Franklin & Marshall College Franklin & Marshall College

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Outstanding preparation for the century of biology

Our Majors



The study of biology furnishes insights into our species, our selves and the world of which we are a part. We humans have a fascination for other organisms and the very phenomenon of life. Biology provides us the tools to address questions ranging from how these organisms function at the molecular level to how they interact at the ecological level. Biology is an exciting, expanding discipline offering a broad and advancing frontier between the known and the undiscovered, with a variety of sub-disciplines that span the molecular to organismal to ecological levels of understanding. It is a gateway to diverse and satisfying careers and it provides insights and ways of thinking critical to each individual in society. 

Franklin & Marshall’s biology program, with required and elective courses in biology as well as courses in mathematics, chemistry and physics, provides students with a firm scientific foundation and enough flexibility to accommodate individual interests. The range of these interests is reflected in the many paths biology majors follow after graduation, with or without further education. 

The Biology Department at Franklin & Marshall is made up of diverse and broadly trained faculty members whose research informs their teaching. As befits biology’s place in the contemporary world, courses and research provide links to many other disciplines, including chemistry, psychology, physics, mathematics, environmental science, computer science, and public policy. The department participates in several interdisciplinary programs: Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Bioinformatics, Biological Foundations of Behavior (Neuroscience and Animal Behavior), Environmental Science, Environmental Studies and Public Health.

The central goal of the Biology curriculum is to provide students with the essential research and analytical thinking skills needed by practicing biologists and, indeed, by all citizens in a democratic society. Critical reading of journal articles is an important feature of courses. Beginning in introductory courses, laboratory activities often involve student-designed investigative projects. In more advanced courses, students have access to sophisticated instruments and may spend the entire semester conducting a research project. In addition to learning to design, conduct, and analyze scientific research, students learn essential communication skills as they convey their results in written, spoken, and poster form. These activities lead many students to intensive research experiences during the summer or academic year, under the mentorship of faculty members.

A major in Biology consists of 15 courses. Nine are core and elective courses in Biology: BIO 110, 220, 230, 305; and five electives. At least three of the electives must be taken at Franklin & Marshall. At least four of the electives must have a laboratory component. The fifth elective may be a non-lab seminar. Independent Study (BIO 390 or 490) is lab-based and may count for up to two of the five electives. Directed Readings (BIO 391) may count for up to one non-lab elective. The five additional required courses are CHM 111 and 112; PHY 111; MAT 109; and one additional course from the following: CHM 211, PHY 112, MAT 110, GEO 110, GEO/ENV 114, or CPS 111. Also required is BIO 210 (with permission, PSY 230 or both MAT 216 and 316 may be substituted for BIO 210).

A major in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology includes five biology courses (BIO 110, 220, 230, 305 and 334), six chemistry courses (CHM 111, 112, 211, 212, 321 and 451) and two electives from Biology and/or Chemistry. The electives must be chosen from the following list of courses, unless permission is received from the BMB advisor: BFB 490; BIO 240, 306, 322, 326, 332, 341, some topics courses from 370 – 379, 390 and 490; or CHM 221, 222, 322, 384, 390 and 490. Only one semester of an independent study course (390 or 490) may count as an elective and none of the electives may be a course without a laboratory. Required related courses are PHY 111 and MAT 109 and 110. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology majors may not declare a minor in Chemistry.

The Biological Foundations of Behavior major offers concentrations in Neuroscience and Animal Behavior.

The Environmental Science major combines courses in biology, chemistry and geology to understand the impacts of the human enterprise on natural systems and processes. The Environmental Studies major combines courses in science and social science to examine environmental issues from cultural, economic, and political perspectives.

The Public Health major is composed of two tracks: one in government/policy and one in biology. The Biology track provides students with a comprehensive background in biology as well as specific courses in public health and epidemiology.

Opportunities exist for students to design a joint or special studies major in Bioinformatics in consultation with the Associate Chair of Biology and/or the Computer Science Chair.

BIO 110, 220 and sometimes 230 are prerequisites to most higher-numbered courses. Most courses above BIO 230 require permission of the instructor.

The writing requirement in the Biology major is met by completion of one elective with a writing component. Regular courses satisfying the writing requirement in the Biology major are BIO 245, 250, 306, 310, 323, 325, 326, 328, 330, 337, 340, 341, 342, 343, 390 and 490. Some topics courses from 370 – 379 also fulfill the writing requirement in the Biology major. (BWR designates courses fulfilling the Biology writing requirement.)

To be considered for honors in Biology, a student must have a GPA of at least 3.30 in the major. In addition, a student must conduct an Independent Study project lasting more than one semester, submit a thesis, and present his or her research publicly as part of the honors defense. A faculty committee will award honors to students whose research demonstrates independence, intellectual engagement, and a deep understanding of the project.

Majors in the Department of Biology have studied abroad in varied programs in recent years, including: Australian National University, Canberra, Australia; University of Melbourne, Australia; University College, London, United Kingdom; School for Field Studies (in various countries); Danish International Study (DIS), Copenhagen, Denmark, Organization for Tropical Studies (Costa Rica), School for International Training (in various countries). See the International and Off-Campus Study section of the Catalog or the “Off-Campus Study Opportunities” page of the F&M Biology website for further information.