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    Oberlin College
  Oct 19, 2017
Course Catalog 2014-2015 [ARCHIVED CATALOG]


Return to College of Arts and Sciences, Degree Programs and Requirements Return to: College of Arts and Sciences, Degree Programs and Requirements

Mary C. Garvin, Professor of Biology; Department Chair
Taylor Allen, Associate Professor of Biology
Jane Ellen Bennett, Lecturer in Biology and Laboratory Instructor
Yolanda Paje Cruz, Robert S. Danforth Professor of Biology
Katherine E. Cullen, Lecturer in Biology and Laboratory Instructor
Aaron Goldman, Assistant Professor of Biology
Marta Laskowski,  Professor of Biology
Roger H. Laushman, Associate Professor of Biology
Michael J. Moore, Associate Professor of Biology
Maureen A. Peters, Associate Professor of Biology
Angela J. Roles, Assistant Professor of Biology
Laura Romberg, Associate Professor of Biology
Robin S. Salter, Associate Professor of Biology
Keith A. Tarvin, Professor of Biology  

The biology major at Oberlin has three learning goals. 1) Graduates will have knowledge of key biological concepts and underlying fundamentals and will be able to apply these across all levels of organization. 2) Graduates will have critical thinking and functional skills needed to carry out the scientific process from inception through communication of results. 3) Graduates will have an understanding of the ways in which biology interrelates with other sciences, disciplines, and society.

Many biology majors proceed to study and work in the life sciences, including fundamental research, medicine and related fields, conservation, agriculture, and environmental studies. By a proper selection of biology and other science courses in consultation with a departmental advisor, a student majoring in biology can prepare for graduate study in a wide range of areas such as animal behavior, biochemistry, biophysics, botany, cell biology, community and population ecology, conservation biology, developmental biology, genetics, environmental sciences, evolutionary biology, forestry, immunology, marine biology, molecular biology, morphology, microbiology, mycology, parasitology, physiology, population biology, systematics, virology, and wildlife biology.

Advanced Placement.

Students earning a score of 4 or 5 on the Advanced Placement Biology exam (AP Bio) or a score of 6 or 7 on the International Baccalaureate Biology Higher Level exam will receive 1 full course of natural science credit, as BIOL 604, applied toward graduation requirements, but not toward the Biology major. 

Entry-Level Course Sequence Suggestions.

Students with a strong high school science background find taking introductory Biology and Chemistry courses simultaneously in the first semester both useful and challenging. Other students benefit from taking only one of these courses during their first semester at Oberlin. Prospective Biology majors are urged to consult with a Biology faculty member during advising period to discuss these options.


The biology major consists of a minimum of 7 life science courses in categories I through III  below and 4 additional cognate coursework in category V. A minimum of two 200- or 300-level Biology lecture courses exclusive of the core must be completed at Oberlin. No more than two courses of advanced coursework may be transfer credits. Courses in which a student has earned a letter grade lower than a C– may not be used to fulfill the requirements of the Biology major. Students must complete at least five lab experiences, three from the required core courses (category I), and two from upper-level courses (categories II, III, IV).

Requirements for the Biology Major

I. Three core Biology courses:

A. Biology 100 (Organismal Biology, lecture and lab);
B. Biology 200 (Genetics, Evolution, and Ecology, lecture and lab);
C. Biology 213 (Cell and Molecular Biology, lecture and lab).

II. Two 200- or 300-level lecture courses (exclusive of the core) offered by the Biology Department. At least one must have an associated lab component.

III. Two additional upper-level courses (or the equivalent of two courses) to bring the total number of courses in the life sciences to at least 7. The following may be counted: 200- or 300-level courses (exclusive of the core) in Biology, 200- or 300-level courses in Neuroscience, Environmental Studies 316 (Systems Ecology), Environmental Studies 340 (Environmental Systems Modeling), Chemistry 374 (Biochemistry), Geology 320 (Paleontology) and Geology 370 (Paleobiology). Up to one full course of a 400-level Biology seminar, 400-level Neuroscience seminar, or Chemistry 407 may be counted toward the major, as may be Biology 501/502 (Research; up to one full course). Private readings do not count for major credit.

IV. One additional laboratory experience in the life sciences, which may come from either section II or section III, above, or from a semester of research taken for Biology credit (Biology 501/502, half or full course). (Each lab course or course that includes a lab counts as a single lab experience regardless of the number of lab meetings per week.)

