Don't leave Columbia before taking Dr. S. Mowshowitz class. You will never (I repeat never) get this chance to dive this deep in immunology. Not in medical school. Not as a PhD immunology student. I'm not exaggerating. I work with immunology PhD students in a lab. Understanding immunology is critical to anything health/medicine related. Dr. Mowshowitz is a walking encyclopedia, a philosopher, and a really nice guy. I challenged star medical students from Johns Hopkins with some of the questions that showed up on my immunology exams and they couldn't figure out the answers... The bad: grading is horrible. Exams are graded by undergrads who are busy and don't have time to think if your answers can be right... taking off points because you missed a word that's on the key they were provided... bright people, but not suited for the job (in my opinion). Very grateful for what I learned in this class. By far the best class I have taken thus far.
Pre-Requisites: A basic understanding of Biology is assumed so make sure you have taken Intro Bio. Course Overview: The course begins by discussing the Adaptive Immune System. You learn how B and T cells develop, obtain their specificity, their activation, and how they target immunogenic organisms, cells, and substances. The course then moves on to discuss the Innate Immune System. Here you learn about the body's innate defenses and sentinel cells which are the first to respond. How they develop, what receptors they use, and the interconnectedness between the innate and adaptive immune systems (which aren't so distinct). Classical experiments, experimental techniques, and some key diseases are discussed throughout the course. Lecture (Professor Mowshowitz): XY Mowsh really loves immunology, and you will too after the course! Throughout the lectures, Professor M. would discuss any relevant diseases associated with a cell/receptor/protein not functioning properly which gave you some real world implications about their importance. In addition, he would discuss the current state of the field and recent developments. The downside to all this fascinating material is that their is so much of it. The lectures at times felt sporadic, jumping from point to point, making it hard to take notes as you are unsure if it is a side comment or important information. Unfortunately, Professor M. prioritized getting through all the material on his slides as opposed to making clear certain concepts presented, resulting in very dense lectures. This is a class where I felt it was a necessity to re-listen to all the audio lectures even when I attended all the lectures. With that said, I do believe I got a lot out of the course as a whole, my note taking and studying skills improved, and I don't regret taking it. He thankfully does not necessarily test any obscure things mentioned and you could always earn partial points on exam questions. Lecture (Professor Schindler): Oh, the horror! Dr. Schindler teaches most of the innate Immune system and micriobiome which is about 5 lectures. Although at first I appreciated his inclusion of bullet points in the powerpoint slides, it was even more overwhelming then XY Mowsh lectures because he includes so many diagrams in the slides which were all very complicated and not discussed in detail. This made it much harder than XY Mowsh lectures to discern what was testable and what was just cool stuff he wanted us to know. The greatest problem, however, was the disconnect between the two professors as XY Mowsh would frequently ask "Did Christian teach you about...?, "No?!", "Brother" in subsequent lectures. Thankfully, XY Mowsh was understandable about how confusing Dr. Schindlers lectures could be and would accept alternative answers on his exam questions that made sense. Overall: With all that said, I do believe this class is worth taking in the end (although perhaps not during a heavy semester). The material is cool enough to make you look past the courses flaws and Professor Mowshowitz does a great job of keeping you engaged with his humor and fun anecdotes. He generously curved each exam to an average of 82, lets you drop your lowest exam grade, and the A cutoff was dropped to about a 260/300 (though it might have been lowered more after the final). You just need to find what study method works for you (Outline/FlashCards/Concept Map/Illustrations/etc.) and maybe a good study partner early on to be successful.
Full disclosure upfront, A- in the course. There is a lot of material in immunology that yo have to memorize in order to be able to solve problems. If you are slow at memorizing, this course will be a pain, if not, then not so much... Study tactics are exceptionally important in this class because there is so much intellectual material but so little material given to help practice for exams. My approach was to get the point of each slide during the lecture, the point of his extemporaneous moments, and put them all onto flashcards. Then, I thought critically about each system and pathway: why is this pathway this way, why is this pathway different from that pathway, what's the relative tradeoff in this pathway versus that pathway, how can this pathway be fucked up? The last question is the most important because Knock Outs are key to immunology, you should be asking yourself about knock outs in everything you learn in this class. If you have efficient study tactics (google how to be a good student for christ's sake..), then this class is not difficult and just purely rewarding. This is the best class I have taken yet at Columbia. True that Mowsh doesn't spoon feed, but if you wanted that, you should have gone somewhere else. But he will really try to show you the cool things about immunology, and tell you why they are cool, and in my case, I found it fucking amazing... He is a treasure and I hope that he doesn't retire (if you are reading this mowsh...)
