The advance of biology in the last 20 years is surprising, so studying it is an amazing experience. There are some good textbooks and introductory courses. Studying them is fun and exciting.
But if you want to go further, you need to build a firm foundation before going to more advanced courses. And on the road to it, there are not only fun and exciting things. The course I introduce you to, Biochemistry: Biomolecules, Methods, and Mechanisms from MIT, is one of such courses, but an exceptionally well organized one.
I’m a Hobby Learner
I’m a so-called FIRE-ed software engineer. Not a biology major. I study biology just for fun. I’m good at programming, know much about advanced math, know so-so about physics, know about chemistry little more than high school level. For me, this course was challenging.
Biochemistry is the subject of learning enzymes and their mechanisms. We also learn experimental methods to study them in this course. Biochemistry is the prerequisite for most of the advanced biology courses like Cell Biology or Molecular Biology.
But I’m a hobby learner. I want to learn biology because I’m interested in it. But not so much for chemistry. Also, in my personal opinion, Biochemistry is a subject that too easily becomes a list of bland chemical reactions. I felt Biochemistry is the barrier between exciting introductory materials and more rigorous advanced courses. I need it to go further, but it seems too difficult and tedious for a hobby learner like me. Should I finish my biology journey at this barrier?
An Interesting Course
But Prof. Yaffe does a great job making the subject very interesting. Topics are well-chosen. Each topic is interesting on its own. The topics he chose are easily related to introductory materials. For example, he teaches the basics of enzymes using Chymotrypsin, TIM, and GTPase, which are all well known in an introductory course. So we can place each topic under the context of more broad biological phenomena. It deepens my understanding of related introductory materials.
Despite its context-rich choices, this course beautifully covers what we have to learn in Biochemistry. You can learn how to see biological phenomena with the lens of Biochemistry. Biochemistry is the subject of studying protein in vitro. It means the topics are relatively independent and understandable from the ground. Also, experimental methods are rather primitive and (relatively) easy to understand. It also makes the feeling that you understand “from the ground”.
Firm Foundation for More Advanced Topics
Nonetheless, Biochemistry can handle amazingly diverse biological reactions. That’s why we can build a firm and broad foundation to learn more advanced topics by learning Biochemistry. Now I understand why Biochemistry is the prerequisite of many advanced courses.
Later in this course, all topics put together, Prof. nicely explains how blood clotting works. It’s a really complex and amazing mechanism. But you can understand many aspects of blood clotting. Blood clotting is a relevant topic to our daily life. I understand how warfarin works. I heard of the name warfarin because that is what my father’s doctor prescribed for his heart disease. Now I understand how it works at the level of gla domain and calcium-binding!
As you can see from my explanation above, this course is not an introductory course. You need to know quite a lot of biology beforehand, university-level chemistry (which I lack some), basic thermodynamics, basic MATLAB programming (only basic, though). I feel it’s difficult for most people to meet all the criteria. If you lack some of the prerequisites, you can still follow the lecture. But if you lack many of them, it would be difficult.
Not only does it require a lot of prerequisites, but also it requires a lot of time and effort to engage every week. I spent more than 15 hours per week for a little more than 2 months. It’s not a little time. I took many notes and often needed to review videos again to digest the contents.
But it is rewarding, really. After taking this course, I changed my mind and decided to continue my adventure of studying biology further. I might say it would change some of my life. Not many courses can change my life, this course might be one of them. This course opens the door to many advanced, hopefully amazing, biology courses. I’m now ready to study them!