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Associate professor of biology, Lee Abrahamsen.

Lee Abrahamsen and the End of Cell Hell

A requirement for bio and biochemistry majors, “Cellular and Molecular Biology” is a notorious pressure cooker, compressing into Short Term more learning than a typical semester-length course. Lee Abrahamsen, associate professor of biology, has taught or co-taught “Cell Hell” nearly every year since joining the faculty in 1989. Now she’s involved in the effort to reformat the course for a regular four-month semester.

Sharing a full-time position with Pam Baker ’70, Abrahamsen specializes in bacteriology and virology. She is also deep into community outreach: Her students teach in local schools, a practice Abrahamsen wrote about in a recent Microbiology Education Journal. And she chairs the Medical Studies Committee, which helps students prepare for health-related postgraduate studies.

Q: Why “Cell Hell”?
The students named it “Cell Hell” years ago. It’s interesting: Some like it because it’s the only thing they take, so they can really focus. Others just can’t learn this fast. It comes fast and furious, and if you get behind, you’re lost.

Q: What’s the typical class size?
A: This year, about 70. Originally we put this in Short Term because we had 20 majors, which allowed a whole day to run a lab or to fit whatever we thought was important in the curriculum. As the number of majors grew, it had to be more tightly organized, and as that happens — you lose the flexibility that was the whole point to begin with. So we are now putting this back in the regular semester, within probably two years.

Q: How do you feel about that?
A: Now there isn’t enough time to help people with problems. There’s an exam every week, a lab every week, a big lab report two of the five weeks. This course is very difficult for students with any kind of learning difference. It’s tough for us, too. We are constantly either in lecture or lab or both. And it limits the number of other Short Terms we can teach. I have taught just one other Short Term course.

Q: What are some advantages of such a compressed program?
A: The students who will be bio majors are all together. It’s a bonding experience — where everybody else is out playing Frisbee, they are in the lab running gels and stuff. It’s an opportunity to define themselves as bio majors, to say, “We did this hard thing together.”

Q: You first knew Stephanie Richards ’84 during your original temporary appointment here in 1981-82. Now she’s back as a visiting assistant professor in biology. How was co-teaching Cell Hell with her this year?
A: She was very good at it, fast to pick things up and flexible, so the students liked her a lot. It was really fun.

Q: Do you celebrate at the end?
A: We’re all too tired. We do fun things, though, along the way. We have a contest for designing the Cell Hell T-shirt. And they now have a challenge from the “History Hell” people to play softball.


Q:Dean Emeritus of Admissions Milton Lindholm ’35 received an honorary Doctor of Humane Latters degree at Commencement. it is his third Bates degree, joining his bachelor’s (in religion) and master’s (in education 1939). Who is the only other living alum with three Bates degrees?

A:Geneva Kirk ’37, longtime Maine educator and Lewiston-Auburn community leader, is the only other living alum besides Milt Lindholm ’35 with three Bates degrees: bachelor’s (in French), master’s (in education, 1948), and honorary Doctor of Laws (1993).Bates last issued a master’s degree in 1955.