Dr. M is so kind, approachable, and funny (the opposite of his wife!). His tests are somewhat similar to his wife's intro bio exams in the sense that you need to apply the material you learned to a problem you won't be at all familiar with. That being said, some of the questions are still straightforward. Because he gives very few materials to prepare with other than a few old exams, it's difficult to know how to prepare for the tests. But after quite literally failing the first one (you get to drop one, thank god!), my grades improved drastically as I learned the best methods for preparing for them. Relistening to audios of the lectures was really helpful. I thought the Janeway textbook was pretty awful... I read it, but ended up doing a lot of Wikipedia-ing and looking things up online to really understand certain concepts because the textbook just didn't explain a lot of things in a way that made sense to me. I found this class to be very challenging, and I'm pretty surprised that the reviewer before me put that the workload was very small. Yes, it's true that there are no problem sets or homework or anything, but personally, I found that this class required many hours of studying. Dr. M's class is hard and he isn't interested in dumbing it down at all, BUT he is so willing to help and does want you to do well. After the first test, I heard he even personally reached out to those who got the lowest scores to see if they wanted to talk about their options. I'm probably going to end up with a pretty mediocre grade, but I don't really care because I actually really enjoyed learning about a lot of the material covered, and now have a genuine interest in immunology. The 2 hour TA review sessions before each exam were SO helpful; because they have taken the course, they have a decent idea of what Dr. M will think is important. Their guesses weren't perfect, but, for example, with all the genes, cytokines, transcription factors, etc. whose names and functions and pathways need to be memorized, they usually knew which ones were really the most important ones to remember. Meeting up with another student or two to go over some of the material or confusing concepts before tests was also helpful. Overall, loved the course but it was hard to find enough time to dedicate towards it because it did require a lot of studying.
I am currently taking this class and having the final exam on this Friday. I just wanted to write this review because I really enjoyed his class. This is my last semester at Columbia and I am grateful that I took this course before I leave. I kinda disagree with the previous review which said he borrows lecture style heavily from Dr. Mowshowitz, Deborah.. I took bio intro with Deborah and it was just a hell. That's why I was afraid to take this course, knowing that he is her husband. However, after the first day of class, a student who was sitting behind me said "I can't understand how he married to such a shit*y woman". Now that was really harsh thing to say, but I had to agree with that person. Dr. M is amazing lecturer. He emphasizes on materials that we should know for the exams.. He uploads the recordings of his lectures and slides. He is willing to listen to students. He gives generous extra points for each midterm. Most importantly, he is FUNNY. I am expecting to get some kind of A depending how I do on the final.
I loved this class. I agree with the previous reviewer that Dr. M sometimes drops off a thought/sentence here and there, but everything else just sounds like the bitter rantings of someone that has a personal issue with him. I found his lectures engaging and interesting. I personally only opened Janeway once or twice and only to clarify some things that might not have been very clear in class. His exams are all based on his lectures. If you pay attention, take DETAILED notes (take advantage of the lecture audio he posts!), and write up good flashcards, you'll do better on the exams. The first exam really hits you in the face (I failed it), but once you realize what the exams are like and put in the right amount of work, you can easily turn your grade around as he drops the lowest of the first 3 exams (I ended up getting an A).
I took Solomon Mowshowitz class because I had read that it is one of the most challenging, interesting classes at Columbia, and that Prof Mowshowitz is a great professor. Wow, was that info incorrect, he is quite possibly one of the worst professors I have ever had. He doesn't finish his sentences, he uses an incredible amount of useless jargon, and he seems most interested in quickly getting through material, not in effectively teaching information. He takes a somewhat complex subject (immunology is really not that difficult) and makes it very very difficult. He falls under the category of people who like to be right and hear themselves speak, not under the category of intelligent curious people who are passionate about sharing information effectively. He is one of the poisons that solidifies the false superiority of the Ivy league. I did well in his class A- but I do not recommend it to anyone. Just buy the Janeway text book and read it, you will save yourself or your parents a lot of money.
There is a minimum of information available on Professor Solomon Mowshowitz since he teaches just this one course, but I am confident that he will go down in the annals of CULPA as one of the Biology department's best and most challenging professors. I wouldn't recommend this course for those who hated Deborah Mowshowitz's introductory biology class, however since intro bio is a prerequisite for the class, you must have at least survived if you're considering taking immunology. Professor S. Mowshowitz borrows heavily from D. Mowshowitz's organizational framework, for example, topics written on the board at the beginning of class, minimum usage of Powerpoint, and tests that require applied knowledge rather than regurgitation. However, S. Mowshowitz is not only not his wife, he is a fantastic teacher and immunologist in his own right, not to mention funny as hell. Immunology can be incredibly complex, especially when wading through the alphabet soup of the various proteins, structures, and transcription factors, but Mowshowitz does a fantastic job of picking out the important bits and making it all come together. Additionally, he makes himself available to talk, both after lecture and in office hours, replies promptly to every e-mailed question, and makes it clear that he cares deeply about the subject and about you learning the subject. The only things I didn't like about the class were the guest lectures (we had four or five), and Mowshowitz's tendency to occasionally go into rapid fire mode because "there is so much cool stuff to learn" and so little time in the course.
For those who have taken the Intro to Bio course, it is understandable why one may have sworn off - and often at - the Mowshowitz name, but this course certainly gives reason to reconsider. Taught by the other (i.e. good) Dr. Mowshowitz, the syllabus says "taking this course won't turn you into an immunologist, but it may make you want to become one." I already wanted to be an immunologist, and this class certainly did not hurt that. The aim of the class is to take students who have taken Intro to Bio and give them an overview of the immune system with enough depth to allow them to read research articles in the field and have a decent grasp of what's going on in them. Because the details and findings in immunology are always shifting, the going can be a little bit rough; one model may prevail on wider scale, but another holds more true when it comes down to specifics; one of the Dr. Mowshowitz's most frequently used phrases is "I lied to you earlier..." because some generalization to help simplify a broader part of the system is modified when looking at a particular aspect of it. However, by the end of it, you will come out with a pretty decent understanding of the subject and its modern-day applications, and as for the parts that you didn't quite get, you will want to find out more because immunology is just that damn interesting. And it helps that Dr. Mowshowitz is teaching it. The textbook he uses is a bit industrial-strength by his own admission, and while it gives a wealth of information, there is only so much that you can get out of it before your eyes glaze over (that amount is 8 pages, plus or minus 2). You really need to attend the lectures to break it down. At the beginning of each lecture, a TA will write on the side of the blackboard a list of the topics being covered that day as Dr. Mowshowitz fiddles with the computer to get it to project the presentation. The Powerpoint consists mostly of diagrams taken from the required textbook (Janeway my year, the aforementioned) and a recommended one (Kuby) and very little text - Dr. Mowshowitz does the talking for himself. About 1/3 of the time he turns the projector off and switches to the blackboard to show an experimental design or results or just some important terms; as is the case anytime someone puts something up on the board when they are giving a Powerpoint, write it down verbatim. (The lecture slides are not put online - there is no point, they are just diagrams from your textbook. Notes on what he says and writes are much more valuable, and the list on the blackboard helps form an outline.) Dr. Mowshowitz tends to make a bunch of jokes during the lectures, and even the typically stiff pre-med bunch loosen up and laugh sometimes; on one occasion, he mentioned that one of the diseases involving the topic at hand was featured on the television show "House", which then resulted in a tangential discussion involving the formulaic plot of each episode with a student - in the middle of a lecture. If you are interested in the topic, you should definitely speak with him after class or at office hours; he's been in the field for a long while, academia and industry, so I found it enjoyable to talk with him. I was interested immunology before, so my review could be biased in two ways: either I will gush over anything that involves the subject, or I will be very nitpicky about a class teaching it. Considering that this ended up one of my favorites courses and (this) Dr. Mowshowitz is one of my favorite professors, I would err on the side of caution and say that it was just a really, really good class.