Today, genetic information and the manipulation of biological processes affect everybody in economic, legal, and philosophical as well as biological terms. We want Dickinson graduates to be world leaders in having the background to grasp these issues, the competence to access new information, and the motivation to do both. The Biology department uses introductory biology laboratory courses, known as the “BioDiscovery” series, to accomplish these goals.

Advanced Placement for Biology courses

A student who has completed the AP exam in Biology with a score of 4 or 5 will receive credit for one introductory Biology course. Such a student will need to take one additional introductory Biology course before becoming eligible for upper level Biology courses.

Courses appropriate for prospective majors

The following information is a general guide to beginning course work in Biology. The Biology department strongly encourages any student interested in enrolling in a Biology course as the beginning of a potential major in Biology to contact the department chair, Professor Kirsten Guss, for additional information.

The college requires that all students complete two laboratory science courses as part of the distribution requirements. We strongly recommend that this requirement be at least partly completed by students during their first year.

Beginning the introductory biology sequence as a first-year student is particularly important for students considering a major in Biology or Biochemistry & Molecular Biology (B&MB) and students in the Pre-Health Program.

The Biology department offers four introductory 100-level "BioDiscovery" courses (no prerequisites) in each semester. Completing two of these courses the first year is an effective way to satisfy the laboratory science requirement or begin the Biology or B&MB major. To encourage introduction to a broad range of biology topics, it is recommended that students who complete two introductory Biology courses at Dickinson enroll in one course of the following (Biology 122, 125, 126, or 127) and one course of the following (Biology 120, 121, 123, 124, or 129).

The department does not recommend taking two BioDiscovery courses in the same semester. In addition, we also strongly recommend that prospective Biology or B&MB majors begin the chemistry sequence in the first year. Depending on placement, this sequence begins with CHEM 131, General Chemistry with Lab, or CHEM 141, Accelerated General Chemistry with Lab. Both courses are taught only in the fall semester of each year.

For course descriptions and requirements for the major, refer to the Academic Bulletin: Biology.

Courses that fulfill distribution requirements

Division III: 
Any of the BioDiscovery courses, BIOL 120-129

Suggested curricular flow through the major

The Biology major is designed so that students may explore the breadth of Biology offered by the department and choose courses that focus on his/her specific interests within this discipline, and to provide flexibility for those students who study abroad. Two semesters of mathematical sciences (Calculus and/or Statistics) and two semesters of Physics are strongly recommended for students intending graduate study toward an advanced degree in Biology or the health professions.

First Year
Two 100-level BIOL courses
CHEM 131/132, or 141; based on chemistry placement test results

Sophomore Year
Two of the following: BIOL 216, 313, 314, 321, 322
CHEM 241/242

Junior Year
Two or three 300- or 400-level courses not already completed

Senior Year
Two or three 300- or 400-level courses not already completed
Fulfillment of the research experience


The biology faculty will award Honors to a biology major based on the candidate's entire undergraduate biology program. This includes all courses required for the major, the student's grades and the successful completion of a two semester (or summer and semester) research project. A minimum GPA of 3.0 is required in all courses that count toward the major, including CHEM 141, 241, and 242 (or their equivalent) and transfer courses that receive biology credit. The Honors research project should be distinguished by the originality and definition of the research problem, the sophistication of the experimental design and its execution, and the analysis and presentation of the results. The Honors thesis represents the culmination of the process and typically should be of publishable or near publishable quality.  See the department's web page for additional guidelines.

Independent study and independent research

All biology majors must include a research experience as part of their undergraduate program. All biology majors will be required to present the results of their research experience in on campus symposia or at regional or national conferences. This requirement may be satisfied by the successful completion of any one of the following:

  1. an independent research project OR a student/faculty collaborative research project for biology credit;
  2. an off-campus internship with significant research component;
  3. 412 - Seminar;
  4. a research experience not covered by the above but deemed equivalent. Proposals should be submitted to the student's faculty advisor who will determine whether or not the completed experience satisfies the research requirement.

Opportunities for off-campus study

Field Biology Courses at the School for Field Studies. Dickinson is an affiliate of the School for Field Studies (SFS), which offers courses and on-site fieldwork in ecology, behavior, and conservation biology. Students can spend a semester at one of five permanent campus centers to study coastal ecology (British Columbia), wetlands ecology (Mexico), rainforest ecology (Australia), wildlife management (Kenya), or marine ecology (Turks and Caicos Is., Bahamas). A typical semester program would receive two biology and two general Dickinson credits. SFS also has summer courses. The SFS programs afford a unique opportunity for intensive study and active biological research in diverse environments.

Marine and Ecosystem Studies. Dickinson is an affiliate of the Semester in Ecosystem Studies at the Marine Biological Laboratory (Woods Hole, MA) and of the Duke University Marine Laboratory. These programs offer specialized, full-semester options with field and lab courses for biology students.

The Dickinson Science Program in England. Biology students have the opportunity to study for a semester or a year in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in Norwich, England. This Dickinson program is overseen by an on-site Dickinson faculty member who advises students and teaches courses. UEA has an excellent biology program which was recently awarded the highest rating possible for teaching and research by the British government.

The Dickinson Science Program in Australia.  Biology students have the opportunity to study for one semester at the University of Queensland (UQ) in Brisbane, Australia. The University of Queensland offers a variety of outstanding science programs ranging from premedical studies to marine education. Examples of programs in which Dickinson students have participated include ecology of the Great Barrier Reef, human anatomy, and tropical rainforest ecology. UQ was recently selected as "Australia's University of the Year."

Additional Remarks

Careers: A Biology major prepares the individual for entering the work force, for graduate school in the biological sciences, and for the health professions. Recent graduates are active in industry, research, teaching, medicine, and dentistry. 

Further Information: Members of the Biology department welcome inquiries from students at all levels and from academic advisors who may wish additional information. Please call the department academic coordinator, Janice Wiss (717-245-1329) or Jann Ernst (717-245-1296).