Karen Hicks joined the Kenyon faculty in 1999 and teaches courses in genetics and developmental biology as well as introductory lecture and lab classes. Her research focuses on the regulation of reproductive development in land plants in response to photoperiodic seasonal cues. Hicks uses molecular, genetic and genomic approaches to address the mechanism and evolution of photoperiodic regulation in the flowering plant Arabidopsis thaliana and the moss Physcomitrella patens.

Areas of Expertise

Plant molecular and developmental genetics.


1993 — Doctor of Philosophy from Massachusetts Institute Tech

1986 — Bachelor of Science from Swarthmore College

Courses Recently Taught

This is the first laboratory course a student takes and is a prerequisite for all upper-division laboratory courses. Students are introduced to the processes of investigative biology and scientific writing. It is not designed to accompany any particular core lecture course. Laboratories cover topics presented in the core lecture courses, BIOL 115 and 116, and introduce a variety of techniques and topics, including field sampling, microscopy, PCR, gel electrophoresis, enzyme biochemistry, physiology, evolution and population biology. The course emphasizes the development of inquiry skills through active involvement in experimental design, data collection and management, statistical analysis, integration of results with information reported in the literature, and writing in a format appropriate for publication. The year culminates in six-week student-designed investigations that reinforce the research skills developed during the year. Evaluation is based on laboratory notebooks, lab performance, and scientific papers, as well as oral and written presentations summarizing the independent project. Enrollment is limited to 16 students in each section. Students enrolled in this course will be automatically added to BIOL 110Y for the spring semester. Prerequisite: completion or concurrent enrollment in BIOL 115 or equivalent. Required for the major.

How is information generated, transmitted, stored and maintained in biological systems? The endeavor to understand the flow of biological information represents a fundamental undertaking of the life sciences. This course examines the mechanisms of heredity, the replication and expression of genetic information and the function of genes in the process of evolution, with an emphasis on the tools of genetics and molecular biology to address research questions in these areas. This course is required for the major and as such, Biology majors should take this class prior to the junior year. Prerequisite: BIOL 115, permission of instructor, or equivalent. Offered every year. Required for the major.

Students volunteer weekly at Knox Community Hospital, College Township Fire Department, or another designated health provider. We study health research topics including articles from biomedical journals. The academic portion of the class will meet as a three-hour seminar. Students read and critique articles on topics such as: diabetes in the community; pain-killers and drug addiction; AIDS and STIs; influenza transmission; and socioeconomic status and health disparities. Outside of class, students will have four hours/week reading, and a minimum of four hours/week service. Student assignments will include keeping a journal on their service and class presentations related to the reading and their service. This counts toward the upper-level organismal biology/physiology requirement for the major. Prerequisite: one year of biology or chemistry and permission of instructor.

This course will focus on the analysis of genomic and transcriptomic data obtained through next-generation sequencing technologies. Topics will include genome sequencing and assembly, polymorphism and variant analysis, population and evolutionary genomics, differential expression, co-expression networks and data visualization. Readings will largely be drawn from the primary literature, and will include a combination of methods articles and research articles that apply these methods to address biological questions. Students will carry out their own analyses by applying these methods to available datasets. Programming will mainly be done in R and unix; familiarity with R is expected. This can count either as an upper-level course in cellular/molecular biology or as an upper-level laboratory, and also serves as an intermediate level course in scientific computing. Prerequisite: BIOL 116 and either BIOL 109-110Y or STAT 106, or permission of instructor. May be offered in alternating years.

This course introduces both principles and experimental approaches related to heredity in a wide variety of organisms. Topics will include classical transmission genetics, chromosomal structure, extranuclear heredity, population and evolutionary genetics and molecular analysis of genes and chromosomes. As genetic analysis can be used to dissect many biological processes, we also will address how geneticists approach problems and advance scientific understanding, focusing our discussions around primary literature. This counts toward the upper-level cellular/molecular requirement for the major. Prerequisite: BIOL 116. Generally offered every year.

This laboratory course introduces both genetic concepts and genetic approaches commonly used to understand biological processes, including both forward and reverse genetic approaches. We will primarily use the model plant Physcomitrium patens as our experimental organism, although the techniques used in this course can be applied to any organism amenable to genetic analysis. Prerequisite: BIOL 109Y-110Y and 116. Prerequisite or corequisite: BIOL 255. This counts toward the upper-level laboratory requirement.

This course addresses the mechanisms responsible for building multicellular eukaryotic organisms, framed in the context of the evolution of developmental processes and patterns. We will explore the similarities in molecular and cellular mechanisms governing development across broad groups of organisms, as well as the changes in these processes that have resulted in novel forms. Class discussions will be based on primary literature as well as other texts, with particular attention devoted to the experimental basis for current scientific understanding. This counts toward the upper-level cellular/molecular biology requirement for the major. Prerequisite: BIOL 116 and any 200-level BIOL course. Generally offered every other year.

This course offers an in-depth research experience. Prior to enrollment in this course, students are expected to complete at least one semester of BIOL 385 and participate in the Summer Science Scholars program. Two semesters of BIOL 385 are recommended. Emphasis is on completion of the research project. Students also are instructed in poster production and produce one or more posters of their honors work for presentation at Kenyon and possibly at outside meetings. There will be oral progress reports, and students draft the Introduction and Methods section of the honors thesis. The letter grade is determined by the instructor and project advisor in consultation with the department. Students must have an overall GPA of at least 3.33 and a GPA of 3.33 in biology. Permission of instructor and department chair required. Prerequisite: BIOL 385 and permission of project advisor and department chair.

This course continues the honors research project and gives attention to scientific writing and the mechanics of producing a thesis. A thesis is required and is defended orally to an outside examiner. The letter grade is determined by the instructor and project advisor in consultation with the department. Permission of instructor and department chair required. Prerequisite: BIOL 385 and 497.

In this course, we will learn to collect, analyze, evaluate, interpret, criticize and communicate scientific data. Course activities will include tutorials on mathematical and computational tools as well as group exercises in data analysis. Workshops will explore critical reading of primary scientific sources, effective oral presentation of data, and sound technical writing. Students will apply their learning to a research project collecting, assessing and presenting original data. This course is held during pre-orientation. Enrollment is limited.