Sep 27, 2023  
College Catalog 2021-2022 
College Catalog 2021-2022 [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Biology Major

Major Requirements

All biology majors will complete a common core of biology courses and additional supporting courses. The purpose of the core courses is to give students exposure to the breadth of the field of biology and to provide them with essential knowledge and competencies in the areas of genetics, cell biology, ecology, and evolution that, together, will give them the necessary background and tools they need to excel in whatever area  of biology they choose to pursue.

Following the core courses, an appropriate course of study at the undergraduate level will vary from student to student depending upon the student’s interests and career goals. For example, students majoring in biology may choose to take a broad course of study in the discipline thus maximizing exposure to major disciplinary concepts and providing a strong background for specialization at the graduate level. Alternatively, biology majors may choose to focus on a particular subdiscipline of biology or on the intersection of biology with another discipline.

After core and intermediate level study, biology majors often participate in a research experience at the advanced level, which is empirical in nature (i.e. based on the testing of an hypothesis through observation or experimentation.) Ordinarily, students complete this research during their junior or senior year after significant coursework in biology and supporting disciplines has been completed.

Effective catalog-Students are normally expected to satisfy the major or minor requirements in effect at the time of the declaration of their biology major. The requirements for a major in biology are: 32 credits in biology (consisting of four core courses and four upper level courses) and three supporting courses (12 credits), for 44 total required credits.  Students may count only one course from Biology 470-478 or one independent study or internship toward their biology major. Transfer students wanting to graduate from Macalester with a major in biology must take at least four 4-credit biology courses at Macalester, only one of which can be an internship or independent. Biology majors wishing to take a biology or supporting course at an institution other than Macalester must check with the department chair prior to taking the course, at which time the chair will let the student know whether the course will count toward the student’s major in biology.

Required courses in biology for the major:

1. Introductory Courses

BIOL 170 - Ecology and the Environment  
BIOL 180 - Biodiversity and Evolution 
BIOL 190 - Genetics 
BIOL 200 - Cell Biology 

BIOL 170 , BIOL 180 , and BIOL 190  may be taken in any order, have no prerequisites, are suitable for first year and sophomore students, and each have associated laboratory sections. BIOL 190  and CHEM 112  are prerequisites for BIOL 200 BIOL 200  is recommended for sophomore students. Ideally, the core courses should be completed by the end of the sophomore year and prior to studying abroad, and must be completed no later than the end of the junior year. 

2. Upper Level Courses

Four upper level biology courses, at least two with laboratory. Limits on credits for off-campus courses: A student may, with the permission of the department chair, count one course taken on an off-campus program (i.e. Study Away) towards the major. A maximum of two courses in biology taken at other universities or colleges (including foreign universities or off-campus programs) may be counted towards the major at the discretion of the department chair.

3. Capstone Requirement

The biology capstone represents an opportunity for students to integrate their knowledge and skills, engage with the primary literature, to write an independent paper that addresses an interesting biological question and to  communicate their findings to the department. The capstone experience in biology includes both a paper and a presentation. Seniors must also participate in all departmental senior capstone meetings.

The capstone paper must be written after completion of the core courses, and prior to the student’s last semester as a senior (end of fall semester for most graduating seniors). The written portion of the capstone can be fulfilled by successfully completing: 

(1) a multi-draft peer-reviewed paper in an approved upper level course taken in junior or senior year; or 

(2) a paper based on an independent project undertaken after the sophomore year; or 

(3) an honors project.  

In order to fulfill the written component of the capstone using option #1, students in such courses must produce a final paper that synthesizes information from the primary literature and adheres to author guidelines for scientific journals (and/or funding agencies) as directed by the course professor.  The course must be taken after completion of the core courses, during junior or senior year, and the paper must achieve a grade of B- or higher in order to count as a capstone paper. A copy of the final instructor-approved paper should be forwarded to the Chair of the department. 

With regards to option #2, after completion of the core courses, research conducted during the summer(s) following the sophomore and/or junior year or during study away may also fulfill the written component of the capstone if of a sufficiently independent nature and the student produces a paper that meets the capstone expectations; such papers must be approved by the Chair. Students who choose to use a summer research experience as the basis for their capstone are expected to enroll in a 1-credit independent project (BIOL 611) in the Fall when they can write up the results of their research in consultation with a faculty member. The paper should be approved by the summer research advisor and independent project advisor (if different). Students writing their capstone papers in the same semester using option #2 are strongly encouraged to participate in peer review of each others’ papers; such peer review will be facilitated by the project advisor(s).

Senior students may also complete the written component with an Honor’s Thesis. Honors Projects must be based on independent research, which is not the case for other types of capstone papers. Please see the department’s website for additional information on doing an Honors Thesis in Biology.

To fulfill the oral component of the capstone, students will give a public presentation spring semester of Senior year (spring of junior year for December graduates) during Senior Capstone Presentation Days. The focus of the talk may or may not be related to the topic explored in the capstone paper but must be focused on a significant biological question.

Supporting courses for the biology major:

A strong background in supporting sciences is important to all students studying biology. Many core concepts in biology have their foundation in the physical sciences and mathematics. Furthermore, the work of biologists continues to become more interdisciplinary. For these reasons, all majors must complete an approved set of supporting courses.

