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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University October 18, 2004 | Vol. 34 No. 8
JHU Course Catalog: "Cancer, Science and Society"

Students speak with Professor Maurice Bessman as the class wraps up.

By Lisa De Nike

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 divisions.

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 Department of Biology.

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 strongly encouraged.

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 "It may be out of print, but its concepts are not out of date," said Bessman, who distributes photocopies to his students.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."

Students say:

"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 imagined."
—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.


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