Complementary courses

Here, PULS outlines a guide for course selection. Advice given here is purely based on students' opinions and past experiences. They are in no way an accurate reflection of what the courses have to give, and views expressed here are not necessarily the views expressed by the Department of Physiology, the Faculty of Science, or McGill University.

This is a guide for course selection in the Major program. For other programs, please consult the official requirements from the Department of Physiology.

The requirements for the programs in the Department of Physiology can change at any time. Please refer to the official website of the Department for the most up-to-date information, and in case of conflicting information, always follow the information on the official departmental website.

Liberal program course listing
Major program course listing
Honours program course listing
Physiology and physics course listing
Physiology and mathematics course listing
Interdepartmental Honours in Immunology course listing

Course selection

In the physiology program, there exists complementary courses, which give you a little more freedom than the required core physiology courses. With complementary courses, you may choose to take one course from each specified list. Each of these categories is listed below.

BIOL 201 vs BIOC 212

These two courses are aimed to introduce students to the principles of cell biology and metabolism. They vary slightly, but are very similar.

BIOL 201 has a stronger emphasis on metabolism and cellular kinetics such as motor proteins and cellular scaffolding. BIOC 212 has a stronger emphasis on protein quality control, cellular trafficking and the life cycle of the cell, including a distinctive section on introductory cancer biology. BIOL 201 has a cumulative final exam, whereas BIOC 212 has a non-cumulative one.

These two courses are equivalent for all means and purposes when it comes to curriculum, and are the prerequisites for the same upper-level courses. The difficulty is also very similar, and the choice of students should be made on the slight nuances in content.

Course Pros Cons Evaluation
BIOL 201: Cell Biology and Metabolism

  • Great professors (Gary Brouhard), very engaging
    • One of the best professors at McGill
  • Tutorials are key, super helpful, given by TA
  • Crib sheets allowed at every exam as details are not tested
  • Questions involve an in depth understanding of the content. They are not memorization based.
  • Exams are thought provoking in a sense that they move away from the classic regurgitation type questions biology classes are known for. Some may find this approach more difficult.
  • Quizzes: 10%
    • 6 Quizzes Total
    • Lowest quiz mark dropped
    • So 5 @ 2.5% ea.
  • 2 Midterms MC (25% each)
  • Final exam all MC (40%) - cumulative
BIOC 212: Molecular Mechanisms of Cell Function

  • Interesting cancer section
  • Very straight-forward, chill final
  • Prof Young loves his compare/contrast questions, so know all there is to know about the proteins he talks about
  • NON-cumulative
  • Killer midterm (45%)
  • Midterm: 45% (MC + some written)
  • Final: 55% (MC + T/F)

ANAT 214 vs ANAT 261 vs ANAT 316

Course Pros Cons Evaluation
ANAT 214: Systemic Human Anatomy

  • Cadaver lab!
  • Very interesting, and lots of clinical information
  • Exam questions heavily test application of anatomy knowledge to medical situations
  • Professor Gabriel Venne is clear about his expectations
    • Gives you a lot to learn, but examines A LOT of what he assigns
    • So most of the stuff you memorize is tested (Unlike some courses *cough* PHGY courses)
  • Lots of work, not an easy A
  • Hard to get into as a non-ANAT student
  • *3 credits*
  • Midterm: 25% (short answer and MC)
  • Lecture Quizzes: 5 @ 2% ea.
  • Lab Quizzes: 2 @ 2.5% ea.
    • Good practice for the lab final
  • Lecture Final: 35% (written)
  • Lab Final: 25% (bell ringer, DIFFICULT but not worth too much)
ANAT 261: Introduction to Dynamic Histology

  • Lots of overlap with PHGY 209/210
  • Recorded, lecture slides are clear
  • Labs are super straight-forward and chill
  • Questions are straight knowledge regurgitation, minimal/no application
  • PASSIONATE profs!
  • Material can be very dry
  • Histology = microscopic anatomy
  • *4 credits*
  • Lab quizzes (bell ringer)
  • Midterm
  • Paper
  • Course final (MC, written)
  • Lab final (bell ringer)
ANAT 316: Human Visceral Anatomy

