Lawrence David was presented with an unusual project by his advisor when he was a student: to study his own feces for a full year.
The Duke FOCUS Program is an exciting opportunity for freshman students to get exposed to ideas from the vantage point of different disciplines across the humanities, sciences and social sciences. The Duke Center for Genomic and Computational Biology (GCB) has faculty involved in two of the 14 FOCUS clusters being offered in fall 2019: “Genetics and Genomics: Epigenetics, Environment and Ethics” and “What If? Explaining the Past/Predicting the Future.
Genetics and Genomics: Epigenetics, Environment and Ethics
While the title of this cluster has evolved over the years to reflect the suite of courses offered in a given year, it has been a mainstay in the FOCUS program for over ten years. Initially started by Hunt Willard, director of the former Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy, Beth Sullivan, associate professor of molecular genetics and microbiology, took over the reigns as director of the cluster in 2015. She and GCB faculty Susanne Haga, associate professor in medicine, have taught courses together in this cluster for the past four years.
Most of the students who sign up for this cluster are often pre-med and/or intend to major in life sciences or engineering, and several students go on to conduct independent research in genome sciences, public policy or related fields.
The goals of this FOCUS cluster are to explore genome sciences in various contexts as well as explore the biomedical, biological, historical, technical, and ethical implications of genomic advances and the questions that these advances pose for understanding the past and contemplating the future of biomedicine.
In fall 2019, this cluster will offer three courses, taught by Sullivan, Haga, and GCB faculty Jennifer Wernegreen, associate professor of environmental and evolutionary genomics.
What If? Explaining the Past/Predicting the Future
GCB faculty and associate professor of evolutionary anthropology Jenny Tung will become the new director for the What If FOCUS cluster, which aims to teach students how to build and test models in natural sciences and social sciences. Students will also learn how to formulate mathematical models that can be used to answer scientific questions and a variety of techniques for studying the models.
“We draw scientifically curious students who want to understand how to use and interpret the deluge of data around them,” Tung said. “They also want to understand how data and modeling can be applied across disciplines – and its limits.” In high school, students learn math through formulas, and they learn that things are either right or wrong. This cluster, though, shows them that math can be used as a tool to model phenomena in the physical and social world, which provides a new and exciting perspective for these students.
This cluster will offer four classes, taught by Tung, GCB faculty Sayan Mukherjee, professor of statistical science; Kieran Healy, associate professor of sociology; and Lynn Smith-Lovin, professor of sociology.
In addition to courses, students also participate in a weekly discussion seminar in which all of the faculty and students from their particular cluster attend. Students in the FOCUS Program live in the same residence hall but also share it with other first-year students, enabling them to form a companionable academic and social community while encouraging friendships with all of their first-year classmates.
Applications are accepted on a rolling basis now through May 25.