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By graduation a Biology Major from Amherst College should be able to:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of biological principles and the ability to make connections across different levels of biological organization, from molecules to cells to whole organisms, populations, communities, and ecosystems.
  • Use an inquiry-based approach to science; form and articulate testable hypotheses and to design appropriate investigative approaches to test them.
  • Apply basic laboratory and field techniques used in a variety of biological sub-disciplines, and demonstrate the quantitative skills necessary to interpret data and
  • Read, comprehend, and critically evaluate primary biological literature.
  • Communicate and articulate biological ideas effectively, both orally and in writing.
  • Understand and appreciate the structural and systemic barriers to access and participation of marginalized individuals within STEM fields.

Determination of whether Amherst graduates have achieved the learning goals of the major:

  • Major Requirements: Students demonstrate breadth of knowledge by completing our two-course introductory sequence (BIOL-181: Adaptation and the Organismand & BIOL-191: Molecules, Genes and Cells) and five courses among our advanced course offerings, which are divided into three distribution areas: (i) molecular and cellular mechanisms, (ii) integrative processes, and (iii) evolutionary explanations. The major requirements also stipulate that students take five semesters of laboratory coursework in Biology, along with a minimum of four additional courses in Chemistry (with laboratory), Physics (with laboratory), and Mathematics (including Statistics).  Many of these laboratory courses utilize an inquiry-based approach to learning, and through them, students learn a variety of practical laboratory and field techniques. Our advanced courses, in particular our seminar courses, require that students engage with the primary literature, write extensively, and make oral presentations. Our equity and inclusion requirement ensures that majors are exposed to the structures and systems that currently limit the ability of marginalized groups to enter and thrive within STEM fields from education and training through to careers.

  • Comprehensive Requirement: All Biology majors must fulfill the department’s comprehensive requirement, which has two components that are completed during a student’s senior year: (i) attendance at weekly Biology seminars and (ii) a 30-min oral examination on a topic of central importance in Biology. The topic of the comprehensive examination is selected by the student, but the specific questions—which are drawn from a range of sub-disciplines—are determined by the two faculty examiners and are not given to students in advance.  Comprehensive examinations are administered and evaluated without knowledge of student GPA.  Students who do not meet expectations in their oral comprehensive examinations are required to research and write an essay on a subject that was poorly articulated.

  • Senior Thesis: Each year, 50-60% of our majors undertake a senior thesis, providing them an opportunity to pursue a research project under the supervision of a faculty mentor.  Independent work toward a senior thesis counts for three courses of Amherst College credit and culminates in the production of a scholarly document of approximately 80-100 pages.  Many of these result in presentations at national meetings and/or publications in peer-reviewed journals.  Each thesis student gives two public presentations attended by Biology and other departmental faculty, staff, and students; in the first, they articulate their study objectives and methods and in the second they give an oral defense of their entire thesis.

  • Post-Graduation Outcomes: Data on post-graduation outcomes for Biology majors, particularly matriculation in graduate programs or medical schools, as well as post-graduate fellowships and scholarships, are routinely gathered by the department. Feedback from Biology Alumni is always appreciated.

Last Updated:
20 August 2020 JGT