  • Recorded!!
  • Great prof - Dr. Nicole Ventura
    • Is more like a classic teacher than a prof
    • Clear slides, fair exams
    • Demonstrations in-class to drive the point home so go to class and don't just rely on recordings
  • Cadaver lab is SUPER COOL and you learn a lot
    • Each lab comes with a handy lab outline which outlines everything you should know
    • TAs go over this outline/worksheet with you to reinforce the lecture material
  • Straightforward midterm
  • Is generally a required class for PTOT students so you may get a "Reserve Closed" error during registration
  • ANAT 315 "pre-req"
    • Dr. Ventura will post the relevant 315 recordings at the beginning of the course
    • You will still feel slightly "behind" the PTOT students that took ANAT 315
    • ANAT 315 material is not directly tested but generally helps with understanding and surface anatomy references
  • Lab is "mandatory" attendance
    • 2017: 4 pop quizzes to "check" for attendance
    • 2018: quizzes are online!
  • Lab Final (bell ringer)
    • Consists of 20 stations (with 2 questions at each station)
    • 75 seconds per station to answer the question
    • Moderate difficulty as you can only study the cadavers during lab, during lab study hours booked by Dr. Ventura during finals and the pop quiz slides
    • Studying textbook diagrams are great but the cadaver anatomy isn't so clean and clear cut
  • *3 credits*
  • Midterm: 25%
  • Lab Pop-Quizzes: 4 @ 2.5% ea.
  • Lecture final (MC): 45%
  • Lab Final: 20%

CHEM 203 vs CHEM 204 vs BIOC 312

Students are required to take one course in basic physical chemistry. As an alternative, students can instead take a second course in intermediate biochemistry if they wish.

CHEM 203 offers students a general survey of physical chemistry. It provides students with the necessary knowledge to approach physical chemistry-related questions in life sciences and a further elaboration of physical chemistry beyond the 100-level. Topics include thermodynamics, equilibrium, and chemical kinetics.

CHEM 204 is one of two introductory courses offered by the Department of Chemistry as a foundation in physical chemistry tailored to life science students. As the first part of the complete package, it goes into more depth than CHEM 203, but some concepts of CHEM 203 are not discussed, left to be discussed in detail in CHEM 214. CHEM 204 is not more difficult than CHEM 203, but it approaches the questions from a more theoretical, mathematical, and proof-based point of view. Topics include thermodynamics, equilibrium, and quantum mechanics.

Students who do not wish to take physical chemistry can opt to substitute it by a second course in intermediate biochemistry. BIOC 312 covers the metabolism of nucleic acids, transcription and translation in prokaryotes and eukaryotes, and post-translational modifications of proteins. Students should be warned that BIOC 312 is a challenging course, sometimes considered the hardest of all biochemistry courses. Nonetheless, students who are interested in the course should not be turned off by its difficulty, as many motivated students achieve very high grades every year.

Course Pros Cons Evaluation
CHEM 203: Survey of Physical Chemistry

  • Questions are very similar to his practice questions
  • Concepts are pretty simple/repetitve overall
  • Quizzes help keep up and understand the class
  • You get 2 attempts for each quiz
  • All exams are non-cumulative
  • Poorly organized, very confusing lectures
  • Does not use slides, uses projector if it is taught by Dr. Sanctuary
  • "Mandatory" locked digital textbook written by Dr. Sanctuary is RIDDLED with mistakes and errors (including the answer keys!)
  • The quizzes often have errors, he's also inconsistent with the way the quizzes work (they also take forever)
  • Quizzes: 15%
  • Midterm: 35%
  • Final: 50%
CHEM 204: Physical Chemistry/Biological Sciences 1

  • Interesting section on thermodynamics of protein folding (NOT in Pat's class
  • If Dr. Pat is teaching, he reuses EVERY QUESTION, so find past midterms/finals and memorize answers/questions
  • Easy A with Pat, he lets you use your phone on midterms
  • Considered to be more difficult than CHEM 203 (depends on which professor is teaching - Dr. Blum is known to be difficult)
  • Heavier study load than CHEM 203 (allegedly)
  • 3 Midterms: 22.5%, 22.5%, 12.5%
  • Final: 42.5
BIOC 312: Biochemistry of Macromolecules

  • Some profs are okay
  • Avoid this course - much higher difficulty than CHEM 203/204
  • Dense material - heavy focus on molecular pathways
  • Some profs are quite difficult to understand and have fairly unfocussed lecturing styles
  • Midterm: 40%
  • Final: 60%

BIOL 309 vs BIOL 373 vs COMP 202 (or COMP 204) vs COMP 250 vs PSYC 305

Students can choose from five complementary courses in physiology. These five offer insights into fields that are not directly related to physiology, but are useful to the scientist working in physiology. A comparison table that summarizes all five courses can be found below.

