How to Succeed in Upper Division BIS series

All College of Biological Sciences (CBS) students who are pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree have to take our core BIS upper division series. Depending on your major, you may choose to take BIS 101, 105, 104 or BIS 101, 102, 103, and 104. Let’s briefly discuss each class:

  • BIS 101- Genes and Gene Expression: In this course, students will learn in detail about nucleic acid structure and function, gene expression, replication, and regulation. Many students have previous exposure to the topic from a general Biology class but this class will guide students beyond introductory level genetics. A special feature of this class is an optional 1-unit, P/NP discussion section, BIS 101D. The discussion creates a space for approaching problem-solving and is highly recommended for students to enroll in.
  • BIS 102- Structure and Function of Biomolecules: The class focuses on the many aspects of proteins, lipids, and membranes. Key concepts from general biology, such as weak bond interactions, amino acids, the different levels of protein structure, and pH/buffer calculations, will constitute a substantial amount of the course. Additionally, students will learn new concepts, such as enzyme kinetics, enzymatic assays, as well as protein purification.
  • BIS 103- Bioenergetics and Metabolism: The student will be exposed to enzymes and substrates of the major metabolic pathways, such as glycolysis, gluconeogenesis, fermentation, Kreb’s cycle, Electron Transport Chain, and the Pentose Phosphate Shunt.
  • BIS 104- Cell Biology: Course content includes membrane receptors and signal transduction, cell growth and division, extracellular matrix and cell-cell junctions, and the immune system.
  • BIS 105- Biomolecules and Metabolism: This one-quarter course includes select topics from both BIS 102 and BIS 103, ranging from the fundamentals of biochemical processes to energy metabolism. Hence, some CBS students can choose to take BIS 105 in place of both BIS 102 and BIS 103. ***Note: Cell Biology majors and Biochemistry majors have to take both BIS 102 and BIS 103.

But how are these classes different than the general Biology series?

With few exceptions, professors that teach upper division science often have high expectations from their students. Professors generally lecture solely on concepts/facts and then expect you to solve problems based on integration and application of that lecture material. Hence, a lot of students get frustrated since they are not in the habit of thinking “outside the box.” Those students usually have a mindset of “just tell me what to know, and I’ll learn it.” To maximize your chance of succeeding, students should make an effort to:

1) Time manage! For each hour you spend in class, expect to allot at least two hours for studying. This rule of thumb exists for good reason and helps you practice good-studying habits. With the amount of content that you will be responsible for, allot time to review old material since exam-content is generally cumulative and concepts build upon each other.

2) “Cover all your bases.” Make sure you understand all the major concepts first and then tackle the finer details. If the lectures are recorded, re-listen to the podcasts to clarify any topics that may have been initially confusing or unclear. Students who make an effort to know their notes inside and out will be rewarded. (Pay attention to graphs, charts, experiments etc…)

3) Practice! Professors assign homework to get their students thinking, and much of the time exam questions are based off of homework problems. Practice exams, if provided by the instructor, give big hints as to what you can expect to be on your test. Creating your own set of notes independent of the professor’s slides can be a good source of additional practice. Recreating images or flowcharts for the purpose of note-taking will definitely give you an edge on the exam!

4) Seek help! Since problem-solving may or may not be covered in lecture, students usually have a multitude of questions about assignments. To address their concerns, professors/T.A.’s/ tutors have office hours on a weekly basis for open discussion. Try to think of office hours as an integral part of your learning experience and less as an “optional” resource, especially for the upper division sciences courses. The Student Academic Success Center also offers drop-in tutoring for BIS 101, 102, and 103. More information may be found here:

5) Help others! Don’t underestimate the learning potential from explaining concepts to your colleagues. Your classmates will quickly detect the holes in your understanding of the subject, to which then you can explore and address. This ties in directly with tip #2 since having a comprehensive and thorough knowledge of the material is crucial to your success.

In addition, forming study groups is advantageous  so that you and your classmates have a chance to debate about core concepts and help each other get on par with the material.

A final note is to just have fun with and enjoy these classes. Although it is challenging, the coursework is designed to prepare you for graduate programs as well as for your future career. In hindsight, all of the hard-work that I invested into my upper division classes paid off because I became detail-oriented and learned to think both globally and critically. With the concepts of the lower division courses serving as a foundation for those of the upper division, your educational journey with CBS will open your mind to the fascination of modern biology.


