About the Major

Department/Program Description.

These are thrilling times to study biology. Advances in molecular biology, epigenetics, and bioinformatics are leading to extraordinary new insights in every field, from evolution and ecology to development, cell biology, genetics/genomics, and neuroscience. These research areas are providing essential information as we address the urgent challenges of biodiversity conservation, global climate change, epidemiology, and human health and well-being. Biology is also at the heart of new ways of understanding ourselves as human beings in relation to other living things. Connections between biological disciplines are raising key questions in new ways, while biological knowledge has become fundamentally integrated with social and medical ethics, public policy, and journalism.

The Biology Department offers a broad range of courses that emphasize the process of scientific inquiry and current experimental approaches. Our courses also consider real-world implications of biological issues: the ethics of embryonic stem cell research, gender issues and reproductive technologies, the AIDS epidemic, and the impact of human activity on natural communities. Biology courses can be the start of a dedicated career in research, medicine, conservation, public health, bioethics, sustainable resource use, and many other areas. They can also bring the intellectual excitement of these investigations to students whose major focus is in the arts, humanities, or social sciences. We welcome students of all backgrounds and interests to join us.

Courses for Non-Majors.

The following courses do not have prerequisites and, as such, are appropriate for nonmajors.

  • BIOL106 The Biology of Sex
  • BIOL137 Writing About Evolution
  • BIOL140 Classic Studies in Animal Behavior
  • BIOL145 Primate Behavior: The Real Monkey Business
  • BIOL148 Biology of Women
  • BIOL149 Neuroethology: Sensory Basis of Animal Orientation and Navigation
  • BIOL173 Global Change and Infectious Disease
  • BIOL181 Principles of Biology I: Cell Biology and Molecular Basis of Heredity
  • BIOL182 Principles of Biology II
  • BIOL186 The Biology of Nutrition
  • BIOL197 Introduction to Environmental Studies
Admission to the Major.

Students are encouraged to begin their major in the first year so that they can take maximum advantage of upper-level biology courses and research opportunities in later years. However, the major can certainly be successfully completed if begun during sophomore year, and many students are able to combine the biology major with a semester abroad.

A prospective biology major begins with a series of two core introductory courses. Students should begin the core series with BIOL181 and its associated laboratory course (BIOL191), which are offered in the fall semester. BIOL181 is offered in a number of small sections rather than a single large lecture class. These small sections allow for problem-based learning at a more individualized pace as students master the first semester of university-level biology. Students should enroll separately for the lab course, BIOL191.  These courses do not have prerequisites or co-requisites, but it is useful to have some chemistry background or to take chemistry concurrently. In the spring semester, the prospective major should take BIOL182 and its laboratory course, BIOL192. An optional spring course (BIOL194) is offered to students of BIOL182 who wish a challenging reading and discussion experience in addition to the lectures.

Major Requirements.

The biology majors program of study consists of the following.

  • The two introductory courses BIOL181-182 with their labs, BIOL191-192.
  • At least six elective biology courses at the 200 and 300 levels, including one mid-level cell/molecular course (either MB&B208, BIOL210, 212, or 218) and one mid-level organismic/population course (either NS&B/BIOL213, BIOL214, 215 or 216).

    Note: No more than three of these mid-level courses (listed above) may be counted towards the six advanced elective requirement.

  • Two semesters of general chemistry (CHEM141-142 or 143-144)
  • Any three additional semesters of related courses from at least two different departments: physics (PHYS111 or 112 or 113 or 116), organic chemistry (CHEM251 or 252), mathematics (MATH117 or higher), statistics (MATH132 or BIOL320/520 or QAC201), or computer science (COMP112, COMP211 or higher). Note: A strong chemistry background is especially recommended for students planning to enter graduate or medical school. Most medical and other health-related graduate schools require two years of college-level chemistry, including laboratory components, as well as a course in biochemistry. 

Electives may be chosen from among the following courses at the 200, 300, or 500 levels. See WesMaps for current course offerings. The courses are grouped thematically for your convenience only.

