April 27, 2007 8:46 AM

For the Plant Freaks - Courses and Profs

Hyun-joo asked what courses I've enjoyed - so here we go! I'm addling a little information on professors as well.

PMB C107 & C 107L: Plant Morphology. This is my favorite course in the major. It teaches you the ins and outs of vascular plants. Be prepared to do a lot of quick drawing in the labs. You're trained to have a critical eye when viewing plant structures. You also learn the general layout of plant lineages. In the lab, we get to look at microscope slides of plant anatomy, living plant samples, and even fossils! Be warned - those upper-division students that came in without a decent understanding of plant descriptive terminology are feeling overwhelmed by the amount of material covered in this course. In the Genetics & Plant Biology major, the majority of students have a good background in plant biochemistry, cell biology, and genetics. Take at least one non-biochemistry or non-molecular biology plant course before this one. Meeting with study groups and bringing your questions to the graduate student instructor during office hours are essential to success, no matter your background.

The professor, Dr. Chelsea Specht:

She is perky, incredibly knowledgeable and ready to share what she knows, so don't miss out on a class from her. Sometimes she speaks very fast in lecture! Never miss a lecture, always read background material before coming to class. Otherwise, you risk getting lost in the fast pace.

It's probably a good idea to take some of these before PMB C107:

IB168: Plant Systematics
. This course gives you a general understanding of plant families, and just gets you comfortable looking at plants. For the lab, you'll need to learn the main characters of most plant families. For the quizzes, you'll need to look at a plant and know its family. Bring your camera, sketchbook, and colored pencils to lab. Don't think you know how to draw? If you choose to sketch the plants in this course (rather than just taking photos), you'll get the hang of it by the end of the semester, and you'll be better prepared for PMB C107L. You'll enjoy the small class size, individual attention in lab, and the enthusiastic students. Get to know people and form study groups before exams - it helps to exchange notes.

The professor, Dr. Bruce Baldwin:

He's the Curator of the Jepson Herbarium. You want to get to know this man. Find any excuse you can to take a course by him. He is soft-spoken, and incredibly kind. He likes to bring up silly facts and stories about the plants, to make his students laugh. Don't miss a lecture, it all shows up on his multiple-choice exams.

IB 102 & IB 102L: Introduction to California Plant Life.
Who wants to leave California without knowing its flora? Here's an excellent course where you'll run into plant-minded people with interests in forestry, ethnobotany, range science, and so forth. These are folks that you won't run into in your other major courses, but you'll have a lot of fun with them on the field trips and in the labs. You're introduced to the plants of California by their habitat, as well as by family. Watch out! There's a lot of plants to know for this course. It focuses on sight-identification of plants by family, genus, and species. You'll learn a little morphology in this course, since you'll need it to navigate the Jepson Manual, the key to California plants.

The professor, Dr. Dean Kelch:

Dean knows his field well. A great speaker, and definitely a big part of what makes this course fun. Watch out when he writes on the board - he doesn't have the best hand-writing. The key to enjoying his course - ask questions!

PMB C102 & C102L: Diversity of Plants and Fungi. I have not taken it, but several of my friends have enjoyed this elective. Here's the course description: "An integrated treatment of the biology and evolution of the major groups in the plant, algal, and fungal kingdoms." My friends say the instructors have a great sense of humor, and make these plants come alive. It's the only introduction you'll get to marine "plants." I haven't had a semester where I could take the course, but a friend gave me their textbook: Diversity of Plants and Fungi by Rudolf Schmid. It's an excellent resource for getting your mind around an upper-division understanding of plants.

Other Great Major Courses:

(These happen to be required.)

PMB 135 & PMB 135L: Physiology and Biochemistry of Plants. Here's a course that threw me for a loop. Make sure that you take all of Organic Chemistry before embarking on this adventure. I didn't, and boy was it a rush. Other students seemed to have an easier time of it than I did. Here's where you learn C3, C4 and CAM photosynthesis in detail, including the nitty-gritty of how chloroplasts capture energy. Also covers nutrient deficiencies, a bit on soil and water potential, just how turgor pressure works, and, well... all of the math and chemistry that you'll need to understand when it comes to plants. Watch out for the chalk dust - there's a lot of learning, and neither professor uses power point. This course also has frequent quizzes. Don't miss lectures, they're the most important part.

The Professors,

Dr. Anastasios Melis:

When speaking with other students in Genetics & Plant Biology, his name is the most common when you ask about a favorite professor. A Greek accent, incredible smile, and detailed organization are the most notable aspects of this professor. He outlines his lectures well, and brings even the most challenging concepts to a level that we all can understand. He doesn't like textbooks, so take good notes in class - it's all you have to work off of!

Dr. Norman Terry:

You can see a more current image of him if you watch the first 30 seconds of my "day in the life" video from last semester. Dreamy English accent aside, Dr. Terry is older but he's quick. Organized, and thankfully he works with the course website to give us all of the important notes from his lectures. Sit back and take it all in when he teaches. There's some difficult concepts to master, but he makes it all clear- what you need to know and what you don't.

PMB 150 & 150L: Cellular and Developmental Plant Biology.
Interested in cell signaling, or genes that control specific functions? Those are two main topics that this course covers. A couple of my friends tell me that this course is much easier if you have already taken PMB 160 and 160L. Be prepared to write a scientific paper, and be sure to come to class for frequent quizzes. Neither professor believes much in textbooks. Be sure to take good notes, and go through their lectures online before attending each course. They won't stop to explain terminology if you've had a chance to look it up.

The Professors,

Dr. Sheng Luan:

His lecture slides are filled with the information he wants you to know, while his gentle voice fills your ears with analogies and stories to help you remember the challenging concepts. His office hours are worthwhile, and his eyes light up when answering questions. You'll find he offers great advice on graduate schools and other pertinent life topics, as well as the course subject material.

Dr. Renee Sung:
Another professor whose lecture slides accurately depict what she expects us to know for quizzes and exams. She's great at gearing the information she presents to the students she has in her class. If you don't have the proper background to understand a concept she presents, be sure to visit her during office hours to ask for clarification. She also responds quickly to e-mails. A straightforward lecturer, though some may have a difficult time with her Taiwanese accent.

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