V. Cognate courses:
A. Chemistry 101 and 102 (or 103 or AP equivalent);
B. Chemistry 205;
C. One of the following: Calculus (Math 132 or 133), Chemistry (Chem 254), Physics (103 or 110), Statistics (Psyc 200 or Math/Stat 113 or 114), Computer Science (CSCI 140 or 150).
In Biology, the 300-level course designation signals a 200-level prerequisite. In 2014-15, the following Biology courses change from 200-level to 300-level: BIOL 206 (Disease Ecology) will change to BIOL 308; BIOL 215 (Ornithology) will change to BIOL 309; BIOL 218 (Evolution) will change to BIOL 318; BIOL 227 (Plant Systematics) will change to BIOL 323 (lecture) and 324 (lab).


There is no minor offered in Biology.


Candidates for Honors in Biology enroll as seniors in BIOL 501 and 502, carry out a research project in consultation with a faculty committee, write and defend a thesis based on completed work, and give a required research seminar. Students interested in this program should initiate a discussion of research possibilities with any member of the staff during the junior year. Students are not accepted formally into the Honors Program until their proposed research is reviewed by the department at the beginning of their first semester of research, fall of their senior year.

Off-Campus or Summer Study

Students planning off-campus study are advised to consult first with their advisor and then with the Chair to determine acceptability of courses to the major. The department offers limited scholarships for summer course work at approved field (inland and marine) stations in the United States. Applications for these scholarships are invited early in the spring semester; awards are made in May.

Transfer of Credit

Credits in biology earned elsewhere may be applied to the Oberlin biology major with the approval of the department chair, as long as at least half of the minimum courses in biology (full courses or equivalent), including two full courses or equivalent of advanced course work (defined as 200- or 300- level courses, exclusive of 213 and 200, offered by the Biology Department) are completed at Oberlin.

Winter Term

Among the topics for Winter Term projects that members of the Biology Department are willing to sponsor are the following: Mr. Allen: projects relying upon genetic, molecular biological, and biophysical techniques to address cell physiological questions. Readings in the physiology of muscle and motile cells. Instruction and readings in Old Icelandic and Old English literature. Ms. Bennett: intensive science review; pre-medical internship. Ms. Cruz: projects involving comparative embryology, developmental biology, marsupial biology. Readings in the history of biology, philosophy of science, evolution. Ms. Garvin: projects and readings in parasitology, entomology, ornithology, epidemiology, and ecology. Mr Goldman: projects related to the early evolution of proteins and functional networks in ancient life. Ms. Laskowski: projects involving plant physiology, plant molecular biology. Mr.Laushman: projects involving conservation biology, population genetics, and aquatic vascular plants. Mr. Moore: lab and field studies in plant systematics, particularly desert taxa. Ms. Peters: laboratory studies of a biological rhythm in the nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans, using a variety of genetic, molecular biology, and genomic techniques. Readings in genetics, molecular biology and genomics. Ms. Roles: projects or readings involving molecular ecology, population and quantitative genetics, evolutionary biology, and conservation/invasion biology. Ms. Romberg: projects involving the biochemistry and kinetics of bacterial cell division proteins and computational modeling of protein polymerization. Ms. Salter: projects involving immunology, virology, or cancer; health career internships. Mr. Tarvin: projects and readings in behavioral ecology and evolutionary biology, including human evolutionary biology.

Preparation for Post-Graduate Education

Medical School, Dental and Veterinary Medicine.  Please see the sub-section “Pre-medical” in the section “The BA degree and Pre-Professional Development.”

Graduate Schools. Most graduate schools in biology expect a major in the biological sciences to include:

  1. Two years of Chemistry with laboratory.
  2. One year of Physics with laboratory.
  3. College-level Mathematics (Calculus and Statistics).
  4. Courses in Computer Science.

Certain deficiencies in course work may be made up in graduate school but generally not for graduate credit. Students planning to pursue an advanced degree should consult individual admission requirements of the schools and graduate departments in which they are interested. The qualifying examination for most graduate schools is the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) which consists of two parts, the General Examination and an Advanced component in biology. The majority of graduate schools require the General Examination for admission but there is variation with respect to the Advanced requirement. Students are strongly urged to consult with members of the Biology Department in preparing for graduate work.

Independent Work

Pre-Requisites for Biology Courses

Each course in the Biology department which requires a pre-requisite will indicate the specific course that is required for admission to the course. A minimum grade of C-, CR or P is required in the pre-requisite. A student may also consult with the instructor if special preparation for a course might be considered as a substitute for the pre-requisite.

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