During your study

Genomics in Society


Year 1 - Period 1

Welcome to the very first week of the 2-year research master Genomics in Society! This research master is interdisciplinary, and means that you may all have obtained different bachelor degrees, and you may even be from different countries. Therefore, we will have to address a few challenges right from the start. First: we need to understand that we will be developing an interdisciplinary language together. Second, we will need to become a group, a team of co-learners as well as co-creators. Third, we need to have fun from the start! Feeling good and having fun form an excellent basis for learning and creativity, as well as solving problems and dealing with conflict. Having fun is our shared responsibility.

Instead of precooking an entire introduction week for you, we will co-create the script of our introduction week. Thereby, we have given content to day 1, but we would love to give you, as students, the stage for days 2-3-4! On day 5 Sam will present an overview of the curriculum, the rules of engagement and the assessment plan. But getting to know each other is the top priority of this introduction week, and the first design assignment is therefore to co-design the introduction days. As we understand that this is new and exciting and perhaps a little scary, we invite a guest to assist us with our design process.

Life is incredibly complex and versatile, so defining the basics of it is no easy feat. However, looking at the evolutionary ‘tree of life’, which categorizes all living things (and all things that have ever lived) based on their evolutionary characteristics and relationships, one fact is crystal clear: some molecules, structures and processes seem to be fundamental for most, if not all organisms on our planet.

You start off Genomics in Society with this course, because the basic biochemical principles of life are fundamental to genomics and the technologies that underlie this field of expertise. This course is aimed at students without a strong background in molecular biology, but also challenges students who are familiar with the material already.

In this course, you will familiarize yourself with the basic processes and structures of life, which will help you understand genomic technologies and intricacies of (clinical) genetics and genomics further down the line of the research master, regardless of your academic background. As suchyou will acquire the basic scientific vocabulary of the life sciences.

The course consists of seven modules, spanning a timeline from the first signs of life (~4 billion years ago) to life in the current day. Every week consists of a live lecture and a live seminar with one topic per week. Assessment consists of two exams of equal length and weight, both spanning one half of the course. In addition to an exam, you will prepare a short presentation on a topic provided or approved by the course

Genetics is a rapidly changing discipline and its importance in the medical field has grown immensely over the last few decades, leading not only to an understanding of pathogenesis of many diseases but also to diagnostic, preventive and therapeutic solutions for many disorders. 

This course means to help you revisit the basic principles of heredity and give an introduction to the more advanced principles in human inheritance. You will learn about the inheritance of human diseases, which is more than only monogenetic inheritance. Genetic principles will be imbedded in a medical background using case studies to explore the principles of inheritance. You will thereby not only grow in your understanding of genetics and heredity but also be learn about diagnostic reasoning, selected genetic disorders and counseling genetic disease.

In this 10 week course we will provide lectures, problem based learning sessions and workshops to familiarize you with these topics. Since there will be students with various backgrounds, both social and biological studies, there will be a wide variety in knowledge and perspectives about biological, social and medical principles. In The PBL sessions you will teach your peers about your expertise and thereby develop a common language. This will also prepare you for the more advanced classes later in the master program. The lectures will not only address the basic principles of inheritance but also introduce you to recent advances in the scientific field and give an overview of common inherited diseases. To show how you can apply this knowledge at the end of the course you will formulate a research plan in which you show how to study genetic variants of which the clinical impact is still unknown and present this to your peers.

Genomics as a fast-developing science does not include an instruction manual for sustainable, responsible and fair use, but we can discuss, debate and decide together how to deal with the opportunities and threats that emerge in terms of ethics. In this course, you gather a basic toolkit which will help you analyze and reflect on developments in genomic science & society through the lens of ethics. What should we do with genomic technologies? What are we not allowed to do, and why not? How should genomics impact our life and the way we think about our life?

In Ethics & Genomics, you  familiarize yourself with prevalent theories of applied ethics and specific ethics of the genome by means of interactive lectures and active learning sessions with lively discussion and peer feedback. Together, you will think and talk about morality from your respective disciplines to work towards an interdisciplinary understanding of ethics. With your peers, you will discuss what it means to do ‘the right thing’ in genomics-related research and structure your thinking about morality and ethics.

