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Back-to-school fervour isn't only for fresh-faced McGill undergrads. Anyone can boost their knowledge by signing up for the McGill Minis.
The McGill Minis is a faculty-based lecture series, originally started up by the indefatigable Kappy Flanders, a member of the Board of Governors and Co-Chair of Montreal's Council on Palliative Care.
Flanders got the idea while she was attending a palliative care conference in Dublin. A psychologist she was chatting with told her about his university's Minis and how much the public appreciated them. Inspired, Flanders tracked down the inventor of the Mini formula, John Cohen, a McGill graduate who taught at the University of Colorado, to find out how to set up a Mini series.
She found that close to 80 schools in the United States have embraced the Mini ideal, as well as a few in Europe. The lectures span four to eight weeks, and some charge a modest fee to cover costs of handouts and cookies, and to ensure commitment.
Tools in hand, Flanders approached associate dean of medicineYvonne Steinert with the idea, saying, "I hope you like it, because I think it's great."
The Faculty of Medicine was the first in Canada to offer Minis, in 2001. The Mini Meds were wildly popular, with lectures on topics such as pathology, neuroscience and physiology. Loosely based on what a student learns in the first years in med school, Mini Meds were a way for the lay population to get a fun and informative look at the mechanics of our bodies. The talks had lively titles, like "Pathology: The tissue is the issue," and "The Human Genome: the enigma variations." After a few years of the same curriculum, the faculty designed Mini Med II.
Last year, the Faculties of Music and Law joined in with their own Minis. Flanders says of the judicial version, "I loved Mini-Law because I didn't expect to like it! They made each subject very general: what's a rule, what's a law?" One lecture took the audience through the court system; another on family law was illustrated using famous paintings. Human rights, ethics and law were all given illustrated spins. Even the seemingly dusty topic of contracts was made entertaining by Rosalie Jukier. "I didn't think anyone could make contracts interesting," said Flanders, "but she started by asking the audience, 'Did anyone go to the dry cleaner today? Look at the back of the ticket.'" Contracts are everywhere.
Last spring's Mini-Music caught the attention of educational TV station Canal Savoir, who taped the lectures to be aired this fall. Tagged "From Mozart to Marsalis, from baroque to bebop," the series looked at researching and making music, and the view from the orchestra pit.
The series works because the lecturers are great teachers, who are smart and funny. "Entertaining is very important," Flanders said. "It's hard to keep it simple and without jargon, but not make people feel like idiots even if it is tough to follow."
Some of Montreal's hospitals have joined in with their own Minis, such as the Douglas's Mini-Psych, launched to coincide with their 125th anniversary, and the Children's two Mini Meds, one in English, one in French.
And more yet will join the Mini-fold. Flanders says the Faculties of Arts and Science, as well as the Desautels School of Management, are in the planning stages for programs in 2007. With exam-free classes like these, it's never too late to go back to school.
For information on Mini Law, see www.law.mcgill.ca/minilaw, the class runs Oct. 12 until Nov. 30.
For Mini-Music, see www.music.mcgill.ca/minimusic. Canal Savoir will air the six lectures from Sept. 4 to Dec. 3.