There are some questions which never fail to rouse my curiosity. One of them pertains to how flowering plants, native to to the southern hemisphere but growing in small brown pots on my living room table, know that even though it’s winter here, it’s summer back home; and they celebrate by bursting into flower as the first snowflakes hit the ground outside. My Christmas Cactus is one such culprit.
How does this pertain to U of T, you may ask? My answer: biology class. After this term I only have one class to finish in order to complete my degree, and as I’m already a few years older than most fourth-year students, most of my friends question my sanity when they realize I intend to take a full-time course load over the spring. This summer I decided that although I’m very happy with the historical database I’ve internally amassed, I wouldn’t feel right about graduating without at least a basic understanding of some other rather important fields of study. That is how I, a die-hard history student, ended up in the BIO150 lab.
Having not participated in a lab for several years, I was admittedly a little scared at the start of term that I would be that dupe who, standing above the microscope trying to figure out how to turn the thing on, would accidentally start a chemical fire at my lab station and permanently ruin biology for everyone. Luckily this has not yet happened. Instead, the labs have become my favourite courses of the term.
This affinity emerged during the very first lab, where we were to be observe, even handle, a variety of big, exotic, and very alive insects. Stick insects, rhino beetles, hissing cockroaches, and giant caterpillars had all been invited, and I was going to meet them all. While I didn’t actually hold the giant hissing cockroach, I did get to play with the baby stick insects. These little critters wobble back and forth in imitation of branches moving in the wind, when the leaves upon which they stand are moved.
Successive labs proved just as interesting. In one we grew metal-tolerant grasses; in another we scored genes using protein electrophoresis; in another still we simulated genetic drift by mating with other classmates. (Read: exchanging white slips of paper carrying letter symbols representing genes). The lab room itself is a veritable treasure trove of oddities. Reminiscent of a nineteenth-century phrenologist’s study, it’s filled with animal skulls, reptile skeletons, and taxidermied birds; just the kind of space where you could lose yourself for an hour or two before you realized you were late for your next class.
The science courses I’m taking this year are perhaps superfluous to my final plans; but nonetheless, I do feel (and I’m not just being positive because this is a U of T blog) that this variety of new courses has absolutely enriched my university experience. And I’m sure that it will be knowledge that I’ll use at various junctions down the road – not least when a lull in the conversation at social events allows me to bring up the hissing cockroaches one last time.