Neurobiology I: Cellular & Molecular

Mar 2021

The first time I asked a question in this class, it was in regards to color blindness, the particular question being: may there have been an advantage to males in being more prone to colorblindness during our evolutionary history. Even though color blindness, or the forms we tend to think of, are Y-linked, it is interesting that it did not evolve via a different mechanism in females (I believe green/red color blindness is what I asked about specifically--females can be colorblind, just very rarely and not via the Y-linked version). The trait of colorblindness seems odd to, shall we say, be kept in the gene pool. What are your thoughts on this? (I asked...) His reply?: "What a dumb question to ask, I mean that's like astrology (??) I mean like, you could come up with any answer and it's all astrology. Moving on." So, my question about why male color blindness may have remained in the gene pool, and why it may have not have evolved independently in females, is akin to a belief that moving bodies in space affect my love life and what happens throughout my day? I was not asking even for an answer (because who knows?), but perhaps a conjecture based on what we know about how color vision assists us in our day-to-day lives, and how not having it may offer some advantages in certain instances. Astrology? Are you kidding? My point: Just because you have a ted talk, it doesn't mean you're bright, a good teacher, or a considerate person who doesn't seek to put a student down in class because she asked a question that you couldn't answer immediately, and you didn't want to appear stupid. Which he is. This "astrology" girl ended up with an A in the class and is a Ph.D. candidate at MIT's computational biology program. This is just one example of how Columbia, and other universities in general, do not pick good candidates for their intro classes, and quite frankly, do not care about the caliber of a teacher when selecting those to teach introductory courses. This class was my biggest disappointment. And five years later, I still remember this moment so vividly that I had to write it somewhere.

Jan 2021

Midterms based on the text and final based on reading primary literature. There were some technical challenges with Zoom, but Prof. Firestein did his best to be engaging and cover the portions of the text he thought were lacking. READ THE TEXT. Watch YouTube videos. Exams are entirely multiple choice. Don't let him fool you, the first midterm is the easiest and the last midterm has concepts that even he messes up sometimes. Do yourself a favor and treat the first two midterms like a final, drop the third (don't even bother taking it), and use the time you would have spent studying for the third midterm probing the TA's about the final. You can thank me later. The class is mandatory, so idk what else to tell you.

Jan 2012

Standard uber-mediocre cellular neurobio course - Nothing exceptional at all about any of the lecturers (Zafir is, how should I put it, "colorful", Jessica is annoying and misleading about what will actually be on her test, and Firestein is funny and engaging, but has to cover way too much material in too little time, and is solid at doing so) Jessica ran the course, and and in her midterm (the second one) she asked for very minute details as opposed to testing concepts - Memorize all your shit, and don't think hard, they will not test you deeply on concepts. Take the first two tests - The third is on a shitload of material. Class is curved to a B, so beware. If you're a neurscience major, you have no choice - Otherwise, steer clear.

Jan 2012

Worst class to take. The teaching was horrible and the reviews for exams were useless. Granted everyone was raving about the class, it was just horrible. there is no curve and they expect you to know so much and spit back all the information in such little time. the three professor for one lecture thing sucks. each professor had a different style of teaching, so as soon as you get used to one you have the next one coming in. Waste of time. I was be cautious when taking the class because it will kill you GPA.

Jan 2012

So here's the break down as I see it. Zafir pretty funny and decent lecturer a little haphazard. Jessica a soulless robot of a woman who kept awkwardly chatting up this one kid in the front of the class during lecture. Stuart was either non existent or hilarious and useless when he did lecture. Overall I was very disappointed in what could have been a very interesting course. I'm an engineer and so the first part of the course which is a little mathier than most bio/neuroscience/pre-med kids like was pretty easy, but the what should've been the most interesting parts of the course (the latter 2/3) were taught so poorly it was hard to enjoy it. So, basically the most mediocrely mediocre course for a very interesting field of study.

