Tag Archives: student preparation

The Real World – A Philosophical Analysis?

Silhouette of coming businessman in doorway with shadow

“The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers”—thus, Wordsworth over two centuries ago, bemoaned man’s disconnect from the natural world and meaningful lives. Universities these days are exhorted to prepare students for the “real world”. But what that “reality” is, puzzles me.


In one sense, there is a depressing soul-numbing banality to our daily lives. As the Fool told Jacques, “From hour to hour, we ripe and ripe/And then, from hour to hour, we rot and rot;/And thereby hangs a tale.” Surely we do not need Universities to teach students to cope with that tedium—picking out the best buys from a selection of toilet paper or tooth pastes, parking cars, changing diapers, filing tax forms and other drearies (to coin a word). The ‘real world” is one where many trudge through their working days longing for the weekends when they can begin to live. We always ask people how their weekends went, not their week. Do we need courses in coping with tedium or preparing for the weekend?


We could of course, prepare them for other realities. Beyond death and taxes, there are other certainties, the “resonant lies” that Auden warned us about in his Ode to Terminus. That our students will find themselves in a thicket of lies in the real world is more than certain. We can prepare them well by giving them the right tools. In the sciences, much is made of critical appraisal where students are taught to assess peer-reviewed articles and analyze publications. That is all well and good, but the more dangerous lies have rarely been subject to peer review. They lie buried elsewhere in the minutes of Committee meetings, confidential reports etc. I think it was David Halberstam in his brilliant analysis of the Kennedy administration, who noted the significance of selective “minuting” in skewing decisions. Perhaps an interdisciplinary or trans-disciplinary mandatory course in “Institutional Lying” can be very useful.


Philip Larkin found himself in a church where he mused on what would become of such sacred spaces, “In whose blent air all our compulsions meet/ Are recognized, and robed as destinies.”  To me, the University much like a church, is a sacred space, where one melds the richness of the past with the exuberance of the future. It is that richness of the real world that we can pass on to our students, not just its banalities.


I am a basic biologist and most, though not all, of my courses deal with biological mechanisms that underly the very marrow of our existence, the stuff we are made of, so to speak. The words and concepts, I use, (receptors, inverse agonists, G-proteins, allosteric modulators, constitutive activities etc.), may seem a trifle arch but these can, and have, made their way from bench to boardroom and beyond. In addition, our daily lives, loves, behaviors, misbehaviors stem from responses to such molecules.


None of what I teach may help my students deal directly with their quotidian vicissitudes; in a deeper sense though, they may realize that underlying all their actions, their fears, hopes, loves and despairs are molecular interactions whose mysteries have been probed and defined by their own species adding to the rich tapestry of human expression and creativity. We are, ourselves, part of that wonderful world that Wordsworth wanted us to be in touch with.  Truly the unknown psalmist got it right when he said “Oh Lord, How manifold are Thy works! In Wisdom has thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches”

What better way for a university to fulfill its role than opening the windows to their students to that wonderful world, the REAL one?





P.K. Rangachari is currently Professor (Emeritus) of Medicine at McMaster University. Depending on the emphasis placed, that word emeritus could imply he has much merit, none whatsoever or only in cyberspace. He has a medical degree (M.B.B.S. 1966) from the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, India and a Ph.D. (Pharmacology) from the U. of Alberta (1972). He drifted into medical school due to a bureaucratic blunder that derailed his efforts to become an organic chemist. However he was lucky. He had great teachers in the basic sciences and so after graduation, he left his stethoscope behind and began a peripatetic existence moving from lab to lab in several continents, finally landing up at McMaster University in Canada, some thirty plus years ago.
P.K. Rangachari’s experimental research focused on the effects of inflammatory mediators on ion transport in smooth muscles and epithelia. He has taught students in undergraduate science, liberal arts, nursing, medicine, physiotherapy and pharmacy. He has sought to bridge the two cultures (the sciences and the humanities) by designing interdisciplinary courses or encouraging students to express their learning through more creative outlets such as framing conversations, writing reviews and plays. He is blessed that he is blissfully ignorant so he can wake up each day convinced that there is so much more to learn. His students fortunately help him in that regard.



Putting More Physiology into A & P

thinker-28741_640It’s tough being an undergrad student nowadays.  It’s expensive. State funding has cut into the budgets that used to go to offset tuition, and buildings for new classrooms have been on hold forever. Still they keep coming, paying higher and higher fees and tuition, crowded into larger and larger classroom sizes, getting shut out of labs: these are just the surface to larger problems in general. What kind of education are students getting now?  I ponder this as I teach A & P again after teaching physiology at a medical school for the last six years and A & P in smaller class sizes four years before that at universities and community colleges. Things have changed, and not for the better.  I’ll toss around some ideas that may or may not resonate with you, but these are things I feel we need to improve upon.


  1. How can we get class sizes smaller so we can teach and communicate? The depth of what students know goes not far beyond binge and purge. We can have small group discussion, more TBL and other models for active learning (if they read the pre-class material) and we’ll always have the good students, but for many lectures have become something to avoid. I get students who ask for my PPTs beforehand and use them as note templates, yet many rely on those as a sole source. The chances to integrate material become less frequent as we teach to the room and decrease the amount of material students can absorb. The long term rewards to learning are not being reinforced. I have students submit corrections for points in paragraph form, making them compose answers.


  1. Students need learning skills. Something I learned the hard way, but even in the prehistoric 1970’s note taking was essential. I implore students to do this as a way to create schemas even providing handouts with study skills that I have collected over the last thirty years. Of course the good students use this info, while the middle of the packers might but only after the first exam. We have more students who are being advised that health professions are good careers but not telling them how steep the competition is and how much is expected. Do I want an ED nurse who might forget that NaCl is not the same as KCl? Maybe I don’t have to weed them out, but I want their expectations to be parallel to the challenge and this should be considered the beginning of their career.


  1. Lastly, I propose perhaps a new approach to A & P; let’s separate the classes. Some institutions do this having advanced anatomy and general physiology classes for exercise science, why not do these for pre-health majors as well? The texts nowadays for A & P are humongous, with tons of information that skims the surface without enough integration. Let’s teach physiology with a chance to do more hands-on experiments and not have lab just being anatomy. I poll my students about whether they have seen frog muscle or heart experiments or any Mr. Wizard styled presentations. Few have, maybe from the more affluent secondary schools, therefore descriptions of diffusion or tetanus become an abstraction without the physical connection. They do ECGs and FEV1s in the second half of A & P, why not have that be the whole year?


Personally my career in physiology began when I walked into a behavioral neuroscience lab and ran my own independent study experiments for undergrad credit, all the while learning about the other research going on. I was happy that one of my biology students worked over the summer on an Integrative and Organismal NSF summer fellowship (that I know from my APS Porter Committee membership go underutilized) because statistics show that these students will go on in science.  I’d like to see our future caregivers have that depth as well.





William Johnson received his Master degree in Education from Johns Hopkins University in 1990. After teaching high school on the Dine reservation, he then pursued and obtained his PhD in Biology from Northern Arizonan University, studying angiotensin in desert anurans. After teaching physiology at University of South Florida Colleges of Public Health and Medicine, William has returned to his alma mater to teach anatomy and physiology and human physiology, as well as being involved in the summer program for Journey for Underrepresented in Medical Professions HRSA grant at NAU.