Although often regarded as a 'soft' science Biology is one of the most complex of all studies because it has such a wide scope and is built upon diverse foundations. The 'hard' sciences like Physics and Chemistry deal with fundamentals. Biology starts with those fundamentals and applies them to interactions. Those interactions may be anywhere from the molecular level, to individuals or ecosystems. There is nothing soft about that!
Furthermore, an ability to make sense of those interactions has never been more vital, whether we are dealing with the epidemiology of COVID-19, predicting future pandemics, increasing food supply, managing the biodiversity crisis or coping with climate change. Biology is essential to the future of all of us. All of the urgent issues facing humanity now are compounds of many problems and in order to tackle them we have to be able to synthesise different aspects of biology and link into other disciplines. Accordingly biologists need an understanding of the molecular basis of their subject, how that contributes to physiological processes and how those lead to individual behaviours and shape ecosystems. Underlying all of that, it is essential to understand how these systems have been shaped and constrained by their evolution.
In recent decades molecular biology has increasingly dominated undergraduate Biology courses. Course organisers now recognise that the whole-organism aspect needs to be restored, with an increased emphasis on physiology, evolution and ecology. This is reflected in my supervision of Cambridge University undergraduates for the first year courses of Evolution & Behaviour and Physiology of Organisms, and the second year course Evolution & Animal Diversity. These courses give an outstanding understanding of the fundamentals that are needed to be a biologist, whether that is a molecular biologist, an epidemiologist or a conservation manager.
A particularly important part of a good biology degree is the training it provides in scientific communication. Many courses give students the opportunity to present work in the form of posters and presentations. The most important part of scientific communication, though, remains writing. Undergraduate essays provide an invaluable training in communicating ideas precisely and clearly. This comes into its own when students go on to write scientific papers, reviews, popular articles, books or reports. Few, if any, aspects of modern life do not include writing. Helping students to develop their communication skills I regard as one of the most important parts of my teaching.
I find there is always more to add to teaching, so I am constantly sending my students links to the latest papers that are of relevance to their courses. Sometimes it's not particularly relevant, just really interesting. Most of these I'll incorporate into the next year's teaching, but not at the expense of the essential 'old' material. Sometimes I spin off a book that I can point the students to without having to cram all that material into a supervision (e.g. Essential Animals). Those are the points that aren't required for their courses but I feel they ought to have met, and can follow up if they are so minded. New papers that I've sent students over the past year include those listed below (and some older ones here):