Required supporting courses:

CHEM 111 - General Chemistry I: Structure and Equilibrium  
CHEM 112 - General Chemistry II: Energetics and Reactivity  or CHEM 115 - Accelerated General Chemistry 
STAT 155 - Introduction to Statistical Modeling  (see math/statistics guidelines below)

Note: Students with sufficient prior background in chemistry, and with approval from the Chemistry Department, may be exempted from taking CHEM 111  and may enroll directly into CHEM 112  or CHEM 115  .

Math/Statistics Guidelines

All students must enroll in STAT 155 - Introduction to Statistical Modeling .

The Biology major does not require calculus, but some elective courses for the major and/or required courses for the Biochemistry emphasis require a prerequisite of MATH 137 - Applied Multivariable Calculus II PHYS 227 - Principles of Physics II  and CHEM 311 - Thermodynamics and Kinetics . Students who plan to take CHEM 312 - Quantum Chemistry and Spectroscopy  are advised to take MATH 237 - Applied Multivariable Calculus III . MATH 237 - Applied Multivariable Calculus III  is appropriate for students who have a strong high school calculus background at the level of AP calculus with a BC score of 4 or higher. MATH 135 - Applied Multivariable Calculus I  s appropriate for students who have not had any high school calculus or who have had a high school calculus at the level of AP calculus with an AB score of 3 or lower. MATH 137 - Applied Multivariable Calculus II  s appropriate for students who have had a year of high school calculus at the level of AP calculus with an AB score of 4 or higher.

Elective supporting courses:

One additional elective supporting course is required for the biology major. A 100-level biology course taken during the first semester may count as a supporting course. other elective supporting courses include: ANTH 115 - Biological Anthropology , ANTH 239 - Medical Anthropology ANTH 240 - Human Osteology and Paleopathology , CHEM 211 - Organic Chemistry I , COMP 123 - Core Concepts in Computer Science ENVI 275 - Outdoor Environmental Education in Theory, Policy and Practice , GEOG 225 - Introduction to Geographic Information Systems , GEOL 165 - History/Evolution of Earth , GEOL 300 - Paleobiology MATH 135 - Applied Multivariable Calculus I , MATH 137 - Applied Multivariable Calculus II MATH 237 - Applied Multivariable Calculus III , STAT 125 - Epidemiology , PHYS 226 - Principles of Physics I , PSYC 180 - Brain, Mind, and Behavior  or another course approved by the Chair.

Selection of the elective supporting courses should be made in consultation with the student’s advisor and must be approved by the Chair. Long-term goals typially will influence the choice of supporting courses. For example, students interested in a career in medicine or research in the biomedical sciences normally should complete a year of organic chemistry and a year of introductory physics. Students interested in pursuing an ecology path should consider taking a GIS (Geographic Information Systems) course, intermediate or advanced math or statistics, and/or a geology course. Students planning a career as a science educator at the primary or secondary level should consider taking supporting courses in several of the science departments, as well as courses from the Educational Studies Department.

Individualizing the Biology Major

In consultation with one or more biology faculty members, each student will develop a major plan by choosing appropriate electives in biology and supporting disciplines. By their choice of electives, students may explore a variety of biological subdisciplines or focus on one or two areas of study. For example, students may design majors that focus on such areas as ecology; evolution; immunology and microbiology; genetics, cell and developmental biology; plant biology; biochemistry; or neurobiology. Biology majors interested in attending medical school after graduation should refer to the “Premedical Program” in the “Special Programs” section of this catalog and should consult a premedical advisor as early as possible in their planning process.

Requirements for the major with added emphasis

Increasingly, biological scientists address questions by working in groups that are interdisciplinary in nature. Thus, interdisciplinary fields of study have emerged that cannot be adequately covered within a single department. Biochemistry can be explored through an added emphasis to a biology major. Students choosing such a major will have this noted on their transcript (e.g. Biology Major with Added Emphasis in Biochemistry). In all cases, students must successfully complete the full set of requirements for the biology major. It is expected that the required senior presentation will be in the area of the student’s emphasis. Students should configure their electives in consultation with a biology faculty member using the following guidelines:

Requirements for a Major in Biology with Added Emphasis in Biochemistry

Students with a strong interest in pursuing more in-depth study of biochemistry may want to major in biology with an added emphasis in biochemistry. This emphasis is also a good option for students interested in medical school and/or graduate study in any biomedical field. Students choosing this option will have this noted on their transcripts as Biology Major (Biochemistry). To earn an emphasis in biochemistry, students must complete all of the requirements of the biology major, with four upper-level courses consisting of BIOL 351 - Biochemistry I  and BIOL 352 - Biochemistry II , and two others, one of which must have a lab. In addition, CHEM 212 - Organic Chemistry II CHEM 311 - Thermodynamics and Kinetics  and PHYS 227 - Principles of Physics II  must be taken.  Advanced electives in biology or chemistry are encouraged. Substitution of an advanced chemistry course for a biology elective needs the approval of the chair. Because two of the required supporting courses (CHEM 311  and PHYS 227 ) have MATH 137 - Applied Multivariable Calculus II  as a prerequisite, students pursuing an added emphasis in biochemistry need to plan their math course(s) accordingly.