First a Biology Major, Then a Biology Concentration: Changes to the Major

First a Biology Major, Then a Biology Concentration: Changes to the Major

Starting next year, students will no longer be able to take BI 105 or BI 106.  The introductory biology classes are being restructured as part of the Biology Department’s larger restructuring of the entire major. BI 105 and BI 106 are being replaced with BI 107 and BI 108. Currently BI 105 focuses on “Unity of Life” and BI 106 focuses on “Diversity of Life,” but the new introductory classes are going to be organized differently. BI 107 is going to focus on cellular and molecular biology, and BI 108 is going to focus on organisms (behavior and physiology) and populations (evolution and ecology). Since BI 105 and 106 were developed in 2004 “the population of students in the course has shifted from mostly biology majors, to a mixture of biology, biochemistry, neuroscience, environmental science plus students in various health professions. The new organization is more user-friendly to this mixed population” said Bernie Possidente, Professor and Chair of the Biology Department.

The current introductory biology classes have to be taken in order (105 and then 106) but with the restructuring of the new courses, they can be taken in either order. Another change to the introductory biology courses is that they are no longer going to be large team-taught lectures, like there currently is with (BI 105 and 106). Instead, BI 107 and BI 108 are going to replaced with multiple smaller classes that are taught by a single professor. “This will allow greater flexibility for sequencing and time slots, and the newly organized topics are more easily taught by one faculty member with a greater level of expertise in either cell and molecular biology or the biology of organisms and populations,” said Possidente.

The changes to the introductory biology classes are only one part of the larger changes to the biology major. Changes to the biology major will be phased in starting with the class of 2021. Current students will not be impacted by the new major requirements. With the new major students will not concentrate in a specific area of biology until 300 level classes, student collaborative research and science courses taken outside of biology. “The idea is that all our majors will be “Biology” majors, but also have the option of concentrating at the 300-level within the discipline,“ said Possidente. He explained this is being done because the biology department has decided to “re-emphasize the core principles that all life-sciences have in common, and cross-train our majors among the three current concentrations both in the new introductory course and at the 200 level.”

Currently, students have three options for concentrations within the biology major. These concentrations are Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, Molecular Biology, Cell Biology and Genetics or Integrative Biology. In the integrative biology concentration, students may develop their own concentration, or they can elect to put more emphasis on breadth of exposure to different areas of biology. Under the new major, students will have a fourth concentration option, Biomedical Science.

With these new requirements, biology majors are going to be required to take four-science courses outside of biology “either for multidisciplinary breadth, or to facilitate an interdisciplinary interest with a minor in a related science,” said Possidente. Another new requirement for the major will be a course in bio-statistics and a junior seminar focused on scientific communication and post-graduation planning. With the new major, a senior thesis option will also be added to the biology student research courses.

The biology minor is not going to be impacted by the new major requirements. Student’s minoring in biology will still have to take intro to biology (BI107 and BI108), two 200 level classes, two 300 level classes and a chemistry course.  The only difference is those minoring will now take BI107 and BI108 instead of BI105 and BI106.

“The ideas [for the changes] came from approximately three years of assessment, discussion and curriculum development by the entire department faculty with student and alumni input,” said Possidente. Though a lot is changing for the future of the biology department, much is staying the same. He added, “we continue to emphasize student collaborative research in the biology curriculum, and even though it’s not required, over 90% of our majors do one or more semesters of research with faculty.”

Photo by Noa Maltzman 

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