Wilson Ng
BASC Peer Adviser 2014-2015


Preparing for Round Two of Midterms

It is now the seventh week of Fall Quarter! Like most of you, I am always surprised at how quickly the quarter progresses. By now, we have all taken our first set of midterms and are most likely preparing for the second set. Many of us may be looking to improve our scores, since the first set of midterms is always difficult because we are unfamiliar with the class or the professor’s teaching style. Here are some tips I always try to keep in mind when preparing for my second set of midterms:


Self-Evaluate Your Work

Self-evaluating previous work is essential for improvement. Although the material from the first midterm may be different than what will be tested on the second midterm, reviewing your old midterm for errors can be very helpful. Under the pressure of taking an exam, it is common to make easily avoidable mistakes. Looking back on your work from the previous midterm can help you become aware of these mistakes and avoid making them a second time. It is also important to think about what worked and what didn’t when you were studying for your midterm. Did you study individually or in a group? Did you study at home or on campus? Did you go to office hours? These are important questions to ask yourself, because it will help you determine what works best for you. If something you did wasn’t helpful, try to change it. Taking the time to self-evaluate your work and study habits is always worth it!

Seek Help

There are so many resources on campus designed to help you succeed academically. For example, you can go to your professor or TA’s office hours, academic tutors in the SASC, or residence hall tutoring. Using any of these resources can be the difference between getting a B and getting an A. If you didn’t try out these resources when studying for you first midterm, you might want to consider trying them for your second midterm, or at least dropping by to see what they have to offer. I remember being disappointed by my first Chem 118A midterm score, so I decided to attend the weekly workshops at the SASC, and was able to improve my second midterm score. We all know practice makes perfect, and what better way to practice than with someone who already knows the material?

The SASC also offers Study Skill Workshops through out the quarter. These workshops cover a variety of topics, so you can pick and choose which ones you would like to attend based on what you think you need to improve on. There are sessions covering a variety of topics, including time management series, success strategies, and core study skills.

Stay motivated

Always keep your goals in mind and remember what you are working towards. Doing this will help you stay motivated to keep up with your school work and do your best on your second midterms. I have always found it helpful to reflect on my goals and my future plans, because it keeps me motivated to do well and finish the quarter strong.

Remember to Stay Healthy

This time of the quarter is always stressful because the quarter is winding down and finals are just around the corner, so it is more important than ever to stay healthy. Getting enough sleep, eating enough fruits and vegetables, and remembering to exercise can go a long way. Although you might feel like you need to study all day, remember to balance your life and keep your body healthy. I always try to do this by going to the ARC to study. I like to use the quiet study rooms during the day, and when I need a study break I’m able to go exercise. I also remember to bring healthy snacks so I don’t resort to eating unhealthy. This keeps me feeling healthy and awake, so my studies end up being more productive.

When it comes to focusing on health, the Student Health and Counseling Services center at North Hall is a great place to go. They offer programs like “What is Wellness?” which describes the seven dimensions of wellness (physical, emotional, social, environmental, intellectual, spiritual, and occupational) and how we can work to balance these dimensions in our lives to stay healthy.

Midterms can be really stressful, but remember to stay focused, positive, and healthy. Good luck!

Zoe Lim

Biological Sciences

BASC Peer Adviser


Making the Most Out of Office Hours

As students in the College of Biological Sciences, most of our classes are both fascinating and challenging. To help us succeed in these classes, our Professors and TA’s hold weekly Office Hours. The Professor or TA will usually write the location, date, and time of these hours on the board on the first day of class, and they are also posted in the syllabus for the class found on SmartSite.

You may be thinking, why would I want to spend extra time sitting in class? Isn’t the Professor or TA going to go over the same things we already talked about? I know these were some of the questions I had during my first year, when I was trying to decide if going to Office Hours would be beneficial. I remember thinking that I could just answer the questions myself if I read the textbook of asked some of my classmates. I thought I would be sitting in office hours waiting to get my question answered. However, after my first visit to my Math 17A Professor’s office hours, I realized I was completely wrong! There were so many benefits to going to office hours that I had never even thought of. I felt like I discovered the secret to succeeding in my class.

