Evolution for Everyone (BIOL 105)
This course explains the basic principles of evolution and why they are so important for the study of humans in addition to the rest of life. Students from all majors are welcome and a background in science is not necessary. Those who have already learned about evolution will still learn much in this course about the relevance of evolution to human affairs. This course can be taken by itself and also serves as the best introduction to EvoS as a multi-course integrated curriculum. Here is a sample of anonymous verbal evaluations from the fall 2003 course:
“This course provides evidence that evolution is evident in everything. It revolutionized my way of viewing problems…”
“I have always agreed with evolution but I did not know how much of everyday life was affected by it…”
“Before this class I thought about evolution in more technical terms…but this class expanded upon those technical terms and introduced me to other aspects, like cultural evolution. It was really incredible to see how big a role evolution plays in human behavior.”
“I came into the class not knowing a lot about evolution. I now have an entirely new outlook on how evolution can be applied to many aspects of life.”
“Many of the topics became logical. Evolution is a major factor that has influenced most if not all of our characteristics (physical, psychological, social, emotional).”
“It made me view many situations in society from a positive evolutionary perspective.”
Evolution and Human Affairs (BIOL 570)
This course introduces evolutionary theory and its wide-ranging implications for human affairs to graduate students from all departments. It is taught once a week (Tuesday) in the evening to maximize the opportunity for participation. The first few weeks will be devoted to the basic principles of evolution and why they provide a theoretical framework for all biological and human-related subjects. Then students will explore their own areas of interest and will learn about evolutionary research taking place on campus through guest lectures by EvoS faculty, advanced BU graduate students, and advanced graduate students from other institutions . By the end of the course, students will have a good idea of how evolutionary theory can contribute to their own professional development (depth) and how it also provides a common language for transdisciplinary interactions (breadth).
Current Topics in Evolutionary Studies (BIOL 480S/680S)
This 2-credit course is built around the EvoS seminar series, which features distinguished speakers on diverse topics from an evolutionary perspective at roughly bi-weekly intervals. Students read one or more articles in preparation for each seminar, post a commentary on the article on Blackboard prior to the seminar, attend the seminar and attend a dinner and continue discussion after the seminar.
Conceptual Foundations in Ecology, Evolution and Behavior (BIOL 450/532)
Ecology, Evolution and Behavior (EEB) are historically separate disciplines but they are increasingly becoming integrated from each other. In addition, the best empirical research is conceptually oriented and these concepts are often expressed in the form of mathematical and computer simulation models. This course attempts to teach the conceptual foundations of EEB. The course is designed for future biologists and no mathematical or computer simulation skills are required, but some skills will be taught and students who already possess these skills will learn how to apply them to biological questions. Specific topics include evolutionary models of individual behavior, social behavior, the dynamics of single species populations and multi-species communities, and ecosystem processes. This course will be useful for any student with a serious interest in EEB. Students who wish to build their own mathematical or computer simulation models can arrange to take this course concurrently with independent study credits with permission of the instructor.
Cultural Evolutionary Theory (BIOL 483Q)
Information can be transmitted across generations by cultural in addition to genetic processes, especially in humans, but also other species. This course reviews the modern study of culture as an evolutiionary process, including the social and psychological mechanisms that enable cultural transmission to take place, the differences and similarities between biological and cultural evolution and the consequences of gene-culture co-evolution. The course is relevant to the fields of anthropology, psychology, economics and political science in addition to biology.
Courses taught on an occasional basis
As an extension of my conceptual foundations course, I am interested is working with students who want to build mathematical and computer simulations models in EEB. The best way to do this is through independent study credits on a one-on-one basis or in very small groups with a strong common interest and commitment. Past projects have led to publications and have had an important influence on graduate student thesis research.
My own research on evolution and human behavior occasionally creates an opportunity for undergraduate student involvement, sometimes at a large scale. I have taught several seminars in which students first participate as subjects in an experiment, then help to analyze the experiment, and finally conduct independent projects of their own, all while learning about the general subject surrounding the experiment (e.g., group decision making, social norms, religion from an evolutionary perspective). If there is such a thing as “improvisational science”, this is it, and the students have found these seminars highly rewarding.
I and my faculty colleagues offer graduate seminars in addition to our normal course loads, as time and interest warrants. These courses work best when there is a strong interest among the students to study a given subject and to share in the organization of the course. The best graduate seminars are egalitarian; there are no students and teachers, just a group of people trying to break new ground. Students who wish to participate in this spirit should contact me to work out the details.