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College Stories: The School of Biological Sciences

School of Biological Sciences

Impacting Scientific Research in the Century of Biology

We live in the Century of Biology.

Advances in research techniques and imaging technology over the past 20 years have enabled remarkable breakthroughs in genetics, neuroscience, and biophysics. Scientists can now investigate cellular structure and function with atomic resolution.

“Entire new research fields, such as genomics, have developed that allow scientists to ask questions we never considered possible,” says Leslie Sieburth, Professor of Biological Sciences.

In July, the College of Science took a landmark step forward in its continuing mission to educate and train students and to propel scientific research in the 21st century by establishing a School of Biological Sciences.

“Our new School of Biological Sciences has more than 50 research-active faculty who are conducting groundbreaking work in areas such as plant biology, ecology, genetics, physiology, neuroscience and molecular biology,” says Denise Dearing, Distinguished Professor and Director of the School of Biological Sciences.

“To support these research efforts, our faculty have, in the past year, secured more than $17 million in federal funding – this funding helps to fuel Utah’s economy. Our faculty collaborate with more than 200 graduate students, postdocs, technicians, research associates and, importantly, undergraduate research students in the pursuit of advancing our understanding of the biological world,” says Dearing.

Form follows Function 

The new School administration consists of a Director, an Associate Director, and three Division Heads. The three research divisions include: Cell and Molecular Biology; Genetics and Evolution; and Ecology and Physiology.

“This new organization provides a useful change in governance,” says Leslie Sieburth, Associate Director of the School. “Faculty members are grouped into three areas based on their primary research interests. This allows each of the three sections to be fairly cohesive, which helps in making decisions and establishing long-term goals for the unit.”

School of Biological SciencesFaculty members David Bowling, Julie Hollien, Denise Dearing, Michael Shapiro, and Leslie Sieburth.

The heads of each division have responsibilities related to the members of their section such as assisting in the hiring process, mentoring junior faculty, reviewing faculty productivity, and providing departmental leadership.

Keeping Pace with the Pac

The University of Utah, with its new School of Biological Sciences, is now the eighth Pac-12 university in which Biology is organized above the level of a department. That leaves only the University of Washington, Stanford, USC, and the University of Oregon with Biology in a stand-alone department.

“A School of Biological Sciences will enhance our ability to recruit talented faculty, postdoctoral fellows and graduate students. And it puts us on par with other major institutions, including our Pac-12 peers, where the discipline of Biology is usually organized at the level of a School,” says Sieburth.

The School of Biological Sciences is growing steadily in numbers of students and faculty. Additional faculty hires will provide greater diversity of course offerings, more undergraduate research experiences, more graduate training opportunities and more funded research.

Starting this semester, Sieburth and her colleagues are implementing new curriculum in the School. For example, Fundamentals of Biology – BIOL 1610 – is a new class designed specifically for first-year students. The course is one part of a class sequence that includes two lecture-type classes – BIOL 1610 and BIOL 1620 – and two laboratory classes – BIOL 1615 and BIOL 1625.

“Currently, the School is working to strengthen its emphases so undergraduates have more flexibility and also a clear path to graduation in four years,” says Sieburth. “It is always hard to know what the future might hold, but if these emphases prove useful for our students, they could potentially become specialized biology degrees.”

“The U has the highest graduation rate, the lowest average debt at graduation, and the highest average beginning salary for graduates of any public institution in the state – and well above the national median. The U accomplishes this while having the lowest undergraduate full-time tuition among its peers in the Pac-12,” says Daniel Reed, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at the U.

A Model University

The School of Biological Sciences offers exceptional opportunities to learn, work, and collaborate across levels of biological organization and styles of research. Faculty research interests span the entire spectrum of biological phenomena and disciplines, from cellular and molecular biology, to biochemistry and biophysics, to ecology and evolution.

“The University of Utah is well positioned to build on its success and to define the model of a 21st century university,” says Reed. “As a research university, the U’s faculty, staff, and students conduct breakthrough research and scholarship, creating new knowledge, and translating those new discoveries and insights into practice – essential tasks in ensuring Utah’s position in an increasingly competitive global environment.”


Discover Magazine - 2018

Last Updated: 12/5/18