The course consists of four modules which are spread over the first year. The modules are related to courses that are taught at the same time, including the Genomics and the City (GATC) assignment. There will be special sessions geared towards the assessment method of each module, to help you prepare for the final assignment of each module.

In this Research Design course, you will learn how to design your own social research, starting with an idea and developing it into a well thought-out research plan. Designing your research carefully from the start will prevent you from saying “if only…” later on in your research project. In addition, in designing your research you ensure that your research aligns with the values, needs and expectations of society, right from the start. You will learn to design research in line with the research for impact paradigm. Making sure that you are working towards more knowledge or a solution that is societally desirable, will prevent your research from stranding.

Finally, this plan should spark your own enthusiasm for the research project, and that of your team! If this goes well, your enthusiasm will be contagious, which definitely helps in finding the support you need to turn your plan into action.

Research Design runs throughout year 1, in parallel to the genomics & the city assignment and the ethics course. You will notice similarities in the design process, and knowledge you gain in one course can be transferred to and applied in other courses. This course has a blended learning approach. Instructions, preparation and assignments are partly offered online, while contact education aims to provide feedback and in-depth insights.

Learning activities build upon the ‘flipped classroom’ model of pre-recorded course videos, plenary lectures, guided group project work, individual assignments, and student presentations. Over the course, you will discover a research topic and research goals that have societal relevance, you will define a knowledge gap for which you will formulate (a) research question(s), you will design an appropriate research set up that can address your research question(s), and finally, you will prototype your research design by performing a pilot study.

Year 1 - Period 2

The genome contains all of an organism’s genetic information, with the best understood elements being the roughly 2% that encode for genes.  Despite comprising a very small fraction of the total genetic information, improving our understanding of these elements has led to tremendous insights into development, evolution, and disease.  But with so much genetic material to sift through, how are genes (and their functions) identified? 

In Genomic Methodologies, you will learn about the development and application of technologies that have enabled scientists to interrogate the genome on a large scale to identify new genes, gene functions, and genetic interactions.  We will also discuss how these advances have driven progress in genetic medicine, biotech, and the pharmaceutical industry as well as what we might expect from future technological advances in this field and the role academic and community discourse may (or must) have in their shaping.

This course will focus primarily on large-scale functional genetics – assigning function to genetic loci using forward and reverse screening methods and nucleic acid (DNA/RNA) sequencing methods – and will be taught through a combination of lectures, discussions, collaborative group work, and practical hands-on sessions to further familiarize you with the process of scientific discovery and discussion.

In this introductory course on the psychological aspects of heredity, you will learn to understand and appreciate how genomic information may impact people and how appropriate support may be offered.

Genomic information has an impact on individuals, couples and families. It impacts many aspects of their lives, such as their relationships, their family planning and their future. These individuals can accommodate genomic information meaningfully in decision-making, future planning and daily living. Various questions arise when individuals deal with genomic information. Do I want to know my genetic status concerning a specific disease? Do I want children, knowing that there is a big chance I am getting sick? Do I want to make sure my children do not get the same disease? How do I tell my love interest about the genetic aberration in my family? How do I deal with a parent suffering from a genetic disorder?

In this fifteen week course in Period 1 and 2, we provide learning activities such as interactive lectures, online activities, jigsaw sessions and counseling workshops to reach the learning objectives. You will be assessed by means of a portfolio, an oral presentation, and an exam.

In the Genomics & the City assignment you will acquire the knowledge and develop the competences to bridge the gap between genomics and society. As such, the Genomics & the City assignment leads to attainment of the ‘in society’ end term of the curriculum and serves to make you fluent in the interdisciplinary language of Genomics in Society.