BIOL 309 - Mathematical Models in Biology

The main objective is to give the student basic skills necessary to understand the ways mathematics can be applied to study biological systems.
1) FINITE DIFFERENCE EQUATIONS IN BIOLOGY (12 lectures) Dynamics in 1-dimensional finite difference equations modeling ecosystems including concepts of steady states, cycles and chaos. Boolean switching networks as applied to genetic regulation. Cellular automata and fractals.
2) DIFFERENTIAL EQUATIONS (14 lectures) One dimensional differential equations modeling growth and decay in biology. Second order linear and nonlinear differential equations modeling ecological, biochemical, and compartmental systems in biology. Stability analysis of first and second order nonlinear differential equations. Phase plane analysis of nonlinear second order differential equations.

Students who wish to take this course should have a strong background in basic calculus. The instructor recommends one calculus course beyond the 100-level.

BIOL 373 - Biometry

The aim of this course is to introduce students to the foundations of the analysis of biological data, while emphasizing the assumptions behind statistical tests and models. I shall not as in the mathematical statistics course, go into detail about the specific mathematical derivations. The course is designed to give a student the ability to intelligently use the statistical techniques typically available on computer packages such as SYSTAT or SPSS.

COMP 202 - Foundations of Programming

This course introduces students to computer programming and is intended for those with little or no back- ground in the subject. No knowledge of computer science in general is necessary or expected. It aims to teach students a way of thinking that will enable them to build non-trivial programs. The course uses the Java programming language.

Offered both in Fall and Winter semsters, this course is a very flexible and useful for students. In the rapidly growing world of computation, life scientists may find it very useful to learn the basics of programming, especially the most widely-used language in the world: Java.

COMP 250 - Introduction to Computer Science

This course introduces students to two core topics in computer science: data structures and algorithms, and object oriented design. For the data structures, students will learn about various types of lists (arrays, linked lists, stacks, queues), trees, and graphs. Students will also learn the basic algorithms that use these data structures, and how to analyze such algorithms in terms of the amount of computation they use. The course also give students a deeper understanding of object oriented programming. Students will learn how classes can be organized into hierarchies, and how variables and methods defined in the classes of the hierarchy are related to each other. These relationships will be developed more fully in subsequent courses such as COMP 303.

COMP 250 is the gateway to computer science. Note that computer science is not synonymous to programming. COMP 250 does not teach programming. In fact, an unofficial prerequisite for the course is the ability to program in the Java languate. Students can either opt to take COMP 202 or to learn Java on their own before taking COMP 250.

PSYC 305 - Statistics for Experimental Design

An introduction to the design and analysis of experiments, including analysis of variance, planned and post hoc tests and a comparison of anova to correlational analysis.

Course Pros Cons Evaluation
BIOL 309: Mathematical Models in Biology

Syllabus: TBD
  • Leon Glass is a gem of a prof
  • He'll play the French Horn for you
  • A nice introduction to nonlinear dynamics and goes at a relatively slow pace, great for going into classes like MATH 326 and MATH 437
  • A new way to think about biological applications of math
  • The textbook is super informative and the prof wrote it
  • When they say calculus pre-reqs they mean it! Don’t take this if you haven’t taken calc. in a few years / don’t have time to relearn all the rules of calc. (Otherwise allegedly a great course)
  • It’s almost entirely differentiation though and for the most part not crazy hard calculus, (definitely not the most important part of the class)
  • If you’re not into math and drawing/interpreting graphs this may not be the class for you
  • Assignments: 10% (every ~2 weeks)
  • Midterm: 20%
    • He gives you access to midterms for the past 10 years (all super similar info)
  • Final: 50%
  • Critique of a Paper: 20% (2-3 pages double spaced)
BIOL 373: Biometry

