Return to: Departments and Programs
NICHOLAS KAPLINSKY, Professor
ELIZABETH A. VALLEN, Professor1
ALEXANDER BAUGH, Associate Professor
DAWN CARONE, Associate Professor
BRADLEY DAVIDSON, Associate Professor
VINCENT FORMICA, Associate Professor and Chair
JOSE-LUIS MACHADO, Associate Professor
CAROLYN BAUER, Assistant Professor
ITZUE W. CAVIEDES-SOLIS, Assistant Professor
KIT YU KAREN CHAN, Assistant Professor1
EVA-MARIA COLLINS, Associate Professor
JEFF GAUTHIER, Assistant Professor1
TIMOTHY DUBUC, Visiting Assistant Professor
TERENCE LEACH, Visiting Assistant Professor
KATHERINE MECKEL, Visiting Assistant Professor
ERIN CLEMENS, Laboratory Instructor
DAMIR CREECY, Laboratory Instructor
HANNAH DONALD, Laboratory Instructor
STACEY MILLER, Laboratory Instructor
SUSAN O’DONNELL, Laboratory Instructor
NICOLE STOWELL, Laboratory Instructor
ALISON DANILAK, Administrative Coordinator
MATT POWELL, Business and Technology Manager
3 Absent on leave, 2022-2023.
At all levels of the biology curriculum, students are engaged in learning about the functions and evolution of diverse biological systems as well as the methods by which biologists study nature. There is much flexibility in the curriculum, allowing students to craft a path through the biology major that best suits their own interests. While fulfilling the requirements for the major, students are able to build a broad biological background by taking courses focused on different levels of biological organization, while also being able to concentrate on specialized areas of particular passion if they choose.
Our goals for biology majors
A basic tenet of the department is that the best way to learn about biology is to do biology. Therefore, all of our introductory and intermediate core courses have weekly laboratories or field trips where students learn to become biologists by making original observations, asking questions about life processes, solving problems and designing and testing hypotheses by performing experiments. Communication skills are emphasized in all biology courses, as students read and evaluate research articles in scientific journals, write laboratory reports according to the standards of professional scientific writing, participate in frequent opportunities for oral presentations and critical discussion, and work in research teams.
The curriculum prepares students to pursue careers in research or to apply their biology interests and knowledge to careers as diverse as medicine, governmental policy planning, science education, public health, and writing children’s books. A number of departmental alumni have also chosen careers outside of science, such as law and finance, where they report that the organizational, critical thinking, and communication skills that they learned as a biology major have been crucial for their success.
The Academic Program
In addition to first-year seminars, the department offers four different types of courses. Students are introduced to the study of biology at Swarthmore by taking BIOL 001, Cellular and Molecular Biology, and BIOL 002, Organismal and Population Biology. Either course may be taken first. Introductory courses numbered 003-009 do not have prerequisites or associated laboratories. Diverse intermediate-level courses, some offered in alternate years, allow students to choose coursework in areas of particular interest. Intermediate courses numbered 010-039 have laboratories and courses numbered 040-069 often do not. Intermediate courses generally have BIOL 001 and BIOL 002 (or AP/IB credit) as prerequisites. Some of these courses also require prior coursework in the Chemistry Department. Finally, advanced seminars (with three-digit course numbers) have intermediate-level courses as prerequisites and are usually taken by students in their junior or senior years.
Majors and minors
The Biology Department offers a course major, course minor, honors major and honors minor. In addition, special majors in biochemistry and neuroscience are regularly offered in cooperation with the Chemistry and Biochemistry and Psychology departments, respectively. A student may choose an interdisciplinary minor in environmental studies, which includes courses in the Biology Department. In addition, the department has also supported special majors as described below.
Sample paths through the discipline
As pointed out in the introduction, there are many paths to a biology major. Following are some ideas to keep in mind as you plan your schedule.
Getting started as a biology major: Nearly all majors take BIOL 001 and/or BIOL 002 during their first year. These two courses may be taken in either order and it is not uncommon for prospective majors to take BIOL 002 during the spring semester of their first year, and BIOL 001 during the fall semester of their second year. Students who realize their interest in biology later have also taken both courses during their sophomore year and successfully completed the major in eight semesters. We generally encourage all students to take at least one of the introductory courses, even if they have AP/IB credit. BIOL 001 is always offered in the fall semester, and BIOL 002 always in the spring semester.