You will identify and work on concrete societal issues in the field of genomics in teams of about 5 students guided by a mentor and in co-creation with societal stakeholders. You will learn to employ a variety of research skills to identify and analyze genomic issues in society. Also, you will learn to employ research methods to innovate and design empirically underpinned solutions to improve the issue. As such, you will learn how genomics can contribute to society and what is needed to build bridges between the different perspectives of research and societal stakeholders. The Genomics & the City assignment requires you to integrate knowledge and skills of research, genomics, psychology, ethics, science communication, governance, entrepreneurship, and leadership in your proposed solution of a genomic issue. Design thinking is the iterative process to bring these perspectives together.

We provide learning activities such as preparatory videoclips, workshops, interactive lectures, group activities, individual activities, creative sessions, peer support sessions, coaching, mentoring and online activities and a dragon’s den to reach the learning objectives. Together we will fill the Genomics & the City picking garden on Canvas to support the process of learning to bridge the gap between genomics and society.

Year 1 - Period 3

The gene editing course will teach you how today’s gene editing technologies can shape healthcare of the future using (germline) gene therapies. Gene editing is gradually being translated from basic concept towards clinical implementation. The technical backgrounds and mechanisms to perform gene editing are discussed, as well as the potential short - and long-term consequences for healthcare and the ethical considerations involved. During this course, you are expected to actively participate in discussions regarding the utilization of gene editing techniques in practice. You will identify topics that are in currently making headlines regarding gene editing and you will write an essay about one of these socially relevant issue in relation to gene editing. Several different learning activities will be employed, including interactive lectures, group discussions and group assignments, in order to reach your learning objectives. After this course, you will be able to apply your newly acquired knowledge in active societal discussions and bridge the gap between scientists and the general public regarding the topic of gene editing.

Governments and regulatory bodies directly influence scientific endeavors by creating policies that can stimulate discovery and prevent recklessness. In turn, scientific research provides the foundation for many policies. Yet these processes often occur in parallel. Even a basic interdisciplinary understanding of both scientific and governance processes can foster communication, collaboration, and more effective strategies for both scientists and policy makers.

To help address that gap, this course will utilize active learning and a flipped classroom to introduce you to the convergence of governance and genomics. Each session of this course will focus on a different case at the intersection of governance and genetics and linked to larger themes in the master’s Genomics in Society. Topics will include gene editing (in plants and humans), informed consent and data usage, patents, pharmacology, preventative medicine, occupational health, privacy and discrimination. Through these different policy examples at the intersection of governance and genetics, you will learn the basics of governance, but also how policy impacts science, and how science informs policy development, implementation, and evaluation. Each session you will complete a pre-course written assignment based on the assigned readings and learning material of the topic. We will use these assignments as a guide for in-person group discussions. You will conduct small-group exercises applying a range of frameworks and tools used to analyze and a critique policy. By the end of the course, you will collaborate on a final project to apply your cumulative knowledge to a policy outline on a new topic of your choosing.

Year 1 - Period 4

In this interactive course you learn the ins and outs of forensic DNA profiling; from collecting biological evidence at crime scenes, to identifying unknown perpetrators, to testifying your findings in court. You learn how genomic data are currently used to serve justice in society, as taught by scientists from one of the most pioneering research groups of this field at the Department of Genetic Identification, Erasmus MC, with the active contribution of practitioners from a few of the most pioneering forensic institutes worldwide, i.e. the Netherlands Forensic Institute and the International Commission of Missing Persons, both located in the Hague.

The course includes two parts; the research part where teachers present to you the current and future genomic tools used in forensic investigations, and the practice part where teachers give you insights on the current and future implementation of these tools in forensic casework. Via four distinct modules, you learn how to select the most appropriate forensic genomics approach for different case scenarios, analyze unique DNA profiles generating by standard forensic typing, evaluate the pros and cons of each forensic genomic technique and communicate forensic genomic findings to different stakeholders including scientists and judiciary. Together we ask: how can we best approach this specialized application of genomics in society to make sure that the benefits of a safer society outweigh ethical, regulatory, privacy concerns?

We have developed a fun and interactive course based on blended learning and the flipped classroom format that includes not only standard classroom-type lectures but also learning-based activities such as tutorials, case studies, critical debates and workshops.

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