Class of 2021: Your Comps Exam will occur in early spring semester. An email with specific scheduling dates will be sent at the beginning of that semester. See Part II below for details and instructions on the format of your exam.

Dear Biology Majors,

Welcome to your senior year!  This year will include several capstone experiences for you as a Biology major. First, many of you will be taking or have taken a biology seminar course or are delving into a senior Honors research project, these two components are capstones to the Biology curriculum.  In addition, seniors must complete the Biology Comprehensive requirement (see Part I & II below).

IMPORTANT: The comps exam (Part II) requires synthesis of your knowledge and learning across the Biology curriculum, so please keep your course materials for this important senior year exam.

Biology Comprehensive Requirement consists of two parts:
I. Attend Biology Seminars during senior year

Seniors must attend the Monday 4:00 PM Biology Seminars, which are research presentations, ranging from our own student and faculty researchers to outside speakers who have worked many years on a very focused research area.  In all cases, you will be exposed to inquiry-based research in a variety of biological fields.  With the biology courses you have under your belt, you will be able to follow along in depth; if your curiosity is piqued, you will have the opportunity to ask questions, engaging the speaker in more commentary or explanation of their work or their thinking.  These seminars provide an important way to broaden your exposure beyond what you have seen in the classroom.  We look forward to having you be part of our Monday afternoon research gatherings. 

The seminars take place on Mondays at 4:00 PM via Zoom for Fall 2020. In other years, they take place in A011 of the New Science Center, and refreshments are available (if you get there early). The seminar schedule is located at this link: Seminars & Events and emails will be sent with more details.

For this comps requirement to be completed, we will note your attendance in the Zoom attendee list. In other years we have you sign in on an attendance sheet upon arriving to the seminar.  Your attendance is expected at all seminars each semester, please reserve Monday 4-5 PM in your schedule for the fall and spring during your senior year.

If you anticipate or experience conflicts for attending an Amherst Biology seminar, we ask that you make up your absence by attending another seminar of your choice in a related field, either at Amherst College (for example, seminars offered by ENST, BCBP, Neuroscience, etc.) or at one of the five colleges (see the excellent seminar programs at departments at UMASS, for example). Also, it is possible that some of our seminars will be recorded on Zoom, so if you miss a seminar please check with Karen Racz on whether a recording exists. For all missed seminars, you must submit a summary (no longer than a page) of the replacement seminar you attended along with the seminar title, the name of the speaker, and the date, time, and location of the seminar to Karen Racz. You need only make up missed seminars for the weeks when there is a Biology seminar scheduled.

We also encourage you to continue to broaden your exposure and challenge your curiosity beyond just attending all our seminars!

II. Pass the Senior Comprehensive Exam

The Biology Department senior comprehensive exam provides an opportunity for synthesis across the various courses you have taken in the Biology Department.  It also provides the opportunity for a scientific discussion with Biology faculty. 

The comprehensive exam consists of a 30-minute oral examination in the form of a conversation between you and two professors in the Biology department that is focused around one central theme in biology.

Themes to select from: Energy, Information Transfer, Regulation, Sex, and Water. Specifically, you will choose one of these themes and use your coursework to probe this theme at different levels of Biology.  Although your coursework within the major forms the basis of this exam, topics of conversation may venture outside the specifics of your biology courses and you may be asked to draw together ideas across courses or apply what you have learned in novel contexts.

Preparation for your exam: We recommend that you prepare a list of each of the biology courses that you've taken and how your chosen theme enters into and is part of each of these courses.  You should probe the relationship of your chosen theme across all levels of biological organization from the molecular and biochemical to the ecological and evolutionary. We expect that students demonstrate a solid understanding of the ways the theme is relevant to specific courses and fields of study, and note that the strongest exams are those in which students successfully integrate across levels and courses.

Timing and scheduling the exam: The specific timing of the comps exam will vary depending on circumstances within a given academic year. All senior majors are required to take their comps exam during the their senior year.  Students who do not pass the exam will have a second opportunity to complete this requirement for the Biology major. You must reply to the email with directions that is generally sent at the beginning of the semester that the exam will occur. This email from the Biology ADC, Karen Racz will request your availability for dates and times of the exam and also your chosen theme.