We encourage majors to fulfill the mathematics and chemistry requirements for the major during their first two years. In particular, some intermediate level courses require CHEM 010 and CHEM 022. Completion of those chemistry courses gives more flexibility in biology course choice. However, we are willing to work with students to craft the best path for each individual.
Continuing as a biology major: Because most intermediate level courses require both BIOL 001 and BIOL 002 (or AP/IB credit), taking both courses before continuing on in the field usually serves students best. For planning purposes, most Group III intermediate-level courses are taught in the fall semester, and most Group I intermediate-level courses are taught in the spring semester. Some Group II courses are taught in spring and others in fall.
The seminar course(s) you are most interested in taking may influence your other course choices. In addition to your own interests, prerequisites for seminars (which may consist of a specific intermediate-level course), faculty leave schedules, and study abroad considerations may constrain your course choice and schedule.
Some faculty strongly encourage students interested in doing research with them to take at least one course with them before working on a research project. It is important to talk to specific faculty members you are interested in working with to understand their specific requirements for work in their laboratory.
Completion of the biology major: Course majors must pass the comprehensive exam (BIOL 097 Themes in Biology) during the spring semester of the senior year. Honors majors are required to enroll in at least one credit of BIOL 180 (often but not always in the fall semester of their senior year), and in Senior Honors Study (BIOL 199), which is taken in the spring semester of the senior year.
- Three courses (or advanced placement credit and two courses) in biology. If the student does not have an AP, IB, or transfer credit, both BIOL 001 and BIOL 002 are required. Courses numbered 003-009 may not be used for acceptance to the major.
- CHEM 010, or placement approved by the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department.
- Swarthmore College credit for two courses in mathematics or statistics (not STAT 001, MATH 003, or MATH 020). Alternatively, students may complete Calculus II (MATH 025) to satisfy the math requirement. Students who place out of Math 025, by the placement test administered by the Mathematics and Statistics Department, will have satisfied the math requirement for the major. The Biology Department strongly recommends a course in statistics for majors.
- Applicants must have an average grade of C (2.00) or better in BIOL 001 and BIOL 002
- AP/IB credit may be used as a replacement for one of the introductory courses after another biology course with laboratory is completed. Note that the department strongly encourages all students with AP/IB credit to take both of the introductory courses. If both BIOL 001 and 002 are taken, the AP credit is discounted. If an AP/IB credit is used as a replacement for BIOL 001 or BIOL 002, this counts towards the credits needed for the major.
- In addition, the applicant must have an average grade of C (2.00) or better in all courses taken in the Biology Department, and an overall average grade of C (2.00) or better in the Division of Natural Sciences and Engineering at Swarthmore College (biology, physics and astronomy, chemistry and biochemistry, mathematics and statistics, engineering, and computer science). Unpublished grades in biology for the first semester of the first year will be considered in the C average requirement; passing grades of CR in other courses in the Division of Natural Sciences and Engineering are acceptable.
- Students who have not completed the requirements for acceptance to the major will be deferred until the end of the fifth semester. Students who have not completed all requirements for acceptance to the major by the end of the fifth semester will no longer have priority in lotteries based on their sophomore plan, and will need to re-apply for the major before the last day of classes in their junior year.
Requirements for graduation
- Credit requirements: Students majoring in biology must complete a minimum of eight biology credits, at least five of which must be taken at Swarthmore College. Courses taken during the first semester of the first year are all CR/NC. After this semester, only one Biology course with a recorded grade of CR can be used to fulfill the requirements of a Biology major. Seminars (100-139) and BIOL 097 may not be taken CR/NC. CHEM 038 (Biochemistry) may be counted as one of the eight biology credits. If an AP/IB credit is used as a replacement for BIOL 001 or BIOL 002, this credit counts towards completion of the 8 credits for the major. SP credits cannot be used to satisfy the eight credit requirement. Note: For the Class of 2026 and beyond: Biology majors will be required to complete 9 biology credits and CHEM 038 will no longer be accepted towards a Biology major.
