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Instructor Profile: Brett Barbaro on the basics of biochemistry

By Stephanie Thompson

Name: Brett Barbaro
Courses: Introduction to Biochemistry

Brett Barbaro’s love for science started at age 4, when his father taught him about atoms. After graduating from Harvard University’s biochemistry program, he spent some time teaching English in Japan before returning to complete a Ph.D. at the University of California, Irvine, where he studied the molecular mechanisms of Huntington’s Disease. Now a consultant at Scripps Research Institute, he’s currently working on building atomic-resolution computer models of biological systems. His course is meant both for students who haven’t taken a biochemistry course and those who have and want to refresh their knowledge.

What do you most enjoy about your profession?
Biology is fascinating and beautiful, and there’s always more to learn about it. I’ve always loved solving puzzles, brain teasers, logic problems, and so on. Well, biology is the ultimate puzzle. Nothing is more complex and more challenging to figure out.

I have small, short-term goals, learning what I can about a little system, and then that feeds into the grand, long-term goals–tackling the problems of society, like curing diseases or improving energy production. That’s how science works–small achievements help the greater effort. I try to do my part to communicate these ideas to my students, who may in turn contribute their small part to the big picture.

What advice would you give someone looking to enter this career field?
Don’t go into it for the money! It’s challenging–you have to make sure you really love it. If you do choose to become a scientist, make sure you pursue the things that are most exciting to you, because that will carry you through the hard times.

Whether or not biochemistry fits into your career, though, everyone can benefit from some basic knowledge about it, from the role of DNA to the importance of the foods we eat. It helps us to understand who we are and how we fit into the grand scheme of nature.

How is your field changing?
We are acquiring more and more data, and working with larger and larger data sets, from the study of genomics, proteomics and similar methods. One of the biggest challenges now is integrating and interpreting all of that data. The use of computers is pretty much essential to process all of that information. That’s why I’m studying what I am.

That’s not to say that computers are the foundation of modern science. Traditional methods of experimentation and data collection are as valid and important as ever. But to tackle the overwhelming complexity of biology, there is a need for computation to integrate all the data. Individual pieces won’t answer all of our questions–we need to be able to see the big picture.

Would you say that the use of computers is driving the creation of these large data sets, or the other way around?
The use of computers and working with larger data sets drive each other. With genomes, for example, you have billions of base pairs to study–without computers it would be challenging to even write them all down. So computers make that kind of work possible. And there are millions of genomes that need to be studied. We are constantly developing the computational side to deal with larger and larger systems, so it is really co-evolving with our work.

Similarly, my course materials are constantly being developed, because there’s a lot of stuff going on in the biochemistry and scientific worlds. Things are constantly changing. Although the level of this course is pretty fundamental, new things we learn alter aspects of our understanding and give me the opportunity to evolve what I’m teaching. I try to keep up to date.

What do you like most about teaching for Extension?
I like teaching biochemistry in any setting. I’ve worked in several labs and taught in a variety of environments, starting with my first class teaching computers in high school. One great thing about teaching at Extension is that the students are all there voluntarily and are very motivated to learn. They are also generally quite mature; most are college grads and are trying to enter professional programs.

I hope no matter why they are taking the course, the students leave with a better understanding of biochemistry and are inspired to integrate what they’ve learned into their lives. I hope it changes the way they do their jobs and how they think about the world. If I can infect others with these ideas, I’ve done my job.

Interested in learning more about biochemistry and other related courses and programs? Find out more on our website, or contact the department at unexbio@ucsd.edu or (858) 534-9353.


Posted: 12/19/2017 2:55:12 PM by StephanieStevens | with 17 comments
Filed under: Biochemistry, Biological-sciences, Biology, Brett-Barbaro, Life-science, Life-sciences-2, Science, Scripps, Ucsd-biology

UC San Diego Extension
Hi Ashley: As noted, several sections of this course are offered every quarter. However, you won't be able to register for Spring until it's open for enrollment in February.
10/14/2019 9:53:00 AM

Ashley Vila
I need to take this class Spring of 2020. Is that not offer during the spring time?
10/12/2019 7:28:28 AM

UC San Diego Extension
Hi Ashley: Several sections of this course are offered every quarter. Enrollment for Winter 2020 opens up October 25th. We suggest you enroll right away to make sure to get a spot. And yes, indeed, they are accredited. Check with each receiving institution to determine how they'll apply the credit. If you have any other, or more detailed, questions, please contact the program manager at unexbio@ucsd.edu or (858) 534-9353.
10/11/2019 1:48:53 PM

Ashley Vila
Hi I am looking for an online Biochemistry class to take. I am missing just this course for my graduate program. I am suppose to have it completed by May 31st of 2020. Will this course be offered anytime before that and is it accredited?
10/11/2019 1:42:14 PM

UC San Diego Extension
Hi Nicole! Different instructors require different textbooks. You should be able to clarify with the instructor once the course starts.
10/3/2019 2:43:03 PM

Nicole Ramirez
Hello! I am signed up for the Intro to Biochem course that begins on 9/23/19. I noticed that some of the sections have a required book and some do not. Do all the sections have the same book? I wanted to be sure to purchase it in advance. Thanks!
9/14/2019 12:35:32 PM

UC San Diego Extension
Hi Sahar Bhojani: The class can be taken for a letter grade, pass/no pass, or not for credit. Fall planning is still in the works, but the course will be offered and will be available for enrollment as of August 2nd.
5/31/2019 12:57:54 PM

UC San Diego Extension
Hi Adaly: The instructor has a week or so to process grades, but transcripts should be available after that. You can request them electronically and there's a "rush" option if that's necessary to meet your deadline.

5/31/2019 12:18:00 PM

Sahar Bhojani
I am writing to inquire about the online Biochemistry course at UCSD. I would like to know if the course can be taken for a letter grade and also if it will be offered in the fall of 2019.

If you could please provide the above information at your earliest convenience, I would really appreciate it.
5/26/2019 1:54:59 PM

If the course is taken and completed, will the grade and transcript be available right away? the class ends on august 26 and my transcripts for my respective college are due soon after.
5/23/2019 4:44:28 PM

UC San Diego Extension
Hi Ahn: Please contact the department directly. They can answer your questions about the course more quickly and effectively: unexbio@ucsd.edu or (858) 534-9353.
4/19/2018 2:19:14 PM

Anh Le
Could you please let me know for the exams and final, can I complete them early before the day that the course supposed to be over, or do I have to take them on a set day?
4/19/2018 2:12:15 PM

UC San Diego Extension
Dear Ahn: That section is full and has a wait list. Since it's more than two weeks into the quarter, it's unlikely that other seats will open up in that section. There is another section available in late June. I suggest registering for that now to secure your spot, if it works with your schedule.
4/17/2018 6:46:51 PM

Anh Le
Could you please give me an add code for biochem online class that started on 04-02-18. I need to complete the this class before july to apply for CLS program. This online schedule works perfectly for me
4/17/2018 6:20:49 PM

UC San Diego Extension
Hi Evelyn: It appears that it is not scheduled for Spring, but please check back for Summer quarter (which opens for enrollment May 7, 2018) or contact the department at unexbio@ucsd.edu or (858) 534-9353. Please sign-up for our email list as well to receive notices about what courses are being offered. That way we can keep you in the loop!
1/26/2018 3:12:54 PM

Evelyn Cintron
Will Biochemistry be offered online Spring quarter?
1/25/2018 8:21:49 AM

Biochem is a pretty exciting field. Wish I could go back in time and take this in college.
12/29/2017 1:22:21 PM