I came in to Office Hours unsure of what to expect. After a few minutes I was SO glad I came. The professor went over the material we covered in class, but this time much more clearly. He went over the material slower and used more examples to help us gain a deeper knowledge of the concepts. He even answered questions on the graded homework assignments! I realized I would have been struggling with the problems on my own, and by going to Office Hours, I learned how to get to the answer the correct way which was using the steps my professor wanted us to use on exams. I realized that going to office hours was actually saving me time, not wasting it. Professors understand that as students we have a lot on our plates, and they will usually be glad that students visit them in office hours, which means they reward the students who come. This means they may give tips on exam topics, heads-up on an upcoming pop quiz, or explain the correct way to do an assignment to get full credit.

Office hours can also be a great way to get your studying done. We know we have to study for our classes, so why not do it while we have the Professor available to answer our questions? This makes learning more efficient and we are able to retain the information and be certain it is correct. Retaining the information allows us to expand upon our knowledge and learn more about the topics, and it aids us in becoming comfortable answering questions that appear on midterms or finals. It is important to note that our Professors and TA’s want us to succeed in class, this is why they are offering office hours! It would be a waste to not take advantage of one-on-one time with instructors in class, because who better to learn from than the experts themselves?

I will conclude with some personal tips on making the most out of Office Hours:

  • Come to office hours prepared with questions
  • Be open to discussing topics you weren’t expecting to discuss, because they may appear on your midterm
  • Write down everything the Professor or TA puts on the board (this is usually very important information)
  • Try explaining the concepts to your fellow classmates, talking it out helps
  • Always thank your Professor or TA after office hours!

Good Luck,

Zoe Lim

Biological Sciences, Class of 2015

BASC Peer Adviser

Letters of Recommendation at UC Davis

During a student’s first large lecture at UC Davis, it’s not uncommon to scan the hall filled with hundreds of faces and feel like “a fish in a sea.” It is these large class sizes that have prompted a circulating rumor: As students of a public university, we are at a disadvantage for obtaining strong letters of recommendation (LORs) because of large class sizes. As a senior applying to dental school in a few weeks, I have been quite involved in the LOR process. I am writing this blog to prove this rumor false.


This rumor has some truth, but only if you are a student who sits quietly in lecture and makes no attempt to connect with professors outside of class. If you want a LOR that will impress admissions committees or prospective employers, you should not be this student. Here is my advice about how to obtain an outstanding letter:

What to do during the course:

• Attend all lectures and sit near the front so your face becomes familiar to your professor.
• Introduce yourself to your professor early in the quarter.
• Be active in lecture. If asking questions during lecture is daunting, don’t worry! Asking questions before or after is also advantageous.
• Don’t just attend office hours and listen. Come prepared with questions.
• Get to know your TA’s! I did not realize the importance of this. Many times, a professor will ask if your TA can help write the letter.
• Excel in the course!

What to do after the course (and receiving your final grade):

• Meet with your professor in person to ask for a letter. If you are unsure of when they will be in their office, email them to plan a time to meet. When you ask, be sure to say something along the lines of: “Will you be willing to write a strong LOR for me?”
• If the letter is not due for a while, the professor has two options:

1. Write the letter soon after you ask so that you are fresh in their mind. If this is the case, you should check out Interfolio (a great website that stores your letter confidentially until you need it).
2. Write the letter close to the deadline. In this case, stay in touch with the professor through emails and visits until the LOR is due.

• After your professor has turned in your LOR, be sure to write them a “Thank You” card or gift them something small (if you feel this is appropriate). In the future, if you are accepted into the program you are applying for, be sure to inform the professor. It will be rewarding for them to know they helped you reach your goal!

Ultimately, the “disadvantage” that students refer to for LOR’s at UC Davis is the effort we must make in order to connect with professors. However, I believe these efforts are beneficial for two reasons:

1. You are destined to do better in a course if you make the efforts described above (attend office hours, come prepared with questions, etc.).
2. Since getting to know a professor on a personal level requires significant effort, your qualities stand out to a professor. You show confidence (by asking questions and approaching the professor), commitment (attending office hours and all lectures), independence, and motivation.

Regardless of whether you need a LOR or not, it’s rewarding to connect with professors at UC Davis. So, if you want to get the most out of your education, reach out to professors and be active in your classes. There’s no bad in that!


Jennifer Hofmann

Senior, Exercise Biology

BASC Peer Adviser