Editor's note: This is part of an occasional series of
articles in which reporters drop in on interesting classes
throughout the university's eight academic
The course: Cancer, Science and Society. A freshman
seminar exploring the industrialized world's most feared
diseases. The course, which covers everything from the
biology of cancer to experimental cancer research, is aimed
at helping students learn to critically analyze what is
reported in the media — and by health care
researchers — about cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Like other freshman seminars, this one provides a platform
for personal interaction between faculty and freshmen.
Limited to 12 students. 1 credit. Department of Biology,
Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.
Meeting time: 1 to 2 p.m., Thursdays, fall 2004.
The instructor: Maurice J. Bessman, professor in
Syllabus: Students help teach the class by preparing
— and presenting — lessons on each of the 11
topics covered in the class. Subjects range from the early
history of cancer to molecular genetics, and from mutation
and mutagenesis to experimental cancer research.
Course work: The course's single formal requirement
is that each student must master, and present to his or her
classmates, one chapter's worth of material. On the rare
occasions upper division students are admitted to the
course, they are required to write a term paper in lieu of
the in-class chapter presentation. Class participation is
Required reading: Cancer, Science and
Society, by John Cairns. "It may be out of print, but
its concepts are not out of date," said Bessman, who
distributes photocopies to his students. "One of the most
difficult tasks in developing a freshman seminar is finding
the right text; it should be pitched at a level that is not
too watered down yet not too challenging for a
heterogeneous group of incoming students."
Overheard in class: "Animals get different kinds of
cancers than do humans, which means you cannot extrapolate
from one to the other," Bessman said. "Don't make the
mistake of thinking that just because something applies to
animals that it applies equally to humans."
"I was interested in the subject of cancer but was
skeptical about how interesting the actual class would be.
It took only an hour with Professor Bessman to convince me
to stay in that class. I enjoy Professor Bessman's calm and
thoughtful style of teaching; he makes the material very
easy to understand. By taking this class, I hoped to learn
just a little about the workings of cancer, since it
affects the lives of so many, my family included. Judging
from the information I have digested in just the first few
weeks, I'll probably end up learning much more than I had
—Umesh Venkatesan, Monroe Township, N.J.
"I took this course to broaden my knowledge of how cancer
works, what steps have been taken to prevent or cure it and
where the future might lead in terms of technological or
medicinal advances in cancer research. The course seems
pretty good so far."
— Jason Paluzzi, Ewing, N.J.