MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth
Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences

Who is required to take the course?

Most first year PhD students are required to take the course.  The only exceptions are students who will complete the extensive core curriculum requirements of the Medical Physics Program.  See Dr. Bill Mattox in the Office of Academic Affairs if you have questions. 

How is the course organized?

  • The course is divided into 14 one-week units each covering a separate broad topic area (e.g., Cell Biology, Genetics).

  • Each week will be led by a Topic Leader (a GSBS faculty member) who has organized a team of expert faculty to participate in each week.

  • Each week will consist of daily lectures and breakout sessions.

  • The lectures will be concept-driven, focused on the big questions in the field, cutting edge findings/approaches, case studies, and clinical applications.

  • The course will also include a weekly biostats/bioinformatics module (see below).

  • In addition, all first year students are required to take Ethical Dimensions of the Biomedical Sciences (GS21 1051).

What are Breakout sessions?

  • Breakout sessions will consist of a variety of individual and team exercises and hands-on workshops that will complement the lectures and the week’s overall topic.

  • The breakout sessions are designed to develop skills that you will need to succeed as a scientist (critical thinking, hypothesis development and testing, presentation skills, and teamwork).  These sessions will also expose students to powerful scientific software tools.  

  • In most breakout sessions, the class will be split into groups.  Groups will be reformed on a weekly basis.

  • The sessions will take different forms, for example:

    • Question-driven paper discussions (papers assigned in advance)
    • Hypothesis building - based on ideas from lecture or literature
    • Critical analysis of experimental design
    • Debate over controversial topics
    • Student presentations
    • Problem solving
    • Software workshops
  • The groups will be led by the students themselves with oversight from faculty, TAs, and course volunteers.  The Course Director will also be available to “float” between groups, and facilitate discussions.

  • Students will be graded on individual participation and as teams where appropriate (debates, projects, etc).

Where can I find the course materials?

  • All course material and assignments will be uploaded to Box, a cloud-based document-sharing platform.  All enrolled students will be provided access to the course folder. 

  • Please contact the Course Director, Dr. Eric Swindell, if you have trouble accessing Box.

  • The Core Course website provides the overall course syllabus, weekly schedules, and content. 

Are Biostatistics and Bioinformatics included in the course?

  • The core course will include a biostatistics/bioinformatics module.

  • This module will be planned and taught by Dr. John Magnotti; a biostatistics instructor who has been hired specifically for this course. 

  • Tapsi Seth will be the Teaching Assistant for this module. 

  • There will be a graded weekly take home assignment for this module.

My primary interests are in quantitative science, can I take the course Pass/Fail?

If you are committed to a quantitative or computational degree track and will complete extensive coursework in these areas, you may register for GS21 1018 Foundations of Biomedical Research for Quantitative Students. You must obtain permission from Dr. Bill Mattox in the Office of Academic Affairs.  These students will attend all class sessions as those students enrolled in GS21 1017, but will be graded Pass/Fail based on class attendance and biostatistics/bioinformatics homework assignments. 

Is Ethics included in the Core Course?

  • The GSBS Course, Ethical Dimensions of Biomedical Science, will directly follow the core course on Thursday mornings at 11:15AM-12:30PM.

  • This is a stand-alone course and it is not integrated into the core course. You must register for it separately from the core course.

  • All first year students are expected to enroll in the Ethics course.

  • Other interested students/trainees may also enroll in the Ethics course.

How will students be evaluated?

  • The Core Course will not have traditional in-class exams.

  • Each Friday, students will be given a take home assignment (developed by the Topic leader and lecturers) focused on critical thinking and concepts.

  • Examples:

    • Design an experiment to test a specified hypothesis (including controls and expected outcomes/pitfalls).
    • Develop and test a hypothesis, what experiments support a particular scientific “fact” and experiments refute this “fact”.
  • The students will also have a short biostatistics/bioinformatics graded assignment each week.

  • All students are expected to ask at least one question or make a substantive comment each week.  This will be recorded by the TA.

  • Breakout session participation and assignments will also contribute to each student’s overall grade.

  • Since participation is an important part of the course, please contact the course director if you will be absent due to illness or other circumstance. In some cases, an alternative assignment will be given to make up for missed class work. 

Course Learning Aids

  • All students will be required to bring a laptop to class.

  • Audience response clickers will be available for use in the GSBS large classroom.

  • Topic leaders and lecturers will incorporate these clickers in various ways during the course.

Will students have an opportunity to evaluate the course?

  • All surveys will be anonymous

    • On-line Survey monkey: Comment on specific instructors and overall course any time during the week. Link will be e-mailed to all students each week.

  • Weekly surveys will be reviewed by both the Course Director and the GSBS Curriculum Committee during the semester.

  • Student input will be critical for the success and refinement of this course.  Your opinion matters!

Who is the Course Director?

Dr. Eric C. Swindell:

  • Will provide feedback to lecturers/instructors.

  • Will hold office hours to assist students.

  • Will identify and counsel students who are having difficulty in the class.

  • Will review weekly evaluations.

  • Will answer any questions you have about the Core Course.