The Humanity in Biology

“When you’re just on the math, science or engineering track, you kind of get these blinders on and you don’t realize that there are other people who don’t think the same way as you do.”

As UC Irvine introduces the new human biology major starting in the fall of 2013, their main objective is to educate students to not just know how to cure a disease, but understand how it came about, why one area is more susceptible than another and to observe the whole situation from every possible aspect.

By requiring students to take Humanities Core, anthropology, sociology and psychology, along with the science classes normally required for biological science majors, students in the human biology major will have access to a wider variety of data and therefore the ability to view a medical case from a sociocultural view as well as a scientific one. It may be said that it is a combination of the best of both worlds.

However, because of the versatile nature of the required courses, this major requires full commitment as well as a need for close-knit involvement of students and teachers. Because of the need for intimacy, it was decided that the major size would be restricted to 30 to 50students for each incoming class, to ensure that each student would be able to receive the needed amount of attention from Dr. Andrea Nicholas and Professor Michael Leon, who have worked together to build this major.

Dr. Nicholas will be teaching the new Human Biology course that will be available to human biology majors exclusively in their junior year after they have taken Bio 99. Dr. Nicholas herself comes from a very unconventional educational background, studying the arts for her undergraduate major, working in the business field with hedge funds after she graduated and then earning her doctorate for biological sciences. Because of her own diverse educational history, she is particularly passionate about the way she will teach this course so that the students “will get a different view of the medical world, a global picture… of all the main diseases that are plaguing humankind, not only from the scientific point of view but how they work globally.”

The idea to create the human biology major was brought up by Dr. Michael Leon, who saw the need for students who were heading for the health profession to be familiarized with social and behavioral sciences, as it is becoming increasingly apparent that “medical schools want students who can think critically,” an example of this being the coming changes in the MCAT, as the Princeton Review has stated that as much as 50 percent of the test might be changed to make room for two new sections: the Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior and Critical Analysis and Reasoning; as well as slightly changing the focus of the biology section to biochemistry.

The MCAT is being altered with the needs of the general population in mind, as the field of medicine is growing rapidly to accommodate the diversity of the types of illnesses that may differ from each person. With the addition of the Critical Analysis and Reasoning page, test takers will have to observe a situation and use the information at hand to draw a conclusion that will be best for all concerned. The Human Biology course taught by Dr. Andrea Nicholas would be directly related to this section of the MCAT, as it is similar to the structure of her class.

Dr. Nicholas plans to present a medical case and divide the class in two. Each side will have to come up with a plausible solution that takes into account the sociocultural background of the patient, and brings ethics into play by deciding which factors should take precedence over another. The topics will range from the risk factors of heart disease, the nature of infectious diseases and the epidemiology of HIV/AIDS, to the various consequences of obesity.

Keeping the changing MCAT in mind, as well as the ever-changing medical field, Dr. Leon aims to cultivate in students “sophistication in critical thinking in the humanities, as well as understanding basic concepts in psychology and sociology.”

Aspiring premedical students will need a stronger basis in the behavioral sciences than previously expected, and so the amount of data and practice in critical thinking that will be put into practice as a human biology major “would serve as an ideal preparation for the health science professionals,”  Dr. Leon said.

As the students adjust to thinking in terms of a larger scale, using demographics and existing data of the surrounding situation, they are continuously building up the wide array of tools they will need to fight it out in the fierce competition that is the medical profession.

This innovative new major was built to reflect the undergoing changes in the needs of the medical field, and when rendered properly, will give UCI students a set of capabilities that will take them farther in the changing world.