Student Directed Seminar courses

2021/22 Student Directed Seminars

If you're a student interested in taking a Student Directed Seminar course in the 2021/22 Winter Session, browse the course descriptions below for information. 

To register for a Student Directed Seminar course, log into your Course Schedule and search the course code. Some courses may have specific requirements and instructions you need to follow in order to register for the course. Please read each course description carefully. 

The UBC Okanagan Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences is currently developing a Student Directed Seminars course for its students. For further information, please email

UBC Vancouver Winter Term 1 courses

ACAM 447C:  Immigration and Mental Health

Coordinator:  Carmen Kim

Faculty Sponsor:  Robert Woollard

Immigration and Mental Health (ACAM 447C) will facilitate an academic exploration of the mental health and wellness of Asian-Canadian immigrants. By integrating lived experience with academic analysis, this seminar will be a place of interdisciplinary learning and community healing. Students will harness the ability to critically analyze structural gaps and assets in the migration experience through a lens of justice. With co-developed and co-facilitated lesson plans, students will teach and learn in a community space that invites authenticity, vulnerability, and storytelling. 

Course schedule:  Wednesdays and Fridays, 4:30 to 6:00 pm (in-person)

Prerequisite: None

UBC Vancouver Winter Term 2 courses

MICB 448S: Introduction to Biological Machines: Harnessing the Power of Design Thinking for Biotechnology Innovation

Coordinators: Emilia Chen and Morris Huang

Faculty Sponsor: Steven Hallam

This seminar course focuses on emerging trends in biological engineering. Students will design novel applications for real life issues using methods and technologies in biological engineering discussed in the seminar. Framework of design, molecular biology techniques, emerging technologies, and cutting-edge research in selected fields will be discussed.

Course schedule: Mondays and Wednesdays, 5:00 to 6:30 pm (in-person)

Prerequisite: MICB 325 or BIOL 335

Registration requirements:  If you're interested in registering for this course, please send a short statement of intent to either Emilia Chen at or Morris Huang at

Statement of intent: Your statement of intent should answer the following questions:

  • Why do you want to take this class?
  • What topics within bioengineering would you be interested in?
  • What is your background knowledge around bioengineering?

HIST 390A: Engendering China: Sex, Gender, and Sexuality in Modern Chinese Histories

Coordinator: Aydin Quach

Faculty Sponsor: Renren Yang

A survey into the role of sex, gender, and sexuality in the development of modern Chinese histories from the Late Qing Dynasty to the present day (around 1850 and onward). Examines the histories and developments of other countries including Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Chinese-Canadian experiences. Topics include footbinding, women's rights, the role of women in the economy, masculinity, same-sex desire, HIV/AIDS, contraceptives, colonialism, celebrity culture, Boys Love (BL) literature and film, Chinese diaspora, Queer theory in international relations, digital media, as well as activism and identity construction.

This course is open to all UBC students who have not taken a Student Directed Seminar before. See more details about the course.

Course schedule:  Mondays and Wednesdays, 3:00 to 4:30 pm (in-person)

Prerequisite: None

POLI 333Z : The Politics of Health  

Coordinators: Miles Schaffrick and Moha Chaturvedi

Faculty Sponsor: Michael Law

This Student Directed Seminar will examine the rapidly developing field of health politics, analyzing how political institutions and actors broadly influence topics of significance to health. Overarchingly, the course will examine the foundations of the politics of health, the structural determinants of health inequities, the political economy of health, and topics of ethics, privacy, and identity such as biosurveillance, the politization of abortion, and necropolitics and euthansia. 

Students will be evaluated through three short reflective reading responses and an assignment of student choice. Additionally, students will receive marks for completion of peer review exercises, discussion questions, and will self-assess their course participation. 

