Frequently Asked Questions

Prospective Students:

First Year Students:



Career Decisions:


General Biology Resources:

Who should I contact if I have any questions about the major? See any member of the biology faculty. The department chair, Bill Lamberts, is especially helpful concerning administrative issues in the major.

What classes should a potential biology major take in their first semester? Along with First Year Seminar , we recommend that Introduction to Cell and Molecular Biology (Biol 121), Introduction to Chemical Structure and Properties (CHEM 125) along with its lab (CHEM 201), and an elective fulfilling a requirement of the Core Curriculum be taken in the fall. In the spring,along with First Year Seminar, we recommend Introduction to Organismal Biology (Biol 221), Reactivitiy I (CHEM 251), and either another Core-fulfilling elective or a math course (e.g., MATH 119, 123, or 124).

Do I need to take calculus, organic chemistry or physics? No, these courses are not required for a biology major. However, because of the central importance of chemistry, mathematics, and physics in understanding biological systems, most biology students do take these courses. In addition, they are required by many graduate and professional schools. Consult with your academic advisor for individualized suggestions.

When and how do I formally declare my major (or minor) as biology? You usually declare a major in the spring semester of your sophomore year. Forms for declaration of a major are available from the registrar or from the department chair. These forms are best completed in consultation with your academic advisor. The process for declaring a minor is similar to that of declaring a major.

How and when do I find and academic advisor? In the spring of a student's first year, the registrar sends each student a card on which they need to obtain the signature of the faculty member whom they would like as their advisor. It is best to select an advisor who has knowledge in the area in which you are interested. Below is a list of the recommended advisors for various areas of interest.

I am interested in the environmental studies minor and major. Where can I find more information? Visit the Environmental Studies website or talk with the director: Dr. Derek Larson

I am interested in medical school? What classes do I need to take? Where can I get more information? Medical schools will accept students from any major if they have a good science background and do well on the MCAT exam. See the Pre-medicine Progam web site or contact the pre-med advisors, Dr. Manuel Campos (biology), Dr. David Mitchell (biology) or Dr. Jeffrey Anderson (peace studies) for more information.

Who do I contact for information about the other pre-professional programs such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, pharmacy, medical technology, dentistry and veterinary medicine, genetic counseling, forensic science, forestry?

See the Health Pre-Professional programs website for information about:

  • Pre-physician's assistant: advisors Drs. Manual Campos and David Mitchell (biology)
  • Pre-occupational therapy: advisor Dr. Manual Campos (biology)
  • Pre-dental: advisor: Dr. David Mitchell (biology)
  • Pre-optometry: advisors: Drs. Manual Campos and David Mitchell (biology)
  • Pre-veterinary medicine: advisor:   (biology)
  • Pre-Pharmacy: advisor: Dr. Ed McIntee (chemistry)
  • Forensic Science: Dr. Mike Reagan
  • Forestry: advisor Dr. Steve Saupe (biology)
  • Genetic Counseling: Dr. Mike Reagan (biology)

What, and where, is the Herbarium? A herbarium is a collection of pressed, dried, and identified plants; in essence, a plant morgue. The biology department's herbarium is the largest in the state after that at the University of Minnesota. It has more than 25,000 specimens of vascular and non-vascular plants and fungi. Dr. Saupe is the curator of the herbarium, which is located in Peter Engel Science Center 329.

What, and where, is the science museum? Located in the New Science Building, the Herbert & Birdella Hall Natural Science Museum houses a large collection of mammals, birds, and insects. There is a display area with several exhibits and a large conference table that can be used for studying. Dr. P Chu and Dr. J Poff are the curators of the museum.

Does the biology department hire work-study students? Yes, there are many students with work-study appointments in the biology department. Among the positions available are greenhouse assistants, teaching assistants for various courses, office assistants for faculty, and research assistants to help with faculty research projects. Generally, you will need a work-study award from the financial aid office to be considered for a work-study position.

Are there opportunities for students to do research? The department strongly encourages students to participate in research. You may enroll in BIOL 372A (Biological Research) and design an individualized project in collaboration with a faculty member. Some students remain on campus during the summers and conduct research with a faculty member. Still others complete projects as a part of the Honors program. Alternately, you can simply help out in the lab/field; the main thing is to get involved! The summer research program begins to look to hire people in January.  Check out this link for opportunities for summer 2013.

What equipment does the biology department use for teaching and research? The department has adequate facilities to conduct most types of biological research. In addition to the usual assortment of lab equipment (e.g., pH meters, balances, pipetters, growth chambers), the department has a scintillation counter, scanning and transmission electron microscopes, UV-visible scanning spectrophotometer, centrifuges, microplate reader, Gilson respirometer, fraction collector, laminar flow hoods, gas-liquid chromatograph, high pressure liquid chromatograph, cell counter, and an ultra-centrifuge just to name a few items. The department also has access to excellent computing facilities. In addition, the two campuses provide an outstanding opportunity for field research in virtually any local habitat

Is the biology department faculty involved in research? The biology department faculty are involved in a variety of research projects. Visit the biology faculty profiles to learn about the faculty's research interests.

What can I do when I graduate with a biology major? There are many opportunities open to a person with a biology degree. For example, some of our recent graduates have entered graduate and professional (medicine, dentistry, physical therapy, business, and law) schools, while others have found employment in a variety of areas such as lab technicians, pharmaceutical sales, teaching, the Peace Corps, and public interest groups (e.g., Sierra Club).

How large are biology classes? The size of biology classes is variable. The Biology 121 course, our largest, has approximately 40 students per section, though for second semester, classes are considerably smaller. Upper division biology classes generally have no more than 30 students and can have as few as 10. Labs, excluding Biology 121, are usually fewer than 16 students.

What do you recommend in order to do well in Biology 121? At a bare minimum, attend class and take copious notes. Complete the assigned readings and think about the material. Avoid simple memorization; strive to understand rather than memorize. Spend time going over your notes and correlating them with readings to try to see where confusion might lie. As for studying, we recommend two hours for every hour spent in class. It's better to study throughout the semester rather than to cram before exams. Develop good study habits and learn to budget your time.

What do I do if I'm not doing well in my classes? Above all, talk to your instructor at the first sign of trouble. Don't wait until it's too late. Ask for study tips, exam taking tips, etc. Studying in groups is often helpful. The CSB/SJU Advising Offices and Counseling Services can also help. Tutors are available at no cost. Your lab T.A. may also be available to help you.

What is the biology club? Can anyone join? The Biology Club is a student organization that focuses on biology oriented activities. The group takes field trips, goes camping, bring speakers to campus, sponsors fund raisers, organizes social events, and participates in various activities such as the campus deer count and trail building. Membership is open to all students; biology majors are especially encouraged to join. Meetings are held regularly. Notices about dates and times are posted in the Science Building. Join us!