BISC 495, Evolution, Spring 2014

Section 010

Tuesdays and Thursdays, 12:30-1:45 p.m.

217 Gore Hall

Instructor: John McDonald
322 Wolf Hall (office)
Phone: 831-2007 (I rarely check messages, so e-mail is better)
Class web page:

Goals: In this course, I hope that you:

Note that learning facts is last on the list. I will place very little emphasis on memorizing, say, which animal phyla evolved in the Cambrian, the evolutionary relationships of vascular plants, or the assumptions of the Hardy-Weinberg relationship. Instead, I will emphasize evolutionary biology as a "way of knowing," a set of approaches to answering questions that is of broad importance to all kinds of biologists. I will present many examples of evolutionary research, some of which may seem trivial or irrelevant, but they will all illustrate how evolutionary biologists make our discoveries. I realize that very few of you will become professional evolutionary biologists, but whether you become a medical professional, a biomedical researcher, a teacher, a forensic detective, or a zookeeper, I hope that when you think about biology, you will think like an evolutionary biologist.

Exams: There will be two exams, on Tuesday, March 11, and during finals week. The exams will be cumulative. Study guides, with lists of topics to be covered and some example questions, will be linked below. The first exam will be worth 15 percent, and the final exam 35 percent of the total grade. The grades will not be curved.

Term paper: You will write two papers on an evolutionary topic. The first must be at least 15 pages long, and it must cite at least 25 references. This will count for 35 percent of your grade, broken down as follows: topic choice, 2 percent; initial reference list, 4 percent; outline, 4 percent; finished paper, 25 percent. You must turn in your topic choice on February 25, turn in the initial reference list on March 4, turn in the outline on March 20, and turn in the final version on April 17. See the instructions for the big paper here.

The second paper must be at least 5 pages long, and it must cite at least 12 references. This will count for 15 percent of your grade. It will be due May 8. See the instructions for the little paper here.

Turning in assignments: You should turn in assignments in class on the day they are due. If you will not be in class that day, bring the assignment to my office (322 Wolf) before class and slide it under my door if I'm not there. If you have printer problems, car problems, illness, etc. on the day an assignment is due, e-mail the assignment to me before class time, then turn in the printed copy as soon as possible. You must turn in a printed copy; I will not grade the e-mailed copy, I will just use it to establish that you were done on time. If you make substantial changes between the e-mailed copy and the printed one, I will penalize you for lateness, based on when you gave me the printed copy.

Picking up exams and assignments: I will try to return graded exams and assignments in the first class following the due date, but I can't guarantee I'll always be able to. I will bring unclaimed items for a couple of lectures after that.

Integrity: If you copy another student's work or cheat in some other way on an exam, you will receive an F for the course. See the term paper instructions for the policy on plagiarism.

Grading philosophy: I view grades as a form of communication, a way for me to tell others (your future employers or schools you apply to) how well you have learned the skills and concepts this class is teaching you. An "A" is my way of saying, "Dear person of the future: this person took my Evolution class and learned everything I wanted them to learn." If I were the world's best teacher, every student would learn everything, and the grade roster for this class would have 48 A's on it. That is my goal. I will not grade on a curve; I see no reason that there should be mostly C's and B's, with a few A's and D's for symmetry, and just enough F's to prove that I'm tough. If everyone does well on the exams and term papers, everyone will get an A; if everyone does poorly, everyone will get an F. So far, I have not been the world's best teacher; in most years, the proportion of students who earn A's is fairly small. I'll try to make this year different. Please help me by asking for my assistance if you have trouble understanding the material or doing the term paper.

Grade scale: A 93-100; A- 90-92.9; B+ 87-89.9; B 83-86.9; B- 80-82.9; C+ 77-79.9; C 73-76.9; C- 70-72.9; D+ 67-69.9; D 63-66.9; D- 60-62.9; F 0-59.9.

Students who are less than 3 points below the minimum grade needed for their program (such as an undergraduate biology major with 67 to 69.9 points) will be given the opportunity to take an incomplete grade and complete an extra credit project. This project will be a lot of work, such as writing another 15-page term paper on a topic of my choice. Upon satisfactory completion of the project, you'll get the minimum grade needed for your program (such as C- for undergraduate biology majors). There will be no other extra credit.

Attendance: You are not required to attend the lectures, and your class participation will not affect your grade. However, because almost all of the material on the exams will come from the lectures, you will find it very difficult to do well in the class if you don't attend the lectures; I recommend getting the lecture notes from someone else if you have to miss a class. If you have a valid reason to miss one of the exams, let me know as soon as possible so that we can schedule a makeup exam. Note that I do not consider having other exams on the same day to be a valid excuse.

Classroom rules: You may not use laptops, tablets, smartphones, or other electronic devices during lectures. If I see you using such devices, I'll assume you're looking at porn and mock you accordingly.

Office hours: I will not have formal office hours; if you'd like to talk to me, feel free to call me, e-mail me, or drop by. I'm generally at my office Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 to 6:45, except I teach from 12:30 to 3:15. On other days I'm working at home and can be reached by e-mail.

zOMG, when u e-mail me, pls spell teh words lik a grownup. kthxbai.

Tentative schedule: This is a tentative schedule of lecture topics; check back here for updates as the semester progresses.

Day Date Topic Events
Tuesday Feb. 11 Introduction; why study evolution?
Determining the age of stuff: radiometric dating, etc.
Thursday Feb. 13 No school, snow day  
Tuesday Feb. 18 Getting started on the term paper: literature research
Thursday Feb. 20 Fossils: gradual change  
Tuesday Feb. 25 Transitional fossils Topic choice due for big paper
Thursday Feb. 27 Systematics  
Tuesday March 4 Development, vestigial structures Initial reference list due for term paper
Thursday March 6 Bad design  
Tuesday March 11 --- First exam; see the study guide
Thursday March 13 Mutation  
Tuesday March 18 Random drift  
Thursday March 20 Selection: visible characters Outline of term paper due
Tuesday March 25 Selection: molecular  
Thursday March 27 Recombination and sex  
Tuesday April 1 --- Spring Break
Thursday April 3 --- Spring Break
Tuesday April 8 Rates of evolution  
Thursday April 10 Simple adaptations  
Tuesday April 15 Complex adaptations  
Thursday April 17 Sexual adaptations Big paper due
Tuesday April 22 Species and speciation  
Thursday April 24 More on speciation  
Tuesday April 29 Human evolution: fossils  
Thursday May 1 Human evolution: DNA  
Tuesday May 6 Human evolution: present and future  
Thursday May 8 Applied evolution Little paper due
Tuesday May 13 Origin of life  
Thursday May 15 Biology education vs. creationism  
Tuesday May 20 2-5 p.m. Early final exam in 318 Wolf; start at 2 or 3 p.m.
Thursday May 29 10:30-12:30 Final exam

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