  • Very useful and important information for analyzing data for research
  • Lenient/fair grading on exams, quizzes, and labs
  • Chill TAs that will actually help you with the labs
  • Largely relies on R which is super useful
  • Reputation for being rigorous and challenging
  • Very difficult and dense material
  • Prof isn’t always very clear
  • Final Exam = DEATH
  • Must like stats to like this class
  • Lab Assignments: 25%
  • Class Assignments: 20%
  • Final: 55%
COMP 202: Foundations of Programming

  • Manageable, easy intro to programming (Java)
  • Profs change every year, but normally have been very good
  • Content is intro level so most help can be found online
  • If you take it in the summer, like a third of the material is cut and the assignments are much easier to do as well
  • Since this course is taught Fall, Winter, and Summer, there are tons of past exams to practice and study from
  • CSUS help desk can help you with assignments, especially when TAs are swamped
  • Midterm grade may be dropped if final exam mark is better
  • This course will soon be replaced by COMP 204 (see below) on the complementary list
  • Many assignments
  • Can be very time consuming
  • Despite programming on a computer for all assignments, on exams you will have to code by hand which can be frustrating on a time crunch
  • Assignments: 5 @ 7% ea.
  • Midterm: 25%
  • Final: 45%
  • Exams now consist of MC, short answer and long answer (instead of just MC which you pay see in some older past exams)
COMP 250: Introduction to Computer Science

  • Uses Java learned in COMP 202 (or elsewhere) to teach basic computer science concepts - data structures, algorithms (proofs!), efficiency
  • 202 teaches you how to program, 250 gets you to program well
  • Profs rotate every semester - some are more challenging than others
    • Winter 2016: Crepeau was teaching this course for the first time in 15 years so it was wildly disorganized
  • Many assignments
  • 4-5 Assignments @ % TBD ea.
  • Midterm: % TBD
  • Final: % TBD
  • Exams are a blend of MC and written, covers knowledge, proof and programming questions
  • If taught by Crepeau, exams are OPEN BOOK (PRINT EVERYTHING!!)
COMP 364/204: Computer Tools for Life Sciences

  • Prerequisites: BIOL 112 and A CEGEP level mathematics course
    • This pre-req used to be BIOL 200 and ideally BIOL 301, but it has changed Fall 2017 - PREREQS LOWERED
  • Uses Python, some of Bash/Unix (Terminal)
  • A real taste of Bioinformatics (not very many BINF courses available to undergrads under the Faculty of Science)
  • If Carlos and Chris are still teaching it, they record the course!!
    • Not via McGill LMS, they record their own laptop screen and audio as they teach and then upload to mycourses later as mp4 files
  • Double-sided letter-sized crib sheet for midterm and final
  • In Fall 2017, was taught by two grad students who make assumptions about your previous programming knowledge
    • In this sense, it seems as if you’re thrown into the deep end if you have no programming background despite the absence of programming prerequisites
  • Considered harder for those who have not taken COMP 202
  • May not be able to take (COMP 202 / COMP 206) and this course if you’re a CompSci minor (count as equivalents for that program)
  • Exams are long
  • Course website
  • Assignments: 5 @ 7% ea. (35% total)
  • Quizzes: 10 @ 0.5% ea. (5% total)
  • Midterm: 20% (MC, short answer, long answer)
  • Final: 40% (MC, short answer, long answer
PSYC 305: Statistics for Experimental Design

  • Relatively easy material (will be a breather compared to 300 level PHGYs)
  • No pre-reqs (supposed to take PSYC 204 but not necessary)
  • Rhonda Amsel is a gem
  • Heungsun Hwang has clear lecture slides, all calculations done with the computer
  • Depending on prof, may have to do all calculations by hand/calculator (you must know the equations)
    • Hwang doesn’t require you to do calculations by hand but Rhonda does require calculations by hand
  • 3 Assignments: 25%
    • opportunity to resubmission to increase your mark
  • Midterm: 20%
  • Final: 55%


This flowchart indicates the possible curricula for the Major program in physiology. Arrows represent prerequisites. A chart supplied by the Physiology department can also be find here.

About us

The Physiology Undergraduate League of Students (PULS) is the elected student government of the Department of Physiology at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Views expressed on this site are not necessarily those of McGill University, or McGill University's Department of Physiology.

For more information, please visit our About page.

Or better yet, come visit us in person! (See details on your right.)

Get in Touch