- Distribution requirements: Students majoring in biology must pass at least one intermediate course in each of the following three groups: I. Cellular and Molecular Biology, II. Organismal Biology and III. Population Biology. The digit in the tens place of the course number signifies the group of the course (i.e., BIOL 010 is a Group I course, BIOL 020 is a Group II course and BIOL 030 is a Group III course).
- Students majoring in biology may count only one course numbered 003-009 toward the required Biology credits. Courses numbered 003-009 do not meet the Group distribution requirement.
- BIOL 093 (Directed Reading) and BIOL 094 (Independent Research) count as credits toward the biology major but cannot be used as distribution requirements. No more than two credits in BIOL 093, BIOL 094 or BIOL 093 and BIOL 094 in combination may be used to satisfy the credit requirements for the Biology major.
- CHEM 038 (Biochemistry) may be counted as a Group I course and as one of the Biology credits required for the major. In this case, the CHEM 038 grade will be counted towards the biology GPA. Note: For the Class of 2026 and beyond, CHEM 038 will no longer be accepted towards a Biology major.
- Seminar requirement: All biology majors are required to take at least one seminar (with a course number greater than 100). A seminar in biology is defined as an advanced offering that uses primary rather than secondary source materials and encourages active student participation in presentation and discussion of materials. Note that all seminars have at least one intermediate level course (numbered 10-39) as a prerequisite; the particular prerequisites for seminars vary and should be considered during selection of intermediate level courses. All seminars must be taken at Swarthmore College. Students must earn a B grade or better in the intermediate course used as the seminar prerequisite to enroll in a seminar.
NSE breadth course requirement: Students majoring in Biology must complete two courses from the list of NSE breadth courses (below).
Comprehensive examination: All biology course majors must satisfy the College requirement of passing a comprehensive examination given by the major department. In biology, this comprehensive examination is the lecture series BIOL 097, Themes in Biology. BIOL 097 is offered only in the spring semester and is usually taken by students during the spring of their senior year. This course features a series of visiting speakers who give presentations connected by an overarching theme that can be addressed from all areas of biology. It enables faculty and students to interact on an intellectually challenging project, allows students to think about a topic from a variety of levels of biological organization and gives students the opportunity to meet and interact with a variety of distinguished biologists.
- Biology majors are required to take BIOL 097. BIOL 097 counts as one of the credits required for a major in biology.
- Evaluation of a student’s performance for this comprehensive examination will be graded and will be based on the questions prepared by each individual and team for each lecture, participation in discussions, hosting a guest speaker and the final presentation.
- Students who fail BIOL 097 fail the comprehensive exam and thus may not graduate.
- If a student is given permission by the College to be away from campus during the spring semester of the senior year, the Biology Department faculty may give permission to the student to write a senior paper and enroll in BIOL 095, a Senior Project, to satisfy the College requirement of a comprehensive examination. Alternatively, the student may be given permission by the chair of the Biology Department to enroll in Themes in Biology during the junior year if the student has planned in advance to be away during the spring semester of the senior year.
NSE breadth courses: The study of biology relies on concepts and tools from other disciplines in the natural sciences. In order to strengthen these connections we require that majors take NSE breadth courses that interest them in order to enhance their abilities as broadly trained biologists. Courses that satisfy the NSE breadth requirement for the Biology major are: ASTRO 014 or above, CHEM 015 or above, COMP SCI 021 or above, ENGR 005 or above (with the exception of ENGR 007 or ENGR 010), MATH 15 or above (with the exception of MATH 020), PHYS 003 or above (with the exception of PHYS 029), STAT 11 or above, ECON 031 or 035.
i. Courses used to meet the Math/Stat criterion for acceptance to the major may not be counted toward the NSE breadth course requirement. Courses used to meet any other Biology major requirement may not be counted toward this requirement. While a student may test or place out of the Math criterion by AP, IB, or math placement test for acceptance to the Biology major, both NSE breadth courses necessary for the completion of the major must be taken after matriculation at Swarthmore. If a student uses CHEM 038 to satisfy their Group I requirement, it may not be used to satisfy the NSE breadth requirement. Note: For the Class of 2026 and beyond, CHEM 038 will no longer be accepted towards a Biology major.
