Department Requirements

Information for Biology Majors:

 Requirements for the Minor in Biology. The minor consists of five courses in the department exclusive of independent study and courses below the 1100 level. Minors are required to complete Biology 1102 or 1109, and two courses to be taken from two of three core groups.

Requirements for the Major in Biology. The major consists of eight courses in the department exclusive of independent study and courses below the 1100 level.  Majors are required to complete Biology 1102 or 1109, and three of the twelve core courses. Core courses are divided into three groups. One course must be taken from each group. Majors are also required to complete four elective courses, at least two of which have to be above 2500.

Group 1

Bio 2112: Genetics and Molecular Biology
Bio 2135: Neurobiology
Bio 2175: Developmental Biology
Bio 2118: Microbiology
Bio 2124: Biochemistry and Cell Biology

Group 2

Bio 2210: Plant Ecophysiology
Bio 2135: Neurobiology
Bio 2214: Comparative Physiology
Bio 2175: Developmental Biology

Group 3

Bio 2315: Behavioral Ecology and Population Biology
Bio 2316: Evolution
Bio 2319: Biology of Marine Organisms
Bio 2325: Biodiversity and Conservation Science
Bio 2330  Marine Molecular Ecology and Evolution

Majors must also complete, Mathematics 1700 (or above) or Math 1600 and one of the following: Math 1300, Psych 2520.  Additional requirements are Physics 1130 (or any physics course that has a prerequisite of Physics 1130), Chemistry 1102 or Chemistry 1109, and Chemistry 2250. Students are advised to complete Biology 1102 or 1109 and the mathematics, physics, and chemistry courses by the end of the sophomore year.

Students planning postgraduate education in science or the health professions should note that graduate and professional schools are likely to have additional admissions requirements in mathematics, physics, and chemistry.

Advanced placement credits may not be used to fulfill any of the course requirements for the major.

Students should check in with Pam Bryer (Hatch 206B) at either the end of their junior year or the beginning of their senior year as to their progress towards the major requirements.

Biology Majors are encouraged to attend the department seminars offered throughout the fall and spring semesters.

*Students may not count Credit/D/Fail courses toward the Biology major or minor.

Planning for Off-Campus Study

1. The Biology Department encourages students to take advantage of intellectual and cultural experiences not normally available at Bowdoin. For example, larger institutions often offer advanced seminars and a wider variety of courses in Biology. Students also have an opportunity to meet undergraduates, graduate students and faculty with different perspectives and backgrounds. However, for someone who intends to complete a major in Biology, the decision to study away demands careful planning in advance.

2. None of the specific courses required for a major in Biology have to be taken at Bowdoin, although the requirements of the major must be satisfied by courses listed in the college catalogue or by equivalent courses at other institutions.

3. Students who do not continue their core curriculum in Biology while away sometimes have problems completing their major on their return. Students planning to study away should begin consulting with their advisor and at least one member of the Biology faculty as early as possible, preferably during their sophomore year.

4. Careful planning is particularly important for students considering honors thesis research during the senior year. Such students should consult with prospective thesis advisors before studying away.

5. Students studying away should be aware of the need to complete prerequisites before taking upper level courses, and note that some courses in the Biology Department are offered only in alternate years.

6. Three-credit courses of appropriate level and content are generally accepted towards the Biology major/minor as equivalent to single courses at Bowdoin (the actual Bowdoin credit equivalent is determined by the Registrar's office).  Final decisions about awarding credit toward the major for courses taken at other institutions will be made following a careful review of the course content and the student's performance in the course.

Students should obtain sufficient documentation about the proposed courses well in advance of studying away, and seek provisional approval of the planned program of study from Pam Bryer (Hatch 206B), the Biology Department Off Campus Study Advisor.

 7. A Biology Department Off Campus Study Provisional Approval Form needs to be submitted to be kept on file in the Biology Department. Courses that are too narrow in focus or taken strictly in the lab or field are unlikely to be acceptable substitutes for Bowdoin core courses, although they may earn credit to satisfy the requirement for additional courses at the 100 or 250+ level.

8. Upon return to Bowdoin, students should see Pam Bryer to confirm final approval for courses taken while off campus.

Frequently Asked Questions

 1.  Can core courses count as electives? Yes, any core course taken in addition to the 3 cores required for the major may count as a 100+ elective.

