Update from the Biomedical Sciences

Guest blog by
Jo-Anne R. Dillon (Lead, BMSC Merger and Governance)
Scott Napper (Lead, Undergraduate BMSC Program Development)

The university-level approval process for merging the departments in the Division of Biomedical Sciences (BMSC) is underway. This merger will result in the division moving from five to two departments. Currently, the five BMSC departments are: Anatomy and Cell Biology; Biochemistry; Microbiology and Immunology; Physiology; and Pharmacology. The proposed new structure will bring these units together as: the Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Immunology (BMI); and the Department of Anatomy, Physiology and Pharmacology (APP).

The merger was initiated in May 2016, when the biomedical sciences faculty voted to move to a two-department structure. There were several reasons for this:

  • enhancing multi-disciplinary approaches to effectively investigate and understand complex biology, to facilitate research and training, and to generate new and collaborative research initiatives
  • the two groupings are natural, reflecting joint interests, and will increase critical mass in each new department
  • more engaged faculty, supported by better use of resources for teaching and research
  • increased opportunity to recruit postgraduate students
  • opportunities to update and enhance the biomedical sciences undergraduate curriculum

Since May 2016, the department heads and individual departments of the BMSC Division have consulted regularly regarding the merger. The proposed governance follows that of all university departments, with the department heads reporting to the dean. The dean has clearly stated his support by confirming that faculty numbers will be maintained and that two new department head positions will be recruited after the merge. The merger proposal has been outlined in a draft governance document that has been approved by the individual BMSC departments, the CoM’s Faculty Council (January 2018), and the Planning and Priorities Committee (PPC) of University Council (March 2018). We expect it will be considered for approval at the April 19 University Council meeting.

The target date for the transition to two departments is July 1, 2018. The affected departments have begun to meet as combined departments to discuss transition and collegial processes. Interim department heads will lead the departments, with a plan to recruit new heads for July 1, 2019.

The further key component of the new BMSC structure involves the renewal of the BMSC undergraduate program and ultimately the transfer of the associated degree programs to the College of Medicine from the College of Arts and Science. These proposed changes to the undergraduate BMSC programs have been developed with strong support from the College of Arts and Science. At the present time, it is envisaged that first-year students would enter the program through Arts and Science and then transfer in their second year into the CoM. They would ultimately be granted a BSc in Biomedical Sciences, with specializations in Biochemistry, Microbiology and Immunology, Anatomy and Cell Biology, Physiology and Pharmacology, Neuroscience, or Interdisciplinary Biomedical Sciences. The latter two specializations represent two exciting new majors. It is anticipated that these programs will involve 800 or more students, providing opportunities for honours projects, summer recruitments and eventually recruitments to graduate studies, the medical doctor program and other professional schools across campus.

An updated biomedical science program, building on the considerable achievements of the BMSC platform, will provide our students with a number of academic advantages. The BMSC departments in the College of Medicine were early adopters of a multi-disciplinary approach to teaching. A coordinated effort by all of the BMSC departments in 2009 resulted in the creation of a mandatory “Biomedical Science (BMSC) Platform,” which has over the past 10 years provided a strong interdisciplinary foundation for our undergraduate BMSC students.

The new two-department structure will enable expansion of the multi-disciplinary platform into the third year of study. For each of the new APP and BMI departments, faculty have identified and/or developed core third-year courses that reflect critical skills and knowledge that exist at the interface of the respective disciplines of each new department. A new Course-based Undergraduate Research Experience (CURE), providing students with an authentic research experience where they must develop and test a research hypothesis, has been developed and will have its first student intake (microbiology and immunology) in January 2019. This CURE represents a considerable departure from traditional laboratory-based classes.

We will continue to bring you information and updates as the BMSC transition progresses.


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