Students who wish to minor in biology must complete six credits, at least four of which are to be taken at Swarthmore College. The GPA requirement to enter the minor is the same as for biology course majors: 2.00 in BIOL 001 and BIOL 002, 2.00 in courses taken in the Biology Department, and 2.00 in all courses taken in the Division of Natural Sciences and Engineering. Both BIOL 001 and BIOL 002 are required (although AP/IB credit may be used as a replacement for one of the six credits after another biology course is completed. Note that the department strongly encourages all students with AP/IB credit to take the introductory courses). If an AP/IB credit is used as a replacement for BIOL 001 or BIOL 002, this counts towards the credits needed for the minor. There are no requirements for courses outside the department. There is no distribution requirement within the department for the minor. Only one course numbered 003-009 is allowed. Only one credit in BIOL 093 or BIOL 094 is allowed. CHEM 038 (Biochemistry) may be counted as one of the six biology credits. BIOL 097 may NOT be used as a Biology credit for Biology minors. SP credits cannot be used to satisfy the six credit requirement. If both BIOL 001 and 002 are taken, the AP credit is discounted.
Courses taken during the first semester of the first year are all CR/NC. After this semester, only one Biology course with a recorded grade of CR can be used to fulfill the requirements of a Biology minor. Seminars (100-139) may not be taken CR/NC.
Note: CHEM 038 will no longer be accepted towards a Biology minor for the Class of 2026 and beyond.
- The course requirements for acceptance to an honors major in biology are the same as those for a course major in biology (see above).
- Admission to the Honors Program in biology is based on academic record. Applicants to the Honors Program in biology must have a grade point average (GPA) of 3.00 in all courses taken in the Natural Sciences and Engineering Division at Swarthmore College and must obtain a grade of B or better in all lecture courses and seminars used for the Honors Program. Applicants must also have a GPA of 3.00 in all biology courses. Unpublished grades in biology for the first semester of the first year will be considered in these requirements; passing grades of CR in other courses in the Division of Natural Sciences and Engineering are acceptable.
- Students should list the anticipated fields of study, including two seminar courses, in their Sophomore Plan.
- Students who are accepted into the program must select a research project and mentor by the middle of the junior year. Final approval of the student’s Honors Program will occur during the fall semester of the senior year when the Final Honors Program Form is signed by the chairs of the participating departments.
Requirements for graduation
- Credit requirements for honors: Honors biology students must complete a minimum of eight biology credits and fulfill the requirements for an Honors Biology major. Courses taken the first semester of the first year are all CR/NC. After this semester, only one Biology course with a recorded grade of CR can be used to fulfill the requirements of a Biology honors major. Seminars (100-139) may not be taken CR/NC. Students must earn a grade of B or better for all courses and seminars used for honors preparations. Honors students may not take Bio 097, Themes in Biology, for credit but are welcome and encouraged to attend the seminars. SP credits cannot be used to satisfy the eight credit requirement. Note: For the Class of 2026 and beyond: Biology majors, including Honors, will be required to complete 9 biology credits and CHEM 038 will no longer be accepted towards a Biology major.
- Distribution requirements for honors: Students graduating with an honors major in biology must pass at least one intermediate course in each of the following three groups: I. Cellular and Molecular Biology, II. Organismal Biology, and III. Population Biology. The digit in the tens place of the course number signifies the group of the course (i.e., BIOL 010 is a group I course, BIOL 020 is a Group II course and BIOL 030 is a Group III course).
- Seminar requirement for honors: All honors biology majors are required to complete at least two seminars (those with a number greater than 100) for honors preparations. A seminar in biology is defined as an advanced offering that uses primary rather than secondary source materials and encourages active student participation in presentation and discussion of materials. Note that all seminars have a prerequisite course from the intermediate level (numbered 010-039); the particular prerequisites for each seminar should be considered during selection of intermediate level courses. The two seminars used for honors preparations must be taken from different faculty members and must be taken at Swarthmore College. Students must earn a B grade or better in the intermediate course used as the seminar prerequisite to enroll in a seminar.
