This question was posed by a medical student on The Student Doctor Network some years ago.
“I know that biology plays a huge role in medicine, but I still can’t stand having to know the anatomy of a flower and how round worms mate,” the student complained.
Thankfully, not everyone shares his opinion. We talked to two of Quantum Prep’s Boston area biology teachers to find out more about Biology, why students seem to love it or hate it and how they can get the most out of their Biology course.
Jessica: The short answer, no. Biology is the most fun of all the sciences! There are so many branches and sub-topics within the realm of biology. If you are not interested in one aspect of it, you are sure to find another fascinating!
Jessica Pollock is a biology educator. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in biology and a Master’s degree in secondary education from Simmons College. Jessica grew up in Maine, where her fascination with biology was fueled by its beautiful and diverse ecosystems. She has lived in Boston since 2006 where she has taught in public schools, as a private tutor, and with specialized programs through the Boston Private Industry Council.
Conor: I agree. Biology is fun! And I’m always continuing to learn more about biology every day. I appreciate the fact that it’s not just about looking at numbers, but more about real life interactions, and what we see around us and in nature.
I really enjoy learning about biology pathways, especially pathways in the human body, such a neurological receptors.
Conor Fowler graduated from Boston University with a major in Neuroscience and a minor in Biology. When not teaching or tutoring at both the high school and college levels, Conor does clinical cardiovascular research at Boston University School of Medicine. Born in Reigate, England, Conor was raised in Tokyo, Japan and moved to Boxford, Massachusetts where he graduated from Masconomet Regional High School.
Have you ever had to help a student who hated biology, and if so, how did that turn out?
Conor: Not hated the subject, per se, but I had a student who had trouble understanding biology, and hated the fact that it did not come as easily to him as did his other classes. Ultimately, we got over the hump together and found ways to efficiently learn the material. He appreciated biology a little bit more at the end of the course, a product of doing well.
I think that’s the key really. Many students say they hate a subject when, in fact, they are simply frustrated because they can’t make the connections. Where do you see students stumble the most?
Conor: The hardest concepts are the biochemical cycles, such as cell respiration. The vocabulary is very dense. In biology, especially in molecular biology, I find that the best ways to learn all of the cycles and pathways is through the use of pneumonic devises.
Jessica: From my experience, when a student is struggling with a concept in biology, it is because they do not have a fundamental understanding of why and how the concept relates to his or her self. Biology is the study of life—and since we are all living things, every aspect of biology can be directly connected to an individual person’s life. If a student has trouble understanding mitosis, for example, it comes down to the fact that the student is missing the connection between this seemingly abstract concept and their own body.
My goal as a teacher is to foster a deep understanding of these topics by breaking them down into more simple, relatable concepts.
OK, so let’s take a step back, what is Biology all about?
Jessica: Biology is the study of life—how living organisms came to be, and how they work, and how they are able to continue to survive on Earth. It is the most fascinating of the sciences because it explores life’s deepest questions!
Conor: Yes, but deeper still biology is all about explaining complex processes in nature, various levels of organism and species, the environment, the integration of nature with chemistry at the molecular level.
Well, its obvious neither of you hated Biology, so what attracted you to teaching it?
Conor: As a high school student at Masconomet, I had a very good biology teacher. AP Biology was the first class that I worked hard for in order to do well in, and my teacher really pushed me to excel. I found that biology really resonated with me.
College is when I truly found my love for teaching biology, it started as just a hobby of mine, and I found teaching to be an easy call to follow, that teaching came naturally to me, and now I have made teaching a part of my life, both professional and personal.
Jessica: What attracted me to teaching biology is the idea of being able to share my passion with others and being able to make some of the difficult and abstract concepts of life on Earth accessible to students.
Conor: You know, that’s an important point. I derive a lot of satisfaction when a student understands a concept that we are working on. For example, when a student develops flow charts to show how cells interact with one another. When a student finds fulfillment in seeing how everything fits together nicely, I feel that I have succeeded as a teacher.
The student in the forum goes on to say that everything he is learning has no real world application to medicine. As educators, we hear this complaint from students about almost every subject, but when it comes to the real world applications of Biology, I don’t think there is a faster growing or more secure field.
Conor: Absolutely; biology, and medicine for that matter, are always going to be around! There is no better science career path!
Jessica: True, biology is connected to some of the fastest growing and changing fields including medicine, public health, and genetics. A deep understanding of concepts in biology is continuing to become more and more important in today’s world.