Cancer, Science and Society
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: Thursdays from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m., fall 2004.
The instructor: Maurice J. Bessman (pictured at right), professor in Department of Biology.
Syllabus: Students help teach the class by preparing — and presenting — lessons on each of 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 classmates — one chapter's worth of material. On rare occasions, upper division students have been admitted to the course, and they are required to write a term paper in lieu of the in-class chapter presentation. Class participation is strongly encouraged.
Required Reading: Cancer, Science and Society, by John Cairns. This 200-page paperback is out of print, but very readable and still highly relevant, so Bessman distributes photo-copied copies to his students. ("It may be out of print, but its concepts are not out of date," Bessman said. "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. Animal studies do not necessarily relate to humans," Bessman said. "Don't make the mistake of thinking that just because something applies to animals, that it applies equally to humans."
"To be honest, I took this class as a filler; it's only one
credit and was the only class that would fit into my
schedule. 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
"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."
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