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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Social and Political Science : Postgrad (School of Social and Political Studies)

Postgraduate Course: Social Dimensions of Systems and Synthetic Biology (PGSP11476)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Social and Political Science CollegeCollege of Humanities and Social Science
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryFunding bodies are increasingly demanding that scientists consider the potential impact of their research, field media enquiries, take part in public engagement activities, work through patenting and regulatory issues connected to their research, and participate in interdisciplinary teams. This course will provide time and space to examine some of the philosophical, legal, ethical and social issues surrounding the new and growing disciplines of systems and synthetic biology. Scientists and engineers on the course should gain a broad understanding of key theories and methods in science & technology studies (STS) as applied to their own research interests, and should develop the skills and confidence to contribute productively to broader discussions of their research. Social scientists on the course will have the opportunity to explore two new areas of scientific enquiry in depth, and to apply theory and methods from their disciplinary training to the analysis of these fields.
Course description Outline Content

Both systems biology and synthetic biology are examples of the interdisciplinary life sciences, which bring together researchers from a range of scientific and engineering disciplines, with different methods, assumptions and expectations.
We will discuss the definitions of systems and synthetic biology, and the relationship of the two fields to each other, with an eye for the history of both fields. We will also address some of the challenges associated with interdisciplinary research collaborations.
Science policy is an important driver of scientific advancement, as it plays a key role in decisions about the allocation of funding and the ways in which research is organised and regulated. Consequently, we will discuss the development of (inter)national science policies, in systems and synthetic biology and beyond.
In addition, we will discuss and explore:
- Different ownership and sharing regimes for biological entities, ranging from open-access to patenting, and think about their implications for systems and synthetic biology research.
- The role of bioethics in the study of systems and synthetic biology, including past and recent debates, e.g. analysing attempts to regulate recombinant technologies in the 1970s, and look at how some of these ideas resurface in recent discussions of technologies such as CRISPR.
- Science communication, public engagement and bio-art. Do citizens have a role in contributing to the development of emerging technologies, as consumers, users or stakeholders?

Each week there will be lectures and groupwork, with a strong emphasis on open discussion. Each week you will write a short response to the set readings, which will be posted online before the class. Sessions will involve in-class exercises around particular case-studies or examples. The course is open to students with an interest in the social dimensions of developments in the life sciences, from the natural sciences and the social sciences.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2018/19, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  45
Course Start Semester 2
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 196 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) This course will be assessed through assignments designed to test and develop the students┐ interactive skills, critical analysis, academic writing, and familiarity with social science approaches.

1. Portfolio of group work (40%)
┐ Portfolio content, i.e. writing responses; case study material; group memos.
┐ Progress report reflecting on group work, including points for improvement (1500 words max), submitted after week 5 of the course. This will be the basis for formative feedback.
┐ Final progress report, reflecting on group work and what the group has learned during the course (2500 words max), submitted after the final week of the course. An appendix to this report includes a personal statement by each student (200 words max) summarising their contribution to the group's work.

2. Essay (60%)
┐ One individual essay (maximum length 3000 words) discussing a specific social dimension applied to a case study.
Feedback Not entered
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Have substantive knowledge and critical understanding of the broad social and political context surrounding developments in the life sciences, and of the diversity of issues and approaches covered by the 'ethical, social and legal issues' (ELSI) heading.
  2. Can identify and characterise the key methods, approaches and theories from science and technology studies as they apply to the study of systems and synthetic biology.
  3. Can critically evaluate the main ethical, legal and social issues arising from systems and synthetic biology, and the contributions to academic and public debates on these issues.
  4. Have developed their skills in finding and using the resources available (theories, methods, techniques, sources of information, etc.) for pursuing these issues in their future work.
  5. Can apply these understandings and skills, and deploy these approaches, concepts and techniques in written assignments and seminar presentations.
Reading List
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Niki Vermeulen
Tel: (0131 6)51 7112
Course secretaryMiss Kate Ferguson
Tel: (0131 6)51 5122
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