Welcome to the Dickinson College Biology Department. We are proud to be the largest science department at the college, graduating an average of 38 students per year with a biology major. Classes are routinely taught by 12 full-time tenured or tenure-track faculty members with PhDs and two or three experienced adjunct instructors. Staff includes two shared administrative assistants and one department technician. The department is also supported by the institutional animal care and instrument technicians.

Our curriculum is broad, diverse, and interdisciplinary, with the flexibility necessary to accommodate the individual interests of students and study abroad opportunities that are hallmarks of a Dickinson education. Topics addressed by courses in the department cover the breadth of biology: from molecules, genes, and cells, through organisms, ecology and evolution and systematic biodiversity, from the classic study of organs, tissues, and structures to the cutting edge of bioinformatics and genomics. Most upper level courses have accompanying labs so that students may explore tools, techniques, and concepts in specific contexts.

Strengths of the biology department include a faculty committed to student learning and development, good teaching, an innovative and well-tested introductory sequence, a diverse offering of effective upper-level courses that evolve with advances in the biological sciences, and the discussion of primary literature in multiple courses.

An additional strength of the department is the practice of offering high quality research experiences for undergraduates. Faculty members publish their work in peer-reviewed journals, frequently with student coauthors.  Biology faculty members are often successful in securing funding from campus and external agencies to support creative curricular endeavors and novel research projects.

The department is housed in beautiful space in the Rector Science Complex, with access to the new Stafford Greenhouse and regional field sites.

Courses appropriate for prospective majors

The Biology department offers introductory courses, BIOL 131: Introduction to Organisms, Populations, and Ecosystems and BIOL 132: Introduction to Molecules, Genes and Cells, every semester. These introductory courses have no prerequisites, and can be taken in either order. Completing one or two of these courses in the first year is a good way to begin the biology major.

We strongly recommend that prospective Biology majors begin the Chemistry sequence in the first year. Depending on math and chemistry placement exam scores, 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.

In fact, if a student is concerned about beginning his/her college career with multiple courses with labs during his/her first semester, we recommend that the student begin with Chemistry. The reason is that the Chemistry courses required for the Biology major occur in two semester sequences (131, 132, then 241, 242), beginning only in the fall. In contrast, Biology courses are unlinked and independent.

Beginning the Chemistry sequence right away, and potentially completing this course work by the end of the sophomore year, gives the student flexibility with respect to study off campus during the junior year and completion of unrequired but recommended coursework, such as mathematical sciences and physics.

Placement exams

Although the biology department does not have a placement exam, the chemistry courses required for the biology major do have placement exams. Students interested in Biology should complete both the math and chemistry placement exams in the summer before their first year.

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

Advanced Placement for Biology courses

A student who has earned a 4 or 5 on the AP exam in Biology will receive one course credit (GNCR 000) at Dickinson. This course counts toward the Lab Sciences (Division III) requirement.

Beginning in Fall 2017, the biology department does not accept AP courses as equivalent to introductory level courses. Students complete both BIOL 131 and 132 (in either order) as prerequisites for upper level coursework.

Courses that fulfill distribution requirements

Laboratory Science: BIOL 131 or 132

Quantitative Reasoning (QR): BIOL 131 or 132

BIOL 131 or BIOL 132 may be completed by non-majors to fulfill the Laboratory Science requirement, and are classified as Quantitative Reasoning (QR). Note that a course that fulfills both the laboratory science and quantitative reasoning (QR) requirements may fulfill only one or the other requirement.


Suggested curricular flow through the major

The Biology major is designed so that students 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.

First year:  Chemistry 131 and 132, or 141; Biology 131 or 132

Sophomore:  Chemistry 241 and 242, Biology 132 or 131
                        One or two Biology 200-level courses

Junior:  Study abroad! Three Biology 300-level courses

Senior:  Research experience. Two or more Biology 300 and/or 400
               level courses.        

Other courses not required for the biology major but that you might consider, depending on your interests: 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.

NOTE: For students who entered the college before FA17, information about the old curriculum can be found at




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 131, 132 (or 141), 241, and 242 (or their equivalent) and transfer courses that receive biology credit. The student’s GPA determination for Honors will be calculated using the first 7 semesters of grades in the biology major. 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.


