Bioscholar Students Help Design New Upper Division Seminar

The seminar focuses on contemporary topics such as the BRAIN initiative, mental disorders and neurobiology ethics.


UCSD’s biology department and its Bioscholars Program launched an upper-division seminar, “BISP 170: From Bench to Bedside and Beyond,” beginning Spring Quarter 2014.

Bioscholars Program members collaborating with faculty advisor Dr. Kathleen French and Dr. Krista Todd founded BISP 170, officially “The Bioscholars Seminar,” in Winter Quarter 2013. It originally began as a series of interdisciplinary presentations about personalized medicine for the Bioscholars. Now in its second year running, BISP 170 was made an official class open to all students starting this quarter. French and Todd handle session logistics and final grading, while the Bioscholars introduce guest speakers who give detailed talks related to specific, contemporary topics in biology, the current theme entitled “From Bench to Bedside and Beyond.” The department collectively selected the guest lecturers based on the scope and innovation of their research.

This quarter, the students focused on the Obama administration’s Brain Research through Advancing Innovating Neurotechnologies Initiative. UCSD researchers, along with scientists from institutes across the country, have been contributing to the project since early 2013. 

In accordance with the theme, students learn about the basics of the BRAIN Initiative lab work, eventually moving on to its real-life, clinical applications and other implications.

Bioscholars president-elect Billy Nguyen told the UCSD Guardian that program members were the first to enroll, although other students later did join out of personal interest. The class size is capped at 20. So far, the seminar has been running smoothly.

“All the faculty treat it not as a lecture — we’ve tried to break down that wall — and more as a discussion between students and presenters,” Nguyen said. “We’ve fostered a lot of dialogue between the speakers.”

Nguyen, who helped organize the pilot seminar curriculum with outgoing Bioscholars President Chiara Ricci-Tam and the rest of the Bioscholars Steering Committee, hopes that other program participants will eventually become more involved with creating similar seminars. This way, a broader reach of scholars will gain valuable experience in devising and teaching courses to fellow students. 

“It’s made for students by students, and that’s the biggest thing for us,” Nguyen said. “In how many other schools can you say that ‘I, as an undergrad, made this class for the community’?”