You Want to be a Biology Major?
Sarah N. Lynch
high school, Pascale Chrisphonte said she has been intrigued
a senior at Barnard College on the pre-med track, Chrisphonte’s
passion for the topic has only increased.
high school I always loved biology,” Chrisphonte said. “I took
AP bio and I loved my freshmen year of biology. I think it’s
really fascinating how the body works. What’s good about biology
is that it’s a piece of a whole. You can take things apart.”
to popular belief, not all biology majors are on the pre-med
track. In fact, according to Barnard College assistant professor
Hilary Callahan, an undergraduate degree in biology is very
is a liberal arts major, so that’s something important to emphasize,” Callahan
said. “It’s a major like any other major, and it’s not designed
as a pre-professional major.” In fact, there are myriad career
options for biology majors.
can become a science writer, a researcher, you can work for
the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or work for the government
on bio-terrorism,” Chrisphonte said. “There are a lot of openings.
You don’t have to become a doctor. I knew a bio major who worked
at the Central Park Zoo. You can do plant biology and work
in a green house.”
what kinds of courses do biology majors have to take, and how
rigorous is the workload?
said that for many biology majors, especially those who are
pre-med, a biology major may have quite a number of credits
to juggle. “A lot of biology departments will require you to
take chemistry and a lot even require organic chemistry,” Callahan
said. “Some even require you to take physics. That’s for the
major and it’s also for a pre-med roster.” Callahan said that
in addition to these broad classes, students also have to take
a number of biology electives in many diverse areas.
department will offer fairly standard courses,” she said. “Any
department will have genetics, ecology and also cell or molecular
biology. Another thing that’s really common is the breadth
requirement—you have to be broad. Even if a student loves ecology,
she still will have to take molecular biology as well.”
addition to the major requirements, students interested in
pre-med must also complete a year of biology with lab, a year
of chemistry with lab, a year of organic chemistry with lab,
a year of physics with lab, a year of English and a year of
either calculus or statistics, according to Chrisphonte.
said that some students enroll in biology hoping to avoid math,
but they should be aware that math plays an important role
in biological studies. As an undergraduate at Yale, one of
the reasons that Callahan decided to major in biology was actually
because she loves math.
people choose biology thinking it’s less math than chemistry
or physics or engineering, but a good math background is very
important for success,” she said. “You always need it. People
get overwhelmed in classes. To think it’s just plants and animals
and microscopes is a big misconception. There’s a lot of data
to analyze and there’s theory.”
also recommends that students who pass their AP or IB high
school biology courses should not skip their introductory biology
courses when they start college. “Every school is different,
but it’s college level so it’s rare to be exempt from intro,” she
said. “It’s not usually wise to place out. It will give you
what you need to know if you plan to major.” But even if the
math and the sciences are not a student’s greatest strength,
it does not mean that he or she can’t succeed. “Quite frankly,
I didn’t make all A’s,” Chrisphonte said. “I didn’t make C’s,
either, but I worked, kept my eye on the goal and I’m not the
bomb at science,” she said with a laugh. “It doesn’t come naturally.”
unsure about what area of medicine she will pursue her college
internship experience at Bellevue Hospital in the summer of
2002 has intensified her interests in both public health and
said the internship was important because it has only solidified
her decision to pursue medicine and it gave her confidence. “You
have to be tenacious,” she said. “You have to know this is
what you want to do.”#
Lynch is a senior at Barnard College and an intern at Education
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