Dec 2011

I feel bad writing that this class is taught by Firestein. It's not. It's taught by Zafir and Brann. That said, I want to review Firestein because he was absolutely useless. If I wanted comedy, I would have bought tickets to a comedy club which would have been cheaper than my 40k tuition. Firestein uses his humor to cover up his lack of knowledge about what he had to teach us. He only taught the last third of the class (if that, he missed a couple lectures there too that Brann had to fill in), and LITERALLY during the last two classes he would not know what he was talking about and apologize and then TELL US TO READ THE TEXTBOOK. Yes, we can do that. Thank you very much Professor Firestein. But if we wanted clarification on any concepts (olfaction and proprioception gets pretty confusing), he was lacking in that. His lectures were confusing and not helpful and the multiple lecturers with different styles of teaching made up a very fragmented and confusing experience with Neurobio 1. eh, it's required. what can ya do...

Jan 2010

Neurobiology with Prof. Firestein was a wonderful experience, notwithstanding the first couple of weeks. I had some experience with Prof. Firestein before entering the class, as he taught a couple of Frontiers lectures as well as three Intro Bio II lectures. Knowing that the former is a required class and the latter a prerequisite for Neurobio, I wondered why he would continue to begin his lectures with the same quotes - "the brain is the thing we think we think with" and "the brain is my second-most favorite organ". I guess I still chuckled after hearing them the third time around. That was pretty much the theme of the first lectures: we discussed the same old principles of action potentials and neuronal anatomy that I had learned four times before in Mind Brain and Behavior, Science of Psych, Frontiers, and Intro Bio. Although I know Prof. Firestein just wanted to make sure that we had a solid foundation in the basic principles of Neurobiology, I don't think it was completely necessary to devoting entire lectures on material previously covered in prerequisite classes. Isn't that the purpose of having prereqs? That being said, once we cleared the first exam, the class became much more enjoyable and informative. Prof. Firestein uses his sterling sense of humor to keep the class flowing. I think the majority of the students came to lecture, were focused and not bored by the class. Although it was at times frustrating, I think the most valuable aspect of the class was the way it incorporated scientific papers into its structure. Although I came into the class with experience researching papers on pubmed and had read plenty of papers before, I had never had to delve into the methods and structure of experiments the way Prof. Firestein's tests made me. Although it was a little frustrating that the final involved only papers, I ultimately emerged from the class with a greater understanding of how to work with the primary literature that I will surely carry with me long after I have forgotten what exactly a Pacinian corpuscle does.

Jan 2009

I am a Neuroscience major, and enormous lover of all things neuroscience - I read each and every article about the neuroscience world I come across, I have worked in numerous labs on campus and off, I am on the board of the Columbia Neuroscience Society, I thoroughly enjoyed Professor Mowshowitz' biology class and succeeded in it despite it being difficult.... However, this class, Neurobiology taught by Professor Yang, honestly made me question my desire to enter the world of neuroscience. It started with his too-great emphasis on the aspects of neuroscience that are based in physics - without the understanding that not everyone in the class has taken physics yet. The first exam was full of questions that ought to have been on a higher level physics exam, not a neurobiology exam, especially because physics is not a prerequisite for the course. Arguments against this were answered with "Well, you are allowed to drop one exam, so it is fine" rather than attempts to clear up the subject matter. As the course went on, the exams were to continue to test us on small insignificant details (eg. the size of a gap junction channel rather than its purpose/function). Professor Yang also did not stay in communication with his TAs, so they were also unable to really help us, as hard as they might try. During class, Professor Yang repeatedly mixed up information, said one thing while writing another on the board, or simply just did not explain himself well. Before the exams, when students would ask him, for example, which of the formulas he had provided us with would be important for the exam, his only reply was "Well, if you had paid attention in class you would know" (he sent this response out several times as an email to the entire class, which I found quite inappropriate). What was worse was that in class he had at various points said one thing was important and another was not, then reversed that, and then ultimately on the exam, it was necessary to know both the things he said were important and those he said weren't, and those he had never discussed and which weren't in the text book either! I have done all the reading, I attend every class, and yet Professor Yang still manages to confuse more than instruct. Moreover, he sends out questions prior to the exams, questions that are supposed to help us study for the exams, but these questions are simply taken from previous years, when the professor taught different material, and Professor Yang does not think it necessary to remove questions that are on topics we have not discussed, leading to even greater amounts of confusion and wasted time. I had really been looking forward to this course, but found in it only disappointment and confusion. In class I sit with two other people, and end up having to explain to them what the professor MEANT to say with his last statement. I am not writing such a harsh critique because I did poorly in the class, in fact I received an A in the class (thankfully we were able to drop the physics exam). I am writing this critique because it was only thanks to my background knowledge that I was able to have an idea what Professor Yang MEANT to say, and I spend the entire class doing a simultaneous translation from what was just said into something that actually makes sense/is relevant. What does Professor Yang need to do to be better? He needs to be clearer, have his information correct before coming to class (once he spent fifteen minutes trying to figure out whether or not he was right about something a student had just questioned him on), he needs not to test on random numerical facts but on the things that are actually important, he needs to not assume everyone in the class is an advanced physicist. Overall, this class could have been really interesting, but instead Professor Yang just made it painful.

