Biology program goes beyond coursework

Tuesday, March 23, 2010 - 10:05am
Tracy Moniz

Start with a living organism. Study its cells. Evaluate its evolution. Unravel its genetics.

Add to this professional development opportunities such as writing workshops, faculty and post-graduate research exhibitions, lessons on workplace culture, mock interviews and a meet-and-greet with alumni, and you have a well-rounded education in the natural science of biology -the new ‘C3 Biology' program at the University of Toronto Mississauga.

Three words capture what the Professional Development in Biology Program - a.k.a. C3 Biology - is all about: community, connection and careers. An innovative, passport-style, co-curricular certificate program within the Department of Biology, C3 Biology combines workshops and events aimed at broadening undergraduate students' understanding of and readiness for studies, research and careers in biology. This means providing opportunities for skills development, connecting students with the people and resources they need to excel, and strengthening links within the biology community on and around campus.

As scientists, it's easy to slip into a mindset that we're here to teach students the facts, says Professor Angela Lange, Department of Biology, who helped spearhead the project. But it's also our responsibility to go beyond coursework and teach students life skills that will help them while at university and throughout their careers.

And so evolved C3 Biology, a partnership between the Department of Biology, the Career Centre, the Robert Gillespie Academic Skills Centre, the Library and the Internship Office to guide students through a world of varying demands and choices. We took the resources and services these departments offer on campus and packaged them into a set of workshops tailored specifically to what biology students need to know to succeed now and in the future, says Lange.

In the program, students attend five workshops selected from across four clusters-each cluster with distinct goals and complementary activities so students can tailor the program to their needs and interests. For instance, the Biology and Biologists cluster strives to increase students' awareness and knowledge of careers in biology with workshops on faculty and graduate research. Students interested in the Academic Skills and Information Literacy cluster learn how to find and use primary sources, how to read critically and write effectively, and how to deliver a powerful presentation. Career Development exposes students to experiential opportunities on campus, to the application process for graduate studies and medical school, to post-BSc career opportunities and to successful job search strategies.

Through the Personal and Professional Development cluster, students strengthen skills that boost workplace success, such as public speaking, resume and cover letter writing, interviewing and networking. Students who complete five workshops/events/activities (or experiences) across the four clusters earn a Life Sciences Certificate.

The C3 Biology Program has shown me various opportunities and careers available to me after I complete my undergraduate degree, says third-year biology major Emma Tarasco. I enjoyed the workshops that conducted personality tests and matched my results to specific career categories - some that I had already considered and others that surprised [me] because they were careers I had never come across in my planning.

Launched this year, the program has over 220 students registered and has received positive student response. I would definitely recommend this program to other students, especially those in their early undergraduate years, says Qasim Mohiuddin, a fourth-year specialist in comparative physiology. The program provides great insight into the many career paths out there in biology, the skills necessary to perform well in undergraduate courses, and the skills and information to successfully pursue long-term career goals. This program provides a great foundation to achieve success not only in the undergraduate years, but for the years ahead.