Major Requirements

All biology majors will complete a common core of biology courses and additional supporting courses. The purpose of the core courses is to give students exposure to the breadth of the field of biology and to provide them with essential knowledge and competencies in the areas of genetics, cell biology, ecology, and evolution that, together, will give them the necessary background and tools they need to excel in whatever area  of biology they choose to pursue.

Following the core courses, an appropriate course of study at the undergraduate level will vary from student to student depending upon the student's interests and career goals. For example, students majoring in biology may choose to take a broad course of study in the discipline thus maximizing exposure to major disciplinary concepts and providing a strong background for specialization at the graduate level. Alternatively, biology majors may choose to focus on a particular subdiscipline of biology or on the intersection of biology with another discipline.

After core and intermediate level study, biology majors often participate in a research experience at the advanced level, which is empirical in nature (i.e. based on the testing of an hypothesis through observation or experimentation.) Ordinarily, students complete this research during their junior or senior year after significant coursework in biology and supporting disciplines has been completed.

Effective catalog-Students are normally expected to satisfy the major or minor requirements in effect at the time of the declaration of their biology major. The requirements for a major in biology are: 38 credits in biology (consisting of four core courses, a 2 credit lab, four upper level courses, and the Senior Seminar) and five supporting courses (20 credits).  Students may count only one course from Biology 470-478 or one independent study or internship toward their biology major. Transfer students wanting to graduate from Macalester with a major in biology must take at least four 4-credit biology courses at Macalester in addition to the BIOL 489 - Senior Seminar, only one of which can be an internship or independent. Biology majors wishing to take a biology or supporting course at an institution other than Macalester must check with the department chair prior to taking the course, at which time the chair will let the student know whether the course will count toward the student's major in biology.

Required courses in biology for the major:

1. Introductory Courses

BIOL 255 - Cell Biology and Genetics Laboratory Methods
BIOL 260 - Genetics
BIOL 265 - Cell Biology
BIOL 270 - Biodiversity and Evolution
BIOL 285 - Ecology 

The required courses (above) may be taken in any order, however, BIOL 260 - Genetics is normally taken before BIOL 265 - Cell Biology since CHEM 112 is a prerequisite for Cell Biology. BIOL 255 - Cell Biology and Genetics Laboratory Methods must be taken concurrently with either BIOL 260 or BIOL 265. The core courses have been developed for students beginning their Biology education. Ideally, the core courses should be completed by the end of the sophomore year and prior to studying abroad, and must be completed no later than the end of the junior year.

2. Upper Level Courses

Four upper level biology courses, at least two with laboratory.  At least two of the four upper level courses must be taken at Macalester.

3. Capstone Requirement

BIOL 489 - Senior Seminar is required as the capstone experience and consists of:

  1. activities taking place during the weekly meeting of the seminar;
  2. the production of a major thesis-driven, analytical paper during the senior year, written through multiple drafts, which includes a thorough review of the literature;
  3. the delivery of an oral presentation to the department.

While an independent research experience may form the basis of the written and oral presentations, students may choose to present work they have done in other contexts such as internships, independent study, study-away opportunities, or in their other courses.

Supporting courses for the biology major:

A strong background in supporting sciences is important to all students studying biology. Many core concepts in biology have their foundation in the physical sciences and mathematics. Furthermore, the work of biologist continues to become more interdisciplinary. For these reasons, all majors must complete an approved set of supporting courses.

Required supporting courses:

CHEM 111 - General Chemistry I: Structure and Equilibrium and CHEM 112 - General Chemistry II: Energetics and Reactivity or CHEM 115 - Accelerated General Chemistry
MATH 135 - Applied Multivariable Calculus I or MATH 137 - Applied Multivariable Calculus II or MATH 237 - Applied Multivariable Calculus III (see math/statistics guidelines below)
MATH 155 - Introduction to Statistical Modeling (see math/statistics guidelines below)

Note: Students with sufficient prior background in chemistry, and with approval from the Chemistry Department, may be exempted from taking CHEM 111 and may enroll directly into CHEM 112 or CHEM 115 .

Math/Statistics Guidelines

Many biology majors take calculus and/or statistics in high school. However, the calculus and statistics courses at Macalester emphasize the multivariable functions needed in biology and cover topics that are usually not encountered in even the most advanced high school courses. MATH 135 - Applied Multivariable Calculus I is appropriate for students who have not had any high school calculus or who have had a high school calculus course at the level of AP calculus with an AB score of 3 or lower. MATH 137 - Applied Multivariable Calculus II is appropriate for students who have had a year of high school calculus at the level of AP calculus with an AB score of 4 or higher.MATH 237 - Applied Multivariable Calculus III is appropriate for students who have a strong high school calculus background at the level of AP calculus with a BC score of 4 or higher.