May 2008

Stuart is God. He is hilarious and his lectures were so fun. This class is hard, but manageable. Don't be daunted by the physics in the first part-just memorize it and it will be ok. Yiang of course has it hard, since he comes after Stuart and also lectures on less interesting subjects (Synapses basically). The book is phenomenal (Principles of Neural Science). The final will kill you. Just a warning... i think it is so impossible because it is written by TAs. It is comprised of 6 primary research articles, on which random questions are asked. These can't be discussed in recitation or with any of the TAs, so you are on your own. Questions are scattered throughout the exam (as in, they may ask something about one article and then something else random about another article just to confuse you) and so you have no idea which article they refer to. What is worse, the articles all investigate very similar problems (taste receptors.) Meaning, the possibility of mixing up methods or designs is very likely.

Jan 2006

Prof. Firestein is a good teacher, and I would definitely take this class with him. He is often funny and makes most concepts fairly clear, so class usually went by pretty quickly. During the semester there were a couple of topics that Prof. Firestein didn't seem so comfortable with, so he didn't do such a great job with those (I think they are usually taught by a different teacher), but other than that he was really very good. The textbook was difficult to read and he knew it, so he didn't really expect us to use it very much. Even though he didn't have official office hours, he was always willing to stay after class and answer questions. The recitation part of this class (reading primary papers) was a little annoying, but not too bad depending on your TA.

Jan 2006

Professor Hua was a very good teacher -- as some of the other reviews point out, probably the best thing about having her as a teacher is that she is totally dedicated to her students. She is willing to meet with you almost anytime for however long you want to make sure you understand the concepts and are writing the reports well, etc. She is very knowledgeable about neurobiology and she is always helpful if we had trouble doing any of the experiments. She is always willing to listen to student feedback and really wants her students to enjoy the class and to learn a lot. She is also just an extremely nice woman. Although her accent can be difficult at first, by the end of the first class, you will understand her perfectly. I would definitely recommend this class and professor.

Nov 2005

Prof Hua is the most available and dedicated teacher I've ever had. You can stop by at any time (just call or email beforehand). The class material is extremely tough and dense, but take advantage of the fact that Prof Hua is willing to spend the extra time going through each point until you fully understand all of the material. She understands that there is a lot of material to absorb, but her dediation to her students amazes me. She has review sessions before each exam. In addition, she posts powerpoint presentation slides and class notes on courseworks for every class. Her lectures are very engaging and she makes an extreme effort to help her students.

Apr 2005

Completely selfish, never helps his students and deliberately makes tests impossible. For example, when you study vision, he would ask you : What are the 7 properties of vision? on the exam. Always reads from slides, very boring. If you have to take this class, take it with Darcy Kelley. They always alternate from year to year. Don't go to his office hours, he will not be able to help you out, only will give you a hostile look. In the beginning of the semester there were more than 60 students in the class, by the end of the semester - only 20 attended the class.