If you have questions, you can contact the following:

Course schedule:  Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2:00 to 3:30 pm (in-person) 

Prerequisite: None

ISCI 490-202: Intersectional and Multidimensional Analysis of Disordered Eating and Diet Culture

Coordinator:  Robyn Armstrong

Faculty Sponsor: Sheila Woody

ISCI 490 (Intersectional and Multidimensional Analysis of Disordered Eating and Diet Culture) centres on this idea that our bodies are perceived and criticized differently, contributing to our difficult relationship with food, identity, and liberation. Fatphobia, racism, gender identity and ableism are all intertwined and connected within this discourse yet are often left out of the research and conversation. In order to counter disordered eating and diet culture, these experiences and factors must be addressed and dissected. 

This seminar hopes to explore intersectionality in the context of disordered eating and diet culture, analyzing different disciplines and concepts to chip away at self-perception, society’s perception, and how you can combat and understand these nuances. Through the use of peer led seminars, continuous critical discussions and in depth analyses of the literature at hand, a discourse centred on introspection, support and liberation will develop. 

Course schedule:  Tuesdays and Thursdays, 5:00 to 6:30 pm (in-person)  

Prerequisite: None

Registration requirements: If you're interested in registering for this seminar, please send an email to with all of the following:

  • Name
  • Student number
  • Year of study and major
  • A statement of intent (approximately 100 to 150 words)

Statement of intent: Your statement of intent should answer the following questions:

  • Why would you like to enroll in this course?
  • What courses have you taken that you believe are useful pre-requisites for this seminar?
  • What unique academic perspectives and/or lived experiences would you be able to contribute to this seminar?

BIOL 490A: Evolution in Urban Environments

Coordinator: Sunny Gong

Faculty Sponsor: Jeannette Whitton

In the age of the anthropocene, human activity has become the greatest force of environmental change. Yet amid the alarming decline of biodiversity and the loss of wild places, an overlooked ecosystem is growing faster than ever before: cities. The polluted air, loud noises, and bright lights which stand in stark contrast to our lush and idyllic vision of the natural world seem devoid of life. And yet it is here in the most anthropocentric places on Earth where some of the most interesting evolutionary ecology discoveries are being made. In response to rapid global urbanization, species are evolving and adapting to living alongside humans at astonishing rates and scientists are recognizing the extensive applications this area of research has on biological conservation efforts, urban planning and design, public health, pest management and more. 

These subjects will be the focus of this seminar, and will be explored through the socio-eco-evolutionary framework, an interdisciplinary approach which views natural eco-evolutionary dynamics within the context of human social processes. Students will have the opportunity to discuss a variety of current research topics including parallel evolution in cities around the world, effects of habitat fragmentation on gene flow and human-wildlife conflicts, as well as its applications to solving current global issues. 

Course schedule: Mondays and Wednesdays, 5:00 to 6:30 pm (in-person)

Prerequisite: None

Registration requirements: If you're interested in registering for this seminar, please send an email to with all of the following:

  • Your name
  • Student number
  • Year of study and major
  • A statement of intent (approximately 100 words)

Statement of intent: Your statement of intent should answer the following questions:

  • How do you think this course will contribute to your overall academic and/or career goals?
  • What unique academic perspectives and/or lived experiences would you be able to contribute to this seminar?
  • What background knowledge experiences on evolutionary biology such as classes you took or any work/volunteering experiences do you have? BIOL 336 or an equivalent is recommended, but not necessary if you are able to describe your strategies in dealing with potential knowledge gaps. 

HIST 390D: Islamic Medieval Spain in Literature, History, & Cultural Memory

Coordinator: Eman Al-Sulaiti

Faculty Sponsor: Maria Soledad Fernández-Utrera

It was the Spanish-born philosopher George Santayana who stated that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This seminar invites students to take a historically-minded approach to enrich understanding of latent tensions that underpin the economic and socio-political discourse of our times, including how today’s notion of immigrants as the “enemy from within” echoes past formulations of Morisco and Converso identities as “domestic threats.”

This seminar navigates the nexus of identity, race and power in Medieval Spain as a marker of transition towards ‘modernity.’ Topics include The Emergence of Islamic Rule; The Reconquest, Crusades and Expulsion; Nationalism and European Integration; Representations of Conflicting Systems of Power in Film, Propaganda, and Poetry.