- Research (Thesis) requirement for honors: At least one credit of thesis research (BIOL 180) is required. Additional credits of Honors research (BIOL 180) are permitted, but not required. Thesis research will be graded by an External Examiner. For example, the thesis research may be a substantial project carried out over 2 semesters, 2 summers, or 1 summer + 1 semester.
- The primary mentor for the thesis need not be a Swarthmore faculty member, but a Swarthmore faculty member must agree to be an on-campus mentor.
- Students should plan on completing their research by the end of the fall semester of their senior year.
- The honors thesis has a page limit of 20 pages, not counting references, figures, figure legends or tables.
- Senior Honors Study: Senior Honors Study (BIOL 199) is required for all honors majors in the spring semester of their senior year. This integrative and interactive program prepares each student to finalize and present his or her thesis work formally, in both oral and written forms. During the first few meetings of the semester, faculty members are available for consultation about data analysis. At mid-semester, students present posters of their projects to the faculty and other honors students for review. Comments from faculty and students on these posters will guide students in revising and polishing their written theses. SHS BIOL 199 is Credit/No Credit and the evaluation is done by the biology faculty.
- Review of work for honors: The Biology Department will review the academic work of all candidates for the external examination at the end of the junior year and in November of their senior year. Progress on thesis research is assessed at the beginning of the fall semester of the senior year. At these times, the department may ask a candidate to discontinue participation in the Honors Program. Withdrawal from the Honors Program must occur by December 1 of the student’s senior year. At that time, the student is responsible for consulting with the department about satisfying the comprehensive requirement for the major.
- Honors examinations: Students will take two written examinations, one based on each of their seminar preparations. The biology written examinations will be closed-book, 3-hour exams. The oral exams are normally one-on-one, but there are special circumstances under which a student may be examined by a panel of examiners. Oral examinations for seminar preparations are normally 45 minutes in length. The oral exams for thesis research are 60 minutes in length.
- NSE breadth course requirement: Biology Honors majors must complete two courses from the following list of courses outside the Biology Department: ASTR 014 or above, CHEM 015 or above, CPSC 021 or above, ENGR 005 or above (with the exception of ENGR 007 or ENGR 010), MATH 015 or above (With the exception of MATH 020), PHYS 003 or above (with the exception of PHYS 029), STAT 011 or above, ECON 031 or 035.
- Courses used to meet the Math/Stat criterion for acceptance to the major may not also be counted toward the NSE breadth course requirement. Courses used to meet any other major requirement may not also be counted toward this requirement (CHEM 038 for Group I, for example). While a student may test of place out of the Math criterion for acceptance to the major, both NSE breadth courses must be taken after matriculation at Swarthmore. Note: For the Class of 2026 and beyond, CHEM 038 will no longer be accepted towards a Biology major.
Biology minors in the Honors Program do not need to satisfy the distribution requirements of the major or take chemistry or mathematics unless required to do so for a specific preparation. Honors minors do not participate in Senior Honors Study (BIOL 199). Applicants to the Minor Honors Program in biology must have a GPA of 3.00 in all courses taken in the Divisions of Natural Sciences and Engineering, a GPA of 3.00 in all biology courses taken at Swarthmore College, and a grade of B or better in all lecture courses and seminars used for the Honors Program.
The program in biology for an honors minor requires at least four credits and usually consists of BIOL 001 and BIOL 002, an intermediate level course (course number between 10 and 39) and a seminar (course number greater than 100). Note: CHEM 038 will no longer be accepted towards a Biology Honors minor for the Class of 2026 and beyond.
Application Process Notes for the Major or the Minor
In addition to the process described by the Dean’s Office and the Registrar’s Office for how to apply for a major, we also ask that you attend the departmental information meeting for sophomores (usually held in early February). Information about courses and other aspects of the major, minor, and regularized special majors are available on the departmental homepage at www.swarthmore.edu/biology.
Applicants from the sophomore or junior classes who have completed all the requirements with the appropriate grades are accepted as a course major in biology. Applicants from the sophomore class who are in the process of completing these requirements with the required GPA are accepted contingent upon successful completion of the missing courses. Others who will not complete these requirements by the end of the current semester are deferred until the requirements are met. All students who have applied for the major in biology and who have been accepted or deferred are assigned an adviser in the Biology Department.