2. Can Independent Study/honors count as an elective? No, independent study/honors

courses do not count toward the 8 courses needed for the Biology major. They do of

course count for Bowdoin credit.

3. How do I know if a course I plan to take somewhere other than Bowdoin, whether

abroad or in the US, summer or academic year, can count as credit toward my

Biology major/minor? You need to make an appointment with Pam Bryer before you

take the course to determine what, if any, credit may be given. You will need to bring as

much information to the meeting as possible, including a course description, syllabus,

and textbook information (if available).

4. I want to take the physics (or math, or chemistry) required for the Biology major

during the summer. How do I get that approved by the Biology department? You

need to get approval from the Physics (or Math or Chemistry) Department before you

take that course. That department will need to see a course description, syllabus, etc. to

determine if the course you plan to take is equivalent to its Bowdoin counterpart. If that

Department approves the transfer of credit then the Biology Department will approve the

course for the Biology major.

5. I took a course that can be counted toward the Biology major Credit/D/Fail before I

decided I wanted to major in Biology. May I count that course toward my major?

No, all courses required for the major, including the chemistry, math and physics required

courses must have a letter grade.

6. I received a D in orgo and am not doing so well in one of my Biology courses. If I

receive a D in that Biology course will I be able to still count it toward one of my 8

courses for the major? No, only one D is allowed in all courses required for the major.

That includes the physics, chemistry, and math requirements. In addition, that one D

must be offset by an A or B grade in another course required for the major.

7. I think I have most of my requirements done for my Biology major/minor. How can

I be sure I’m on track? You should always check in with your advisor, but you also

may check with Pam Bryer. She goes over the transcripts of all Biology majors and

minors several times during the year to check on student progress. At the beginning of

your senior year you will receive a letter from her listing the courses you will need to

complete during your senior year in order to complete the major/minor.

Student Research

Research projects are arranged with the approval and advice of a sponsoring faculty member, and are usually closely related to that person's on-going research. Students seriously considering research should contact members of the faculty with whom they might want to do a project to discuss research options, time commitments, etc., in order to reach a mutually agreed-upon project of the student's design. The academic year is not the only time a student may pursue research within the biology department.

Many students work on research projects during the summer at facilities such as the Coastal Studies Center or the Bowdoin Scientific Station at Kent Island. Often students work on with faculty members who have received grants. Juniors often start their research project in the summer before their senior year and continue that research throughout the academic year, culminating in an honors project.

Seniors have also been able to continue their research through the summer after graduating. To aid students in their research, a number of options are available. Periodically, fellowships from different granting agencies and foundations are made available for the purpose of supporting undergraduate research, and faculty often have stipends on their research grants specifically for student support.

The following are the minimum requirements for honors in biology:

1.  Candidates for honors must have a grade-point average equivalent to a "B" in all Biology courses (other than independent study) and in all other courses submitted for the major (including mathematics, chemistry and physics courses) through their senior year. Under special circumstances the department will consider granting exceptions to this requirement. Exceptions to this requirement will be considered by the entire faculty of the department after oral petition on behalf of the student by the faculty mentor.

2.  Candidates must demonstrate a serious commitment to participate in departmental programs and are required to attend the majority of Biology Department seminars. Candidates are also required to participate in the Senior Honors Seminar series.

3.  During their senior year candidates must complete two semesters of Independent Study (at the 4000-level) devoted to research on a single topic.

4. Candidates submit a preliminary research paper to their research advisor in November and a revised version to primary and secondary reviewers in early December.

5. Each honors student presents a short, public talk describing his or her project in the Fall semester during Reading Period.

In January, students will be invited into the honors program by the Biology faculty based on the review of their work and academic standing.

6. Candidates submit a thesis to their research advisor in early-mid April and a revised version to primary and secondary reviewers in late April-early May.

7. Final Honors Presentations will take place at the end of the Spring semester during Reading Period.

8.  Favorable departmental consideration of the Honors thesis and oral presentation are necessary for honors distinction.  Requirements for the preparation of the thesis are established by the Faculty and may be obtained from the Librarian. 

To learn more about independent study and honors research in Biology, you can talk with faculty in the Biology Department or consult the Requirements for Honors webpage: