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Biology | Courses | Faculty

48 Morrill Science Center
Degree: Bachelor of Science Bachelor of Arts

Contact: Bruce Byers
Office: 348 Morrill Science Center
Phone: (413) 545-1236

Chair of Department: Professor R. Karlstrom. Associate Chair: Professor P. Wadsworth. Director, Undergraduate Program: Professor M. Coombs. Associate Chair of Education: Associate Professor E. Connor. Professors Baskin, Bittman, Dumont, Kunkel, W.B. O’Connor, Riley, Schwartz, D. Searcy, Zoeller; Associate Professors Alpert, Byers, Irschick, Jensen, Nambu, Phillis, Podos, E. Walker; Assistant Professors Bezanilla, Brewer, Caicedo, Downes, Hazen, Lee, Patek; Lecturers Barlow, Goodenough, Houlihan, Richmond, K. Searcy; Adjunct Faculty Cox Fernandes, McCormick.

The Field

Biology is the science of life. The vast scope of its subject matter makes biology an extremely diverse field of study. This diversity stems not only from the tremendous variety of life forms with which we share our planet, but also from the multiple levels of organization available for biological investigation. Given an organism, a biologist might choose to investigate how it behaves, how it fits into its ecosystem, the mechanisms by which its genes shape its appearance, what its ancestors were like, how its cells divide, how it grows and develops, or how it derives energy from nourishment. Biological inquiry encompasses perspectives from the planetary to the submicroscopic.

The wide array of biological perspectives is reflected in the many subdisciplines of the field. Genetics, anatomy, physiology, ecology, ethology, botany, neurobiology, systematics, molecular biology, developmental biology, paleontology, and cell biology are just a few of the multitude of specializations that, taken together, compose biology. Given the plethora of approaches that coexist under the biological umbrella, a casual observer might believe that biology is an intellectually fragmented and diffuse endeavor. Fortunately, biology, in all of its glorious diversity, is unified by a few grand ideas. In particular, the theory of evolution provides a conceptual framework that draws together the far-flung threads of biological thought.

Like other scientists, biologists use the scientific method to develop explanations for the patterns and processes that they observe in the natural world. The practice of biology thus involves both systematic observation, often aided by sophisticated instruments, and experimentation. Biologists may work in laboratories or in the field; some of the best biological research combines data gathered in both settings.

Career Opportunities

For many biology majors, undergraduate studies are preliminary to the pursuit of an advanced degree that will lead to a career as a medical doctor, veterinarian, academic, or scientist. A graduate degree is not, however, required to pursue a career related to biology. A bachelor’s degree in biology can lead to employment in the large and growing biotechnology, health care, or pharmaceutical industries. Many openings in these dynamic, high-tech fields require a degree in the life sciences. Biology majors are likewise well prepared for careers as secondary-school science teachers. Certain government agencies, including the National Park Service and the Environmental Protection Agency, also regularly hire biology graduates, as do private environmental and conservation organizations. Employers of all types recognize that a person with a science degree is likely to be comfortable with logical, quantitative thinking.

The Major

The Biology major is open to all students with an interest in biology. The course requirements for the major emphasize fundamental scientific concepts while allowing students to tailor a program to their own interests. All majors are required to complete a core sequence that includes basic math and science courses and several key Biology courses. The elective portion of the degree is more flexible and is intended to allow students to select a personalized array of courses while sampling the breadth of biology.

Courses completed elsewhere and accepted for transfer credit may substitute for some required courses. All post-introductory biology courses, however, must be completed in the Department of Biology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Course requirements
At least 65 credits, with a minimum grade of C required in each course.

Math and Physical Sciences Core (30 credits)
1. PHYSICS 131/133 and 132/134 Introductory Physics
2. CHEM 111 and 112 General Chemistry for Science and Engineering Majors
3. CHEM 261 and 262/269 Organic Chemistry/Organic Lab for Non-Chemistry Majors
4. Take one course from Group A and Group B

Group A

STATISTC 240 Introduction to Statistics
RES-ECON 211 Introductory Statistics for the Life and Social Sciences

Group B

MATH 127 Calculus for the Life and Social Sciences I
MATH 128 Calculus for the Life and Social Sciences II
STATISTC 501 Methods of Applied Statistics
PUBHLTH 540 Introduction to Biostatistics
CMPSCI 121 Introduction to Problem Solving with Computers

Biological Science Core (35 credits)
1. BIOLOGY 100, 101 Introductory Biology (C or higher in both courses required before additional Biology courses may be taken);
2. BIOLOGY 312 Writing in Biology;
3. At least 25 additional credits in biological science courses numbered 200 or above. These credits must include:
a) at least 13 credits in courses numbered 300 and above;
b) at least one course related to plant biology and one course related to animal biology;
c) at least two courses with a laboratory or field component;
d) at least one course in each of four of the following five areas (a list of acceptable courses in each of the five areas is available in the Biology Undergraduate Office):
Genetics and Molecular Biology
Cellular Biology and Development
Evolution and Biodiversity
Ecology and Behavior.

The 25 additional credits may include up to three credits of Independent Study. In addition, the credits may include up to three credits of Undergraduate Teaching Practicum in a Biology Department course. All of the credits must be from Biology Department courses taken at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.


Students interested in graduating as Biology majors with Honors should contact Professor James Walker for information on requirements.

The Minor

An undergraduate minor in Biology requires successful completion of at least 17 credits (all with grade of C or better) from the Biological Sciences Core:
1. BIOLOGY 100 and 101 Introductory Biology I and II
2. Three additional Biology Department courses chosen from the list of approved courses for the major, subject to the following stipulations:
a) The three courses must each come from a different subject area (see the Biology Undergraduate Handbook for a list of courses in each area).
b) No more than one of the three courses may also be used to satisfy the requirements of another major.
c) Only 3-credit and 4-credit courses may be used.
d) Only Biology Department courses may be used.
e) All three courses must be taken at the University’s Amherst campus.

Other Information

The laboratory component of many Biology courses requires the examination and/or dissection of animals. For a description of the use of animals in a particular course, contact the course instructor or the Biology Undergraduate Office.

Biology may be selected as the area of concentration in the Science Major (see its own section). Such students are designated SCIBIO majors. In addition to the nine courses (33-35 credits) required in the Foundation requirement, SCIBIO majors are required to complete at least 25 credits of Biology courses numbered 200 and above. These should include BIOLOGY 312 (Junior Year Writing) and at least three upper-division courses (300 or above). A total of 60 credits—35 in Foundation and 25 in Biology concentration—must be completed.

Students are encouraged to spend one or two semesters studying abroad. Study abroad offers a valuable opportunity for enrichment and to gain perspective on the field of biology.

Secondary Teacher Education

Students interested in teacher certification should contact the STEP Advising Office, 227B Furcolo Hall, tel. (413) 545-1570 or email:

Major in Pre-Medical or Pre-Dental Studies

There is a section in this Guide (under “Other Academic Opportunities and Services”) with information about undergraduate preparation for applying to medical or dental school.

Biology | Courses | Faculty