  • BIOL212 Principles and Mechanisms of Cell Biology
  • BIOL218 Developmental Biology
  • MB&B/BIOL237 Signal Transduction
  • BIOL245 Cellular Neurophysiology
  • BIOL/NS&B325 Stem Cells: Basic Biology to Clinical Applications
  • BIOL334 Shaping the Organism
  • BIOL335/535 Research Approaches to Disease
  • BIOL340/540 Issues in Development and Evolution
  • BIOL343/543 Muscle and Nerve Development
  • BIOL/NS&B345 Developmental Neurobiology
  • MB&B232/BIOL232 Immunology
  • BIOL214 Evolution
  • BIOL215 Evolution in Human-Altered Environments
  • BIOL216 Ecology
  • BIOL220 Conservation Biology
  • BIOL226 Invasive Species: Biology, Policy, and Management
  • BIOL235 Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy
  • BIOL254 Comparative Animal Behavior
  • BIOL290 Plant Form and Diversity
  • BIOL310 Genomic Analysis
  • BIOL312 Conservation of Aquatic Ecosystems
  • BIOL316/516 Plant-Animal Interactions
  • BIOL318/518 Nature and Nurture: The Interplay of Genes and Environment
  • BIOL327/527 Evolutionary and Ecological Bioinformatics
  • BIOL336 Landscape Ecology
  • BIOL340/540 Issues in Development and Evolution
  • BIOL346 The Forest Ecosystem
  • MB&B208 Molecular Biology
  • BIOL210 Genomics: Modern Genetics, Bioinformatics, and the Human Genome Project
  • BIOL/COMP265 Bioinformatics Programming
  • BIOL327/527 Evolutionary and Ecological Bioinformatics
  • MB&B231/BIOL231 Microbiology
  • MB&B394 Advanced Laboratory in Molecular Biology and Genetics
  • BIOL310 Genomic Analysis
  • BIOL327/527 Evolutionary and Ecological Bioinformatics
  • BIOL337/537 Origins of Bacterial Diversity
  • MB&B333/533 Gene Regulation
  • NS&B/BIOL213 Behavioral Neurobiology
  • BIOL/NS&B224 Hormones, Brain, and Behavior
  • BIOL235 Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy
  • BIOL239/NS&B239 Functional Anatomy of the Human
  • NS&B/BIOL243 Neurohistology
  • BIOL/N&SB245 Cellular Neurophysiology
  • BIOL/NS&B247 Laboratory in Neurophysiology
  • BIOL/NS&B249 Neuroethology
  • BIOL/NS&B250 Laboratory in Cellular/Behavioral Neurobiology
  • BIOL/NS&B252 Cell Biology of the Neuron
  • NS&B/BIOL254 Comparative Animal Behavior
  • BIOL290 Plant Form and Diversity
  • BIOL/NS&B299 Waves, Brains, and Music
  • NS&B/BIOL328 Chemical Senses
  • BIOL/NS&B345 Developmental Neurobiology
  • BIOL/NS&B351 Neurobiology of Learning and Memory
  • NS&B/BIOL353 Neurobiology of Neurological Disorders
Fulfilling the biology major
  • Cross-listed courses that are included on the list above are automatically credited to the biology major. At least two elective courses (200-level and above) that are counted toward the biology major must be used to fulfill only the biology major and cannot be simultaneously used to fulfill another major.
  • Depending on the student’s specific program, and with prior permission of the chair, up to two biology courses from outside the department may be counted toward the major. Two Wesleyan courses that fall into this category are ANTH202 Paleoanthropology: The Study of Human Evolution and ANTH349 The Human Skeleton.
  • Additional courses which may be credited to the major: BIOL 320, E&ES 233, MB&B 228 and 383 and ECON300. MB&B228 (Introductory Medical Biochemistry) may be counted as long as neither MB&B208 (Molecular Biology) nor MB&B383 (Biochemistry) is counted toward the major.
  • Biology majors are allowed to apply at most one elective course taken credit/unsatisfactory toward fulfilling the major requirements; however, this is discouraged because good performance in major courses is an important aspect of a student's transcript.
  • Courses in the BIOL400 series (such as research tutorials) contribute toward graduation but do not count toward the major.
Capstone Experience.