Course schedule: Mondays and Wednesdays, 3:00 to 4:30 pm (in-person) 

Prerequisite: None

ASIA 490Z 003: The Becoming of Modern Chinese Foodscapes

Coordinator: Shirley Ting

Faculty Sponsor: Dr. Clayton Ashton

What kinds of things come to mind when we talk about Chinese food? For many of us, Chinese food is a source of comfort and nostalgia. Moreover, it helps us navigate and express our sense of identity while influencing our health and wellbeing. In this seminar, students will explore the dynamism of food. Together, we will investigate how various socioeconomic forces attributed to ‘modernity’ have shaped Chinese foodscapes. This course is a student-centred and democratic learning space that emphasizes interdisciplinary thinking. 

If you're interested, send an email to to register. 

Questions and/or ideas that will be posed by the seminar include:
  • Examining how neoliberalism has shaped the urban and rural Chinese food systems, 
  • Critically analyzing how changing conceptions of nutrition and wellbeing have impacted rural-urban food movements, and
  • Exploring the social and cultural meanings and significance of food in the rural versus in the urban areas.

Course schedule: Mondays and Wednesdays, 11:00 to 12:30 pm (in-person) 

Prerequisite: None

HIST 390B: The Roots of Power: The History of Modern Agriculture

Coordinators: Geneviève Dubuc and Zachary Crouch

Faculty Sponsor: Jessica Wang

Agricultural roots are deeply ingrained in power. The way the food that is delivered to tables has a deep history beyond the farm to table formula. This seminar will follow the dissemination and origins of agricultural biopower and how superstructures such as colonialism and capitalism molded the modern crises of climate change and food sustainability. An examination into these roots will take place through three themes in the course: 

  • Race and Agriculture
  • Imperial Commodities
  • Modern Agricultural Apparatus. 

All students are welcome to join the course.

Course schedule: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2:00 to 3:30 pm (in-person) 

Prerequisite: None

THTR 440C: Colonization and Indigenous African Theatre and Performances

Coordinator: Gituti Weirungu

Faculty Sponsor: Hallie Marshall

This Student Directed Seminar builds a picture of the rich cultural contexts surrounding African theatrical traditions by drawing on African Studies, History, and Theatre. To do so, the course will introduce students to the ways in which theatre, as a concept, has been defined and debated, including careful consideration of how theatre was defined in an African context prior to colonization. 

Students will then be introduced to traditional African theatrical practices, including song, dance, and oral history. The seminar will also consider how colonialism has radically shifted African theatrical traditions by exploring its impact from initial European contact through present day. In this section of the course, students will evaluate the ways in which African theatrical traditions evolved during the post-colonial era, sometimes to the point of near erasure. Students will leave this course with a better understanding of the effect of colonization on African theatrical performances and an enriched understanding of African culture.

Course schedule: Thursdays, 2:00 to 5:00 pm (in-person)

Prerequisite: None

GEOG 442: Counter-cartographies: Maps at the Nexus of Art, Activism and Media

Coordinator: Suyu He

Faculty Sponsor: Luke Bergmann

Counter-mapping, or counter-cartographies, is the practice of disrupting and challenging dominant mapping authorities by making visible the cartographies of communities excluded from official power. In this interdisciplinary hybrid theory-practice seminar we will examine counter-cartographies at the nexus of activism, art, media, and technology. We will explore mapping as a political, artistic, multimedia and collaborative practice. We will examine frameworks and theory of counter-cartographies while experimenting with multimedia and artistic cartographic tools and methods. Theories of feminist, anti-capitalist and decolonial cartographies will examined in this seminar.

Activities include weekly interactive mapping exercises and discussions, a collaborative mapping project and seminar facilitation.

No experience is necessary and students from non-Geography disciplines are encouraged. 

Course schedule:  Wednesdays, 5:00 to 7:00 pm (in-person)

Prerequisite: None

Registration requirements: If you're interested in registering for this seminar, please send an email to student.seminars@ubc with a short letter of interest (400 words or less) 

Letter of interest: Your letter of interest should describe all of the following:

  • Your disciplinary background
  • Interest in the course 
  • Exposure to cartographies and anti-oppression theories

ASTU 400H: Music Cognition

Coordinator: Rebecca Jourard 

Faculty Sponsor: Rebecca Todd

Music Cognition is an interdisciplinary orchestration of cognitive sciences (studying how the brain and mind function) and music studies (the analysis, creation, and performance of music) to explore the perception, processing, and production of organized sound as it relates to the brain. 