Special Majors and Minors
The Biology Department, in collaboration with the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department, offers a course major and an honors major in biochemistry. This major gives students the opportunity to gain a strong background in chemistry with special emphasis on the application of chemistry to biological problems. Approval and advising for this special major are obtained through the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department and details about the course and honors major can be found in the Chemistry and Biochemistry section of this catalog. The Biology Department encourages biochemistry majors to take both BIOL 001 and BIOL 002 as a number of intermediate level courses in biology require both courses as a prerequisite.
- Honors biochemistry majors are expected to participate in Senior Honors Study (BIOL 199) only if the thesis research is done in the Biology Department.
- Honors biochemistry majors must conduct thesis research with a Swarthmore faculty member.
The Psychology and Biology departments offer a special major in Neuroscience for course and honors majors that combines work in the two departments in a way that allows students flexibility in choosing the focus of their Neuroscience major. Approval for this special major is done through both departments. Each Neuroscience major is assigned a faculty advisor from whichever of the two departments best reflects the focus of that student’s plan of study. Details about the Neuroscience special major can be found on the Biology website.
The special major in bioeducation requires six credits in biology. Most students take BIOL 001 and BIOL 002; a score of 5 on the Biology AP exam or equivalent can substitute for BIOL 001 and/or BIOL 002 and count for 1 credit. Students must take Evolution (BIOL 034) and at least one intermediate Group I and one intermediate Group II course. Completion of Chem 010, Math 015 and STAT 011 or placement out of these courses is required. In addition, the NSE elective requirement can be fulfilled by one of the following: ASTR 016, CHEM 015 or CHEM 022, CPSC 021 or above, PHYS 003/003L or above (not including PHYS 29 or 95), ENGR 005 or above (with the exception of ENGR 007 or ENGR 010), Math 025 or above. The special major in Bioeducation will include at least five credits in Educational Studies. Students should consult with the chair of the Educational Studies Department about specific requirements. Approval and advising for this special major are through the Biology and Educational Studies Departments.
A minor in environmental studies consists of an integrated program of five courses plus a capstone seminar (ENVS 091), which a student takes in addition to a regular major. The details of the minor and courses offered may be found at www.swarthmore.edu/envs.xml. The five courses must include at least one course in environmental science/technology; at least one course in environmental social science/humanities; and at least one more course from either of these two groups for a minimum of three courses from these two lists. Up to two of the five required courses may be chosen from the list designated adjunct and interdisciplinary courses. The capstone seminar is offered in the spring of the student’s senior year. Advising for this program is by the chair of the Environmental Studies Committee.
Other special majors
Individualized special majors may be constructed after consultation with the chairs and approval of the participating departments. The special major is expected to specify a field of learning that crosses departmental boundaries and can be treated as a sub-field within the normal departmental major. Individualized special majors consist of at least 10 credits, but usually not more than 12. A more detailed explanation of the individualized special major is found in Chapter 7 “Educational Program .” Previously approved special majors include cognitive science, neuroscience, environmental science, biostatistics and biophysics.
Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate Credit
Both BIOL 001 and BIOL 002 are required for the biology major and minor. However, one of these courses may be replaced by credit from one of the advanced placement examinations listed below, which will be granted after one biology course with laboratory is completed in the department. One biology credit is awarded for a score of 5 on the advanced placement examination; a score of 6 or 7 on the International Baccalaureate; or A on the Higher Level of Biology, Advanced Level Examination, German Arbitur, Austrian Matura or French Baccalaureate exam. Note that the department strongly encourages all students with advanced placement credit to take the introductory courses. If both Biology 001 and 002 are taken, the AP/IB credit is dropped from the transcript.
Credit for courses taken at an institution at which the student was previously matriculated may be counted toward the biology major. Additionally, courses at other institutions not part of a study-abroad program while a matriculated Swarthmore student can be presented for approval for credit towards a Swarthmore degree. Courses will be evaluated on an individual basis to determine which departmental distribution requirements they meet. Please note the required number of credits that must be taken at Swarthmore to complete a Biology degree and/or minor when considering transfer credits.
