Hissing Cockroaches and Confused Flowers: A History Student in the BIO150 Lab

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.

- Mary

6 comments on “Hissing Cockroaches and Confused Flowers: A History Student in the BIO150 Lab

Comments are closed.

  1. It’s amazing how you were so entertained hahaha! When I took the course, I used to always fall asleep in Con Hall. I had some of my best undergraduate naps in BIO150. 😀 I’m not entirely sure about this, but I think you’ll like a lot of courses that CSB has to offer. Look them up!

  2. Chris, CSB is cell and systems biology. I’ve been asking Lucy all about the biology classes she’s taken at U of T. So many of them look really interesting.

    (Blast that I’m graduating in June!)

  3. Hahahaha…I actually had a talk with Chris about this earlier today when I went to hand in my form. Absolutely hilarious!!

    Mary: yes, a lot of them are very interesting indeed…except…a lot of those “core” courses have killer m/c exams that I almost never do well on. 0_0 Thank goodness most of my science courses have short answer tests this year. The potential for questions to be tricky just dropped by like 50%. If you want to see what I mean, take a look at all of the BCH210 exams on Eres. Ridiculous I tell you! Ridiculous! I can recommend some good courses to you if you want 😉 After all, you can use your free credit right?

    I’m kind of in the same boat. I’ve always been interested in humanity and social science courses, but this year, realizing that I don’t have much time left until graduation, I suddenly have this incredible urge to take as many of those courses as possible…of course, that’s not feasible at all. 🙁

  4. Lucy, if there’s one thing I’ve learned this year, it’s that taking those extra courses (even if only for the sake of a bit of variety) is totally worth it. I may never use the science courses I’m currently enrolled in, but they are a breath of fresh air and have really enhanced the way I’ll remember my undergraduate degree.

    If you have the chance and the space in your schedule, you should definitely look into taking humanities or social science classes! But before you do, as the number of courses you take may be confined by how much time you have, you might want to ask around and find out what people thought of the class- just to be sure you’re taking a good one. I’ve always found the Arts and Science anti-calendar pretty useful for this purpose, too.

    If you have any questions about history courses, feel free to ask!