Jan 2005

Prof. Hua is one of the most dedicated professors I have had. She set up several review sessions in addition to regular office hours. She was also always available when I requested to meet with her at other times. The material is challenging and does require paying close attention in class and doing the reading in the textbook, but its doable. Her accent was a little intimidating to me at first, but I got used to it very quickly and it was not a problem.

Dec 2004

Professor Hua is a gem, especially amongst the Bio professors at Barnard. On the first day of class, she told us that we were her first priority, and research came second - how many other professors in the science departments have told students this (and actually meant it)? I can tell you my answer: zero! Yes, this class is challenging and the readings get progressively more difficult to decipher, but as long as you study hard, you will be fine. Each exam requires a greater amount of memorization, but is excellent preparation for graduate/professional school. Professor Hua can sometimes be difficult to understand, but I feel that most people blow this out of proportion. If you don't understand something, she will bend over backwards to explain it in as many ways as it takes for you to obtain a firm grasp of the topic. She will meet with you anytime, provided you email her in advance or talk to her about it in class, and she also holds lengthy review sessions to answer questions before the exams. Furthermore, after the first exam, she gives a "comment card" to students so that she can learn from the things that they found helpful or difficult to understand in order to improve teaching for this class and future classes. Student input is extremely important to her, and she takes it very seriously and works on any problem areas with the class (such as difficult to understand exam questions or topics). I highly recommend this class, both because the content is interesting and very useful and because Professor Hua is extremely intelligent and well-versed on the topic and devotes herself tirelessly to her students. You don't find too many professors like her in science departments, so take advantage of the opportunity!

Dec 2004

Professor Hua is very nice, but not the greatest instructor. I'm not sure how good the Columbia class is in comparison, but this class requires a lot of independent studying to grasp the material. Don't expect to get very much out of lecture. Although not the best thing to say, it's probably better to miss lectures, study the material thoroughly on your own and then go to her for office hours to ask questions about what you don't understand. The main use I got out of lectures was knowing what we were going to be tested on rather than an understanding of the material. Her tests are somewhat hard to understand too, because of wording issues. Not the best class in the world, but not the worst. Definitely a fairly thorough introduction into the concepts of neurobiology.

Dec 2004

Professor Hua is a great professor. She clearly loves what she teaches and she puts in a low of extra time to help students as much as possible. Her accent can make understanding lectures difficult in the beginning, but you soon adjust to it. She is also very aware that her accent can cause difficulties as is more than happy to repeat things. Hua is a very nice professor who cares about her students. The material is really interesting and Hua provides great lecture notes and explains the material well, which can often be challenging. Hua says she does not curve, but the final grades are curved a little. If you like this subject, I definitely reccommend taking this class.

May 2004

I think there's a reason for the lack of reviews on Dr. Hua. She is an incredibly nice person but not necessarily the greatest professor. If you are a neuroscience major at Barnard, you cannot avoid taking Neurobiology and it looks like Dr. Hua's going to be teaching it for a while. The good news? She is incredibly warm, friendly and understanding and if you go to her office hours she is willing to teach and explain the material over and over again. She is very patient, never patronizing, and truly cares about the success of her students. She is much more skilled in explaining concepts on a one to one basis as opposed to lecturing in class. The bad news? She is not the greatest or most organized lecturer. She additionally has an accent that may take time getting used to and understanding. However, I overall found the material to be fascinating. It can be overwhelming and intimidating but its Neurobiology! What did you expect? Recommendations? Spend a little bit of time with the material each day and go to Dr. Hua's office hours or make an appointment with her the moment you realize you don't understand a concept. Go see her even if you think you DO understand a concept. Knowledge in the class tends to build so missing what seems like a small idea may be disastrous in the long run. Dr. Hua uses PowerPoint slides during lecture and has handouts of her notes in outline form. I never found these to be too useful and rewrote these using supplementary information from any notes I took in class and from the textbook (which is quite horrible and I would recommend checking out the Kandel Neuro book for clarification on certain concepts). I also found reviewing for exams in a group to be very helpful. And because I don't feel like writing a separate review, here's a little something about the lab in Neurobiology, also taught by Dr. Hua - fantastic! It's really really long and takes up an entire afternoon once a week but the length of the class actually made it more relaxed and she doesn't mind if you take small breaks here and there. It was one of the most fascinating lab courses I've ever taken. Microdissections, electrodes, crayfish! What could be better? The manual can definitely be improved and there are mostly full lab write ups (which take a long time) but I really enjoyed the class.