Note: Some elective courses for the biology major have MATH 137 - Applied Multivariable Calculus II as a prerequisite: PHYS 227 - Principles of Physics II and CHEM 311 - Thermodynamics and Kinetics. Students who plan to take CHEM 312 - Quantum Chemistry and Spectroscopy are advised to take MATH 237 - Applied Multivariable Calculus III 

All students must enroll in MATH 155 - Introduction to Statistical Modeling.

Elective supporting courses:

One elective supporting course selected from the following: One elective supporting courses among the following: ANTH 115 - Biological Anthropology, ANTH 239 - Medical Anthropology, ANTH 240 - Human Osteology and Paleopathology, CHEM 211 - Organic Chemistry I, COMP 123 - Core Concepts in Computer ScienceENVI 275 - Outdoor Environmental Education in Theory, Policy and Practice, GEOG 225 - Introduction to Geographic Information Systems, GEOL 165 - History/Evolution of Earth, GEOL 300 - Paleobiology, MATH 125 - Epidemiology, PHYS 226 - Principles of Physics I, PSYC 180 - Brain, Mind, and Behavior or another course approved by the Chair.

Selection of the elective supporting courses should be made in consultation with the student's advisor and must be approved by the Chair. Long-term goals typially will influence the choice of supporting courses. For example, students interested in a career in medicine or research in the biomedical sciences normally should complete a year of organic chemistry and a year of introductory physics. Students interested in pursuing an ecology path should consider taking a GIS (Geographic Information Systems) course, intermediate or advanced math or statistics, and/or a geology course. Students planning a career as a science educator at the primary or secondary level should consider taking supporting courses in several of the science departments, as well as courses from the Educational Studies Department.

Individualizing the Biology Major

In consultation with one or more biology faculty members, each student will develop a major plan by choosing appropriate electives in biology and supporting disciplines. By their choice of electives, students may explore a variety of biological subdisciplines or focus on one or two areas of study. For example, students may design majors that focus on such areas as ecology; evolution; immunology and microbiology; genetics, cell and developmental biology; plant biology; biochemistry; or neurobiology. Biology majors interested in attending medical school after graduation should refer to the "Premedical Program" in the "Special Programs" section of this catalog and should consult a premedical advisor as early as possible in their planning process.

Requirements for the major with added emphasis

Increasingly, biological scientists address questions by working in groups that are interdisciplinary in nature. Thus, interdisciplinary fields of study have emerged that cannot be adequately covered within a single department. Two such interdisciplinary fields, Biochemistry and Neurobiology, can be explored through an added emphasis to a biology major. Students choosing such a major with one of these EMPHASES will have this noted on their transcript (e.g. Biology Major with Added Emphasis in Neurobiology). In all cases, students must successfully complete the full set of requirements for the biology major. It is expected that the required senior presentation will be in the area of the student's emphasis. Students should configure their electives in consultation with a biology faculty member using the following guidelines:

Requirements for a Major in Biology with Added Emphasis in Biochemistry

Students with a strong interest in pursuing more in-depth study of biochemistry may want to consider this track. This emphasis would also be an option for students interested in medical school and/or graduate study in virtually any biomedical field.  Because two of the required supporting courses, PHYS 227 and CHEM 311 have MATH 137 as a prerequisite, and MATH 237 is required for another of the optional supporting courses (CHEM 312), students pursuing an added emphasis in biochemistry need to plan their math courses accordingly.

Biology electives:

BIOL 351 - Biochemistry I
BIOL 352 - Biochemistry II 

Plus at least two courses from the following (at least one of which must be in Biology):

BIOL 353 - Advanced Genetics
BIOL 355 - Virology
BIOL 356 - Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
BIOL 357 - Immunology
BIOL 358 - Microbiology
BIOL 368 - Plant Physiology
BIOL 369 - Developmental Biology
BIOL 472 - Research in Molecular Biology
BIOL 474 - Research in Biochemistry

CHEM 312 - Quantum Chemistry and Spectroscopy
CHEM 361 - Advanced Organic Chemistry

Other courses with the approval of the Chair

 Required supporting courses:

CHEM 212 - Organic Chemistry II
CHEM 311 - Thermodynamics and Kinetics
PHYS 227 - Principles of Physics II