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.

Co-curricular activities/programs

Research experiences for students

The department recognizes the great value of students being engaged in the process of scientific discovery, and so we require that all majors have an approved research experience as part of their undergraduate program, and that students present the results of their research experience during a campus symposium or regional or national conference. Students may fulfill the research experience during the summer on or off campus, or during the academic year. Students who complete their research experience during the academic year may do so for course credit, usually by enrolling in Biology 550, Independent Research or Biology 560, Student-Faculty Collaborative Research. Students who perform research during the summer are encouraged to complete the Research Experience Notation (REXP) through the Career Center. Upon successful completion of a research experience and corresponding departmental component (overseen by the department chair and supported/processed by the Career Center), documentation is placed on the official transcript through the REXP 7xx course number.

Active learning

Active learning in the sciences at Dickinson has a long tradition and the Biology Department has been a consistent participant in this effort. The lab-based courses taught in the department are, by their very nature, excellent examples of active learning in that students engage in lab and field activities that often mirror research experiences and help illustrate key concepts in the course. However, faculty also apply numerous active learning approaches in the lecture/discussion portions of their courses to include the guided discussion of the scientific literature, the group-based solving of problems in class, the consideration of case studies, and the extensive integration of technology. Examples of the latter include virtual lab exercises, analysis of 3D representations of nucleic acid and protein structure, utilization of large scale genomic and proteomic sequence-based data sets, and incorporation of web-based data analysis.


Our faculty is committed to a sustained effort to erode the artificial boundaries that have tended to separate the disciplines that constitute the natural sciences and mathematics. We are also well aware that a multidisciplinary approach is a key way to solve complex research problems. We work to instill in students the multidisciplinary knowledge and tools they will require to operate productively in today’s research environment. In the most basic sense our program is interdisciplinary because students are required to take chemistry courses to complete the major. However the level of interdisciplinary that exists in the program is far more extensive given that teaching and research in Biology incorporates areas such as biochemistry and molecular biology, neuroscience, environmental science, mathematics, computer science, physics, health studies and climate science.

Global campus

Biology majors study off campus without delaying progress towards graduation. The Biology faculty have helped initiate, shape and lead the Dickinson overseas science programs at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the UK and at the University of Queensland (UQ) in Australia and our majors have shown a high level of participation in both of these partner programs. Department faculty have served as the on-site faculty director of the Dickinson UEA science program and have collaborated with UEA and UQ faculty in teaching and research efforts. Recently, a department member developed the Dickinson Global Scholars program to facilitate intensive student-faculty research at our partner institutions abroad and the initial program took place at UQ in Spring 2012. The international dimension of our program is not limited to these excellent study abroad opportunities but also extends into faculty teaching and research programs, including the incorporation of international dimensions into coursework as well as collaboration with international investigators in terms of research. In addition, we have two formal institutional affiliations with off-campus programs that serve our biology majors: the School for Field Studies and the Semester in Environmental Science at the Marine Biological Laboratory.


Dickinson has been one of the leading colleges in the country in the area of Sustainability, and the Biology faculty are strongly committed to the support of this effort. The college has a proud tradition in this area given that the famous 19th century naturalist and one of the first true conservation biologists, Spencer Fullerton Baird, was a Dickinson graduate and faculty member. Many of our faculty have incorporated aspects of sustainability into their teaching and research and have utilized Dickinson’s certified organic farm and Reineman Wildlife Sanctuary as natural laboratories. Recent student/faculty research projects have studied carbon metabolism in hybrid poplar trees grown for biofuel production, examined the impacts of deer grazing on forest plant biodiversity, analyzed the distribution of globally endangered plant species, examined the effectiveness of sustainable agriculture practices, experimented with aspects of integrated pest management strategies, and studied the impacts of climate change related ocean acidification on the chemical defenses of marine plants and the process of embryogenesis in echinoderm planktonic larvae. In addition, many faculty have been participants in climate change-related teaching and computer modeling workshops and in research projects funded by Dickinson’s Center for Sustainability Education and its Cool the Climate grant from NASA.

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 Environmental Science 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. The current department chair is Professor Kirsten Guss.