Feb 2004

I enjoyed this class because the material was interesting, but it took me half the semester to figure out how to study for the exams and read the papers. As a professor, Jian assumes that you know more than you probably do, in particular basic circuit physics and experimental procedures. He does, however, speak rather slowly (because english is his second language) and writes on the board which both allow you to take good notes in class. While he does require us to memorize endless details, they all come straight from the class notes or papers. The exams are going to focus not on how something works, but instead on how it would work if you did X to it, and how this increases our understanding of the system as a whole. Neurobio is a field still in progress so the focus of the class is very experiment oriented. You need to know why we believe so and so. The first test is almost all physics and most of the class drops it. After that it gets better. If you decide to take this class, I recommend the following for tests: 1. Write down everything he says in class including anything he says you do not need to know and memorize ALL of it. (do not focus on the book) 2. Study in groups, because you will inevitably miss something. 3. Make flash cards for numbers, statistics and chemicals 4. Understand the "story" of each process (biochemical pathway, different parts involved) using the book to fill in the gaps. 5. Make a list of experimental procedures described in class and in the papers and how each works. Toxins, Markers, and there effects on larger processes. He will ask you to "design" experiments on exams. 6. If he describes a specific experiment, know it well. For reading papers: 1. There are helpful resources in the Bio library on the 6th floor of Fairchild. 2. Focus on understanding the diagrams, these are what usually appear on exams, in particular the techniques used to produce the image and what we learn from it. 3. If you have the time, especially for the final, go through the paper with a set of flashcards. For each step in the researchers thought process make a question and write down the answer. You will need to know how they reasoned the design of the experiment and their conclusions. 4. For the really detailed papers, use your best judgement on what is important. For example, we did a paper on the crystalized structure of rhodopsin. While we did not need to know every amino acid, we did need to know the ones that caused kinks in the chain, and what sequences allow the effects described in class. Also, we did a paper on the structure of a potassium channel, the point of the paper was how ion selection was achieved, and a key part to this involved the dimensions of the channel. These precise dimensions for the channel in angstroms were on our exam. Figure out what the paper is getting at and memorize those statistics.

Dec 2003

Although Professor Yang knows the material and runs a pretty good lab, he has no clue as to how conduct the class, give exams and communicate with students. With his heavy-accented English, he gives lectures that are so boring that students fall asleep toward the end. He also tries to make all the material as hard as possible, even in the easiest topics. Yang constantly introduces the most minute and unnecessary details that only obstruct the concepts. Moreover, on his tests, he asks the most minute and unnecessary details. For example, he would ask you about the Angtrom width of the channel in the lower middle part. Or to recite an amino acid that was a part of some protein that functioned in one of the pathways that was described in 12-page research paper. (And those questions, of course, would be worth about 10 points). Yang does not know how to communicate with his students either. I hated this class, although I must admit that the material we learned was very interesting.

Sep 2003

A good class--hard if you have no background in it (intro bio and some physics), but not too bad otherwise if you're willing to spend the time studying and reading the recitation papers. Prof Firestein is great--he keeps the class interested, he's funny, and if he's a little disorganized, it's never a problem. The class (primarily in the recitations) is very good at teaching you to read research papers. Firestein's tests tend to focus on the important concepts rather than nit-picky details. Part of the course is taught by Prof Yang who isn't nearly as interesting, will ask questions requiring detailed knowledge (e.g. how many neurotransmitters are in a vesicle), and writes small on the board, but is tolerable. Both profs provide practice exams before the midterms, so you have some idea what to expect ahead of time.