The Biology Department faculty enthusiastically support study abroad for their majors. Majors may study abroad and earn credits that count toward the requirements for a biology major or, alternatively, participate in programs without earning biology credit, while still completing the major in eight semesters. By college regulation, we cannot guarantee a specific amount of credit in advance toward the Swarthmore degree for successful completion of academic work completed at other institutions, with the exception of regular semester coursework at Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and the University of Pennsylvania completed under the four-college arrangement. Notwithstanding this restriction, our experience has shown that, with proper advance planning, study abroad is nearly always compatible with completion of the degree in eight semesters (including the semester(s) spent abroad). Planning is the key to success, and students contemplating study abroad are urged to see the Off-Campus Study Adviser early in the planning process.
Prior to studying abroad, students should obtain preapproval and credit estimation as well as final approvals upon return through the Off Campus Studies Department (OCS). Please refer to the OCS Credits web page for more information. The Biology Department, through this process, will evaluate comparable credits, distributions and courses. Equivalencies and credits will be given based upon course materials submitted by the student. Please contact the Biology Department Administrative Coordinator with any questions.
Research and Service-Learning Opportunities
Academic year opportunities
Students may receive academic credit for research carried out either on- or off-campus (BIOL 094).
Students interested in doing research on campus should contact individual faculty members directly. Students are strongly encouraged to take at least one course with a faculty member before working with them on a research project to understand their specific lab work requirements.
For off-campus research credit in BIOL 094, the student must submit a one-page proposal to the department indicating 1) prior course work in the area of research, 2) previous technical experience in a laboratory, 3) the name and address of the director of the laboratory and the name of the person under whom the student will work directly, and 4) a short description of the proposed project and the methods to be used in the investigation. This proposal must be presented to the chair of the Biology Department, no later than one week before registration for the semester in which credit will be received.
There are also opportunities for students to be paid for research during the academic year. Individual faculty members should be contacted about the potential for positions in their laboratory.
Students may also receive academic credit for independent Directed Reading (BIOL 093). Interested students should contact individual faculty members directly.
Students completing more than one combined credit in BIOL 093 and BIOL 094 with a single faculty member will be asked to do a brief oral presentation and short written abstract of their work. This is commonly done in the student’s last semester before graduating but, can be completed at any time. Faculty mentors may require a written thesis in addition to the oral presentation and abstract. Students should discuss the specific requirements and expectations with their faculty mentor at the beginning of each semester.
Each year, students are selected to assist in the BIOL 001 and BIOL 002 laboratories. These students are selected for their academic excellence, laboratory expertise, and ability to communicate with students. Contact the laboratory coordinator for BIOL 001 or BIOL 002 for more information.
Students are also selected as Catalysts for excellence in comprehension, communication and compassion. Catalysts attend lectures, meet with the Catalyst program coordinator and faculty lecturers throughout the semester, and facilitate small group problem-based learning in evening study sessions. Contact the Student Support Coordinator or Biology Administrative Coordinator for more information.
Dean’s tutors in biology are hired on a rolling basis, to support student learning in BIOL 001 and BIOL 002. This is a flexible student position in which tutors meet one-on-one with students at mutually convenient times, typically for one hour per week. Contact the department for more information.
Experienced students are hired as laboratory assistants, van drivers and/or study guides in several intermediate level courses, including Genetics, Marine Biology, and Neurobiology. Students are also hired to help with the care of organisms associated with various courses and research laboratories. The Biology Administrative Coordinator, animal facility manager and greenhouse manager, as well as individual faculty members, may be contacted about these positions.
The department collaborates with the Chester Children’s Chorus (www.chesterchildrenschorus.org/) to support Science for Kids, a summer and academic year program focused on engaging children from the nearby Chester-Upland school district with experimental science.
Student Representatives for Faculty Searches & Reviews
Each year the Biology Department conducts several searches for replacement faculty to teach courses when regular members of the department are on leave. In some years, there is a search for a permanent or tenure-track position. Students are invited to serve on a Student Search Committee to interview and help select a candidate.