This seminar will explore Input (Perception and Attention), Process (First process: Categorization and Executive Functioning; Second process: Emotion, Memory, and Taste/Identity), and Output (Performance and Decision Making) in a collaborative, student-led environment. With creative rigour, music and cognition students alike will critically analyze, synthesize, and co-create musical experiences and texts - creating emergent interdisciplinary connections to better understand why and how we make music. 

Course schedule: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 5:00 to 6:30 pm (in-person)

Prerequisite: Restricted to upper-level students majoring or minoring in one of: MUSC, COGS, PSYC, or similar; OR having taken a 100 or 200-level PSYC, MUSC, or COGS course. 

Registration requirements: Before registering in this course, please fill out the application of intent form. You will be admitted based on fulfilling year-level and program or course requirements and/or statements of intent depending on demand/space in the course. 

Application of intent: Please answer the following questions:

  • Why do you want to take the course?
  • What experience (in music, cognition, or both) would you bring to the learning environment?
  • What do you hope to learn through this experience?

Submit your application of intent

To register for this course, please contact

HIST 390C: From Spectacle to Dependence: Tracing the Journey of How Electricity Became Integral to Modern Society

Coordinator: Alfred Goy

Faculty Sponsor: Dr. Alexi Kojevnikov

Electricity, the lifeblood of modern life that almost slips under the radar. The extent of electricity’s influence in our everyday life may as well be omnipresent, from complex computers that connect our world, to simple lighting that let you work far past nature’s time cycles, electricity is everywhere, and yet its history remains clouded. This seminar traces that journey of electricity and society. Throughout this journey we will cover the height of electricity’s spectacle in the grand world fairs of the late 19th century, its role as a modernization agent and tool of state power in national electrification projects and massive hydroelectric dams that inspired state awe in the 20th century, and finally the future electricity may offer, good and bad, as the world warms.

Some examples of ideas that we'll explore in this seminar:

  • Electricity and its connection to modernization and state power
  • How electricity entered the consumer's home
  • Electricity's impact on the climate

Course schedule: Tuesdays, 5:00 to 7:00 pm (in-person)

Prerequisite: None

POLI 308: The Politics of the Downtown Eastside

Coordinator: Felicia Slogoski

Faculty Sponsor: Matthew Wright

The academic focus of this seminar is to analyze the socio-political issues impacting Vancouver's Downtown Eastside (DTES), including critically exploring government and policy responses to these issues. Each week, this course will  critically analyze a specific socio-political topic each week that affects the communities of the DTES, including thematic areas such as poverty, colonization, homelessness, sex work, mental health and addiction, the overdose crisis, public health, and gentrification. Through a critical lens, this course will examine to what extent policies have worked or failed, and consider which policy initiatives have yet to be implemented. This class will also investigate policy responses within the broader Canadian political context, including how different levels of government have worked against the best interests of the DTES. 

To register for this course, please contact

HIST 390E: Coca-Cola and Cigarettes: Histories of the 20th Century Multinational Corporation  Corporation

Coordinator:  Nikki Braun

Faculty Sponsor: William French

Multinational corporations have immense influence on our politics, health, economies, and culture. In this course the origins and later expansion of such corporations will be examined through the case studies of Coca-Cola and Phillip Morris (Marlboro Cigarettes). This course will examine how these companies impacted foreign markets, the companies’  relationship to its "Home" country, and their relationship to ideologies such as Colonialism and Neoliberalism. This course will also explore how these companies affected the culture in their markets through advertising. Other themes, such as health, misinformation, capitalism, imperialism and socialism will be explored through the lens of corporations. 

All students are welcome to join the course. For more information, email

Course schedule: Wednesdays, 5:00 to 7:00 pm (in-person)

Prerequisite: None

Additional resources

If you have questions