses in their area of interest. Faculty members wishing to offer one of these modules must present a brief outline and rationale to the Graduate Studies Committee at least two weeks before the beginning of term in which the course will be offered. Modules should conform to one of the following two formats - only in exceptional circumstances will alternative formats be considered:

  • Seminar format. Requires a minimum of three enrolled students and at least two faculty. A written outline of topics will be given to students at the first or second meeting. Regular meetings will be held for lectures or seminars. There will be a final written examination.
  • Reading format. To be offered where less than three registered students are enrolled. Reading matter will be distinct from students' theses topics and will be the basis for a review-style report or a group of essays. The report or essays will be marked by at least two faculty members and there should also be an oral examination.


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I've spent more time than many will believe [making microscopic observations], but I've done them with joy, and I've taken no notice those who have said why take so much trouble and what good is it?

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek

It's a parts list... If I gave you the parts list for the Boeing 777 and it had 100,000 parts, I don't think you could screw it together and you certainly wouldn't understand why it flew

Eric Lander

What is true for E. coli is also true for the elephant

Jacques Monod

The world becomes full of organisms that have what it takes to become ancestors. That, in a sentence, is Darwinism

Richard Dawkins

Shall we conjecture that one and the same kind of living filaments is and has been the cause of all organic life?

Erasmus Darwin

Nature proceeds little by little from things lifeless to animal life in such a way that it's impossible to determine the line of demarcation


Cells let us walk, talk, think, make love, and realize the bath water is cold

Lorraine Lee Cudmore

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Charles Darwin

It is my belief that the basic knowledge that we're providing to the world will have a profound impact on the human condition and the treatments for disease and our view of our place on the biological continuum

J. Craig Venter

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Neil Shubin

A grain in the balance will determine which individual shall live and which shall die - which variety or species shall increase in number, and which shall decrease, or finally become extinct

Charles Darwin

The stuff of life turned out to be not a quivering, glowing, wondrous gel but a contraption of tiny jigs, springs, hinges, rods, sheets, magnets, zippers, and trapdoors, assembled by a data tape whose information is copied, downloaded and scanned

Steven Pinker

We wish to discuss a structure for the salt of deoxyribose nucleic acid. (D.N.A.). This structure has novel features which are of considerable biologic interest

Rosalind Franklin

We are biology. We are reminded of this at the beginning and the end, at birth and at death. In between we do what we can to forget

Mary Roach

The systems approach to biology will be the dominant theme in medicine

Leroy Hood

I've always been interested in animal behavior, and I keep reading about it because it's so surprising all the time - so many things are happening around us that we neglect to look at. Part of the passion I have for biology is based on this wonderment"

Isabella Rossellini

Because all of biology is connected, one can often make a breakthrough with an organism that exaggerates a particular phenomenon, and later explore the generality

Thomas Cech

Nothing in Biology makes sense except in the light of evolution

Theodosius Dobzhansky

Biology is now bigger than physics, as measured by the size of budgets, by the size of the workforce, or by the output of major discoveries; and biology is likely to remain the biggest part of science through the twenty-first century

- Freeman Dyson

Nothing can be more incorrect than the assumption one sometimes meets with, that physics has one method, chemistry another, and biology a third

- Thomas Huxley