Instructor Insights

Course Overview

This page focuses on the course 8.591J Systems Biology as it was taught by Jeff Gore, Latham Family Career Development Assistant Professor of Physics in Fall 2014.

This course provides an introduction to cellular and population-level systems biology with an emphasis on synthetic biology, modeling of genetic networks, cell-cell interactions, and evolutionary dynamics.

Course Outcomes

Course Goals for Students

  • Understand how cells respond to the environment and process information in order to divide.
  • Explore how interactions between genes influence the decision-making of cells.
  • Examine how interactions between individuals shape how the population behaves in response to environmental pressures.

Instructor Interview

In the following pages, Professor Jeff Gore describes various aspects of how he teaches 8.591J Systems Biology.

Learn more! In the video at the following Residential Digital Innovations page, Professor Gore explains various techniques he uses to gauge students’ understanding of material.

Curriculum Information


In addition, each weekly problem had a computational problem, so prior experience with a computational package such as MATLAB®, Mathematica®, or Python was expected. The “officially supported” package was be Python (sample code, etc), but students were able to do problems in any language.

Requirements Satisfied

GIR Science Core, Biology


Every fall semester


The students’ grades were based on the following activities:

  • 40% Problem sets
  • 5% Pre-class reading questions
  • 15% Midterm #1
  • 15% Midterm #2
  • 25% Final exam

Student Information


Student enrollment was 26 in Fall 2014, and has ranged from 23-35 students in past years.

Breakdown by Year

2/3 graduate, 1/3 undergraduate

Breakdown by Major

1/3 physics, 1/3 biology, 1/3 biological engineering and chemistry

How Student Time Was Spent

During an average week, students were expected to spend 12 hours on the course, roughly divided as follows:

In Class/Lecture

  • Met 2 times per week for 90 minute sessions; 24 sessions total, mandatory attendance.
  • In-class activities included multiple-choice concept questions and collaborative learning.

Out of Class

  • Students were required to submit answers to the pre-class reading questions online, prior to each lecture.
  • Students completed weekly problem sets for the course.

Course Info

Learning Resource Types

assignment Problem Sets
grading Exams
theaters Lecture Videos
co_present Instructor Insights