As a capstone experience, senior biology majors are encouraged to participate in one of the following opportunities for intensive scientific engagement: a hands-on laboratory or field course, participation in lab research (typically begun prior to senior year), or enrollment in an advanced (300-level) seminar or class. A series of faculty-student dinners during Fall and Spring of senior year provide further opportunities to discuss emergent scientific issues and approaches and their relation to students' career goals.


To be considered for departmental honors, a student must

  • Be a biology major and be recommended to the department by a faculty member. It is expected that the student will have at least a B average (grade-point average 85) in courses credited to the major.
  • Submit a thesis based on laboratory research, computational research, or mathematical modeling. The thesis is carried out under the supervision of a faculty member of the department.
Advanced Placement.

Students who have received a grade of 4 or 5 on the AP exam may receive one university credit toward graduation 

If you earned a 4 or 5 on the AP Biology exam, you are eligible to take a placement exam during Freshman Orientation. If you pass this exam, you may choose to place out of BIOL181 and go directly into BIOL182 in the Spring. However, we recommend against this for almost all students, especially those who may be interested in the biology major. Although some of the MB&B/BIOL181 material will be familiar from a high school AP course, the depth and rigor of MB&B/BIOL181 provide a strong foundation as you move forward to more advanced courses. Alternatively, students with AP 4 or 5 may consult individually with the BIOL182 faculty regarding placing out of this second-semester introductory course. However, both courses are considered essential background for our upper-level courses; students are highly encouraged to enroll in both semesters.


Dr. Neil Clendeninn Prize: Established in 1991 by George Thornton, Class of 1991, and David Derryck, Class of 1993, for the African American student who has achieved academic excellence in biology and/or molecular biology and biochemistry. This student must have completed his or her sophomore year and in that time have exemplified those qualities of character, leadership, and concern for the Wesleyan community as shown by Dr. Neil Clendeninn, Class of 1971.

The Peirce Prize: Awarded in successive years for excellence in biology, chemistry, and geology.

Transfer Credit.

Up to two outside credits for biology courses may also be applied from another institution, for instance, during a study-abroad program. Prior permission must be obtained from the departmental liaison (Professor David Bodznick. dbodznick@wesleyan.edu) to ensure creditability of specific courses from other institutions.

Related Programs or Certificates.

Environmental Studies Certificate. The Environmental Studies (ENVS) program is interdisplinary and offers both a certificate and a linked major. The ENVS linked major is a secondary major and requires a student to also have a primary major in another department, program, or college. ENVS majors write a senior thesis or essay in environmental studies that is mentored by a professor in another deparment, program, or college (e.g., biology). There is also an opportunity to earn an ENVS certificate, which does not require a senior thesis or essay. See http://www.wesleyan.edu/coe/academics/index.html.

Informatics and Modeling Certificate. The Integrative Genomic Science pathway within this certificate will be of particular interest for life science majors. See http://www.wesleyan.edu/imcp.

Neuroscience and Behavior Program. Several faculty members in the Biology and Psychology departments also participate in the Neuroscience and Behavior Program that, at the undergraduate level, constitutes a separate major. Information about that program can be found at www.wesleyan.edu/nsb.

The graduate program is an integral part of the Biology Department’s offerings. Not only are graduate students active participants in the undergraduate courses, but also, upper-level undergraduates are encouraged to take graduate-level courses and seminars (500 series). Research opportunities are also available for undergraduates, and, frequently, these involve close interaction with graduate students.

Additional Information.

The seminar series features distinguished scientists from other institutions who present lectures on their research findings. One objective of these seminars is to relate material studied in courses, tutorials, and research to current scientific activity. These seminars are usually held on Thursdays at noon and are open to all members of the University community. Undergraduates are especially welcome.