Additionally, during the tenure and review process for Biology Faculty and Laboratory Instructors, students are asked to review their experiences with the candidate(s). This is a vital part of the process and an opportunity to have a voice in these reviews.
Paid fellowships for summer research are offered by the Biology Department as well as other institutions. Funds are available for field and laboratory research projects conducted on- and off- campus. Information regarding the awards, application deadlines and downloadable applications are available on the Biology Department website. An information session is usually offered at the end of the fall semester to describe opportunities in more detail.
The Biology Department collaborates with the Chester Children’s Chorus (www.chesterchildrenschorus.org) to support Science for Kids, a summer and academic year program focused on engaging children from the nearby Chester-Upland school district with experimental science. The summer program can usually be integrated with a full-time job or research position elsewhere on campus. Contact the Biology Administrative Coordinator if you will be on campus for the summer and are interested in participating.
Students may complete the requirements for teacher certification through a program approved by the state of Pennsylvania. Options to pursue a biology major along with teacher certification or to pursue a special major in biology and educational studies are available. For further information about the relevant set of requirements, please refer to the Educational Studies section of the Bulletin.
Many of our majors have gone on to graduate school in biology after completion of their degree. While some students attend graduate school immediately after graduation from Swarthmore, others work for at least a year or two before applying to graduate programs. This time between finishing at Swarthmore and graduate school can be used to gain more experience in biology, or to try out a new field. These experiences both strengthen your graduate school applications and help you to know what you are most interested in studying. One- or two-year jobs are available at a variety of research institutes, field stations, universities, museums, government laboratories and companies. The Department maintains an informal list of opportunities on the Biology website.
The Biology Department faculty are happy to talk with students about graduate programs and projects. Note that graduate schools in biology pay Ph.D. students a stipend for research and/or teaching. In addition, a few prestigious fellowships (e.g., National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship) are awarded to the student (not to the program), giving the recipient more flexibility and autonomy in their graduate program.
In addition to graduate school and professional school (medical, law, veterinary, business) there are many other job possibilities. The American Institute of Biological Sciences web page (www.aibs.org/careers/), which describes jobs open to people with a degree in biology, is a helpful resource. A degree in biology can lead to positions in the following areas:
Research: This could include laboratory work, fieldwork, or some combination of the two. Major employers include universities, research institutes, non-government organizations and companies (e.g., pharmaceutical, agricultural, biotechnology, food science).
Healthcare: Many doctors, dentists, nurses, veterinarians, laboratory technicians and other health care providers have backgrounds in the biological sciences. Other biologists utilize their background in disease prevention and control.
Environmental management: Park rangers, conservation biologists, zoo biologists, and land management specialists use their background in biology to develop and evaluate management plans to conserve natural resources.
Education: In addition to serving as university and college professors, some of our graduates teach in elementary and secondary schools, at museums and zoos, and at aquaria and nature centers. Biology majors also author newspaper and magazine articles, and may contribute to textbooks as writers, editors or illustrators.
Other ideas: Our graduates have obtained jobs in politics and policy, in areas such as economic and biological impacts of land use practices, science advising on biomedical procedures, effects of climate change, and educating members of Congress about scientific issues. Other biology majors have found positions in forensics, bioinformatics and computational biology. Finally, some majors have had careers in investment banking, consulting and law.
Biology course numbers reflect study at different levels of organization - General Studies (001-009, 040 - 069), intermediate courses in Cellular and Molecular Biology (010-019), Organismal Biology (020-029), Population Biology (030-039), Seminars in Cellular and Molecular Biology (110-119), Seminars in Organismal Biology (120-129), and Seminars in Population Biology (130-139).
Suggested first courses:
BIOL 001 and BIOL 002 are usually the first courses for students with an interest in biology. This includes students who are prospective biology majors or minors as well as students who have taken the biology Advanced Placement exam. These courses can be taken in any order. BIOL 001 is not a pre-requisite for BIOL 002.
Group I: Intermediate Cellular and Molecular Biology (010-019)
Group II: Intermediate Organismal Biology (020-029)
Group III: Intermediate Population Biology (030-039)
Senior Comprehensive Examination
Group I, II, and III Seminars
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