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50 things every biologist should know

50 things every biologist should know - Protein Forum

50 things every biologist should know - Protein Forum

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Old 04-07-2005, 11:58 AM
Jeff Houlahan
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Default 50 things every biologist should know

Hi, Proteins members. Like many Biology departments in universities acrossCanada, our university, the University of New Brunswick at Saint John, has decided to phase out the comprehensive exam in favour of a proposal defense/qualifying exam as part of the requirements for completion of a Ph.D. The rationale for this, as we understand it, is that students shouldnot be expected to have a detailed understanding of the entire discipline of biology. A proposal defense/qualifying exam is only expected to test a student on areas relevant to their Ph. D. research. This is a concept we support, but it does raise the concern that students could graduate with a Ph. D. in Biology without understanding some very basic biologicalconcepts if those concepts are not relevant to their project. For example, students doing research that has no explicit evolutionary context could graduate without knowing the difference between evolution and natural selection. Our discussion group has suggested that one way to deal with this is to develop a list of ‘The 50 things every biologist should know’ and make those 50 topics fair game in a qualifying exam/proposal defence. Thus, our goal is to put together such a list. We haveput together a preliminary list of 60 different questions (maybe) every biologist should be able to answer (see that list below), but we are looking for broader input. We would love to hear from anybody who would liketo add a question or questions to the list, or make some comment about the questions that are already on the list. Ultimately, we will be putting together a survey to rank the suggestions we get and identify the ’50 things every biologist should know’ as ranked by survey responses. We will distribute that list to this group when the survey is complete. Thanks for any comments you can provide on this.

The UNBSJ Ecology discussion group


1. What is an atom?
2. What is a molecule?
3. What causes water to be green?
4. What are the two laws of thermodynamics?
5. What are the four unique properties of water?
6. What three elements define organic compounds?
7. What is an element?
8. What is a protein
9. What is a carbohydrate?
10. What is a lipid?


11. What is DNA?
12. What is a gene?
13. What is natural selection?
13b. Are evolution and natural selection synonymous terms?
14. What is a chromosome?
15. What are the four principles of Mendelian genetics
16. What is a genome?
17. How is DNA replicated?
18. What is epistasis?
19. What are the sources of genetic variation?
20. What is epigenesis?


21. What does the Hardy-Weinberg Equilibrium predict, and what is the importance of the model assumptions?
22. How have continents moved and how has that affected the formation anddistribution
of species?
23. What is evolution?
24. What is the difference between micro and macro-evolution?
25. Can you read a phylogenetic tree?
26. What are the kingdoms of living organisms?
27. Finish the following Kingdom, Phylum…
28. What is the “Evolutionary Synthesis”?
29. Is evolution progressive?
30. What comes first: the adaptation or the selective pressure?
31. What is meant by the “inheritance of acquired traits”, who made this claim, and why was he wrong?
32. What is the object of natural selection?
33. Are cladogenesis and anagenesis synonymous terms?
34. What is a phenotype?


35. What is osmosis?
36. What are the key differences between prokaryotes and eukaryotes
37. What is mitosis and what happens during mitosis?
38. What is meiosis and what happens during meiosis?
39. What are the ? cell organelles and what are their functions?
40. What are the key differences between plant and animal cells?
41. What is a cell?


42. What is photosynthesis?
43. What is glycolysis?
44. What is the Kreb’s cycle?
45. How does energy flow and matter cycle?
46. What is a trophic level?
47. How does water cycle?
48. Can you describe the cycles for key nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, carbon)
49. What is biomagnification?


50. What is the Theory of Island Biogeography?
51. What are r and K selected life histories?
52. What is an ecosystem?


53. What are Newton’s Laws?
54. What are the key organs in the human body and what are their functions?
55. What are Theories, hypotheses and predictions and how do they differ?
56. What are the important plant structures and their functions?
57. What is homeostasis and why is it important?
58. What is the scientific method?
59. What is a confidence interval?
60. What is an ANOVA?

Excuse the cross posting – we are trying to get a diverse group of opinions.

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Old 04-08-2005, 12:14 AM
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Default 50 things every biologist should know

On 7 Apr 2005 12:58:41 +0100, [Only registered users see links. ] ("Jeff Houlahan") wrote:

In article <[Only registered users see links. ]>, [Only registered users see links. ] ("Jeff
Houlahan") wrote:

That's too bad. I think they should - it least basic concepts (such as the ones
listed below).

That's too bad. It means the graduate did not have a proper undergrad
education and probably should not have been admitted to the grad school
to begin with.

I think the very premise of it is flawed. Graduate school is not supposed
to give a general education - an undergraduate studies are for that. Grad school
is supposed to be tow things: 1) an advanced study in a specilaized
school is supposed to be tow things: 1) an advanced study in a specilaized
field, 2) hands-on apprentership-like experience that prepares one for
the "real" work.

Grad school should not attempt to replace basic education. True, the undergrad
education is very sucky in most places but administering
undergrad education is very sucky in most places but administering
some know-it-all exam in graduate shcool is not going to fix this problem.

As for the questions themselves... I don't understand how anyone who can't
answer these questions can be *admitted* to a graduate school! They are
high school level basic. I know I would be *very* disappointed if my daughter
graduates from *high school* without proper understading of 90-95% of
them correctly. (Except for "slippery" ones like what is the difference between
theory and hypothesis. - The number of people who believe in one?)


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Old 04-11-2005, 07:47 AM
Frank Kster
Posts: n/a
Default 50 things every biologist should know

D.K. <[Only registered users see links. ]> wrote:


I basically agree, but wanted to point out an additional issue. I have
studied chemistry and got my Ph.D. in a biology department (working on
biophysics/physical biochemistry/however you call it). While I think
that I grabbed most of the important biological concepts during my
Ph.D. thesis that are behind the questions you asked, I would fail with
some of the questions, especially in Evolution, simply because I never
was confronted with the technical terms (like cladogenesis/anagenesis,
Hardy-Weinberg, or epistasis) or with the discussions underlying some
questions ("Is evolution progressive?" - No idea what the question
means, whether it's trivial or whether there is a subtle point as what
"progressive" means).

In other words: Only admit students with a proper undergraduate
education, as Dima suggested, but don't care too much from which field
they com. You'll profit from having a good mixture of special fields in
your groups, even if some don't know what cladogenesis is, or even never
heard of Lamarck and thus cannot answer question 31.

Regards, Frank
Wir knnten zur Not auch einen Spllingflehm beginnnen.
[Matthias P. und Jens K. in d.c.t.t]
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Old 04-20-2005, 03:02 PM
Posts: n/a
Default 50 things every biologist should know

I'd have to agree to that- knowing the labels and technical terms and
understanding the underlying principles should not be treated as the same

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