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College of Science

Biological Sciences

The biological sciences are undergoing an extraordinary revolution, and these plans of study are designed to help students successfully master this explosion of knowledge. The Department of Biological Sciences at Purdue University was one of the first in the country to recognize that it is not necessary to separate the life sciences by type of organism and that all living organisms depend upon the same cellular and molecular organization. We have emphasized structure and function throughout the living world and, thus, can prepare students for a wide range of curricula and careers.

It is important to recognize that the study of biological organisms also requires an understanding of the physical and chemical world. Thus, our curriculum requires courses in chemistry, physics and mathematics/computer science/statistics. Biology builds upon this knowledge and tries to understand the complexity that gives rise to living organisms and, ultimately, to biological diversity. Our curriculum is designed so that this basic biological knowledge can readily be applied to critical problems in health and medicine, agriculture and the management of other renewable resources, and the nature of populations and their control.

The amount of biological information is exploding, and the rate at which it is discovered is incredible. It is essential that we provide opportunities for students to focus on an area of specialization built upon a common base. Thus, we begin our curriculum with the four-semester biology core. This set of courses provides a comprehensive foundation for all biology majors.

The sequence begins with an overview of evolutionary and organism concepts and the way organisms interact with their environment and with each other. Next, we cover the principles of organism structure, function and development, and we explore the relationship among these topics. We then move deeper and deeper into the cell and study how cells are structured and how they function. Finally, the principles of genetics and molecular biology are provided to students who are now well versed in the chemical and quantitative sciences. Such students are now able to fully grasp the nature of molecular genetics as well as the quantitative components of classical genetics.

By the third year, students can build upon the courses in chemistry, physics, math and the biology core and branch out into one of a number of areas. Those interested in medicine or veterinary medicine can concentrate on preprofessional studies. Those who are still interested in sampling many areas of biology can take our general biology emphasis or consider biology teaching. Those who might want to specialize in a particular area can do so in majors such as biochemistry; cell, molecular and developmental biology; ecology, evolution and environmental biology; genetics; health and disease; microbiology; and neurobiology and physiology.

These disciplinary emphases are differentiated by upper-level undergraduate and graduate courses that are nationally known for their excellence. However, the key to our curriculum is the way that advanced laboratory courses and experiences are built into the degree. Thus, we have a series of advanced modular laboratories that provide state-of-the-art experimentation for upperclassmen in all disciplines. In addition, we emphasize undergraduate research so that all students can perform independent research in laboratories within the Department of Biological Sciences, in other laboratories on the Purdue campus, and in various industrial and government laboratories.

Many students who participate in this program have written undergraduate honors theses and have been co-authors on papers in top scientific journals. This is the type of experience that can only be obtained at a research-intensive institution such as Purdue with the tremendous resources available from federal and industrial grants.

Finally, the Department of Biological Sciences has developed a student-centered environment to enable all students to succeed. There are three seminars for biology majors. In the first semester, students may take a resource and problem-solving seminar that is coordinated with the first-semester biology course, BIOL 12100.

The second seminar, titled Planning Your Future in Biology, is one in which successful alumni talk to students about their careers and their science and why the path between points A and B in career planning is almost never a straight line. This seminar also introduces students to the exciting world of research and the role that undergraduates play in the discovery process.

The third seminar, Preparing for Your Future in Biology, equips upper-level undergraduates with the tools needed to search for jobs or seek admission to graduate or professional schools. These and many other elements of our curriculum were designed in conjunction with resources provided by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Undergraduate Initiative Program. The Department of Biological Sciences at Purdue is one of only a handful of major institutions that have received support from this organization over many years. We have utilized these resources to develop many new courses and approaches to teaching and learning, and we are confident that we will continue this excellence in undergraduate learning well into the twenty-first century.

The three broad areas of concentration in this department include: 
1. Basic biology 
2. Biology teaching 
3. Preprofessional studies

Our graduates pursue a broad variety of career opportunities. Many go into professional schools (medicine, veterinary medicine, dentistry, etc.) or graduate schools in biology, biochemistry, management, education and other health-related programs. Students who enter the workforce after the bachelor of science degree take positions such as research assistants, associate scientists, laboratory technicians and technologists in industry, government, hospitals and universities; teachers in junior highs and high schools; salespeople in scientific and health-related firms; and park/zoo staff. Because of the strong training in basic sciences and analytical thinking, biologists are well poised to meet the demands of a constantly changing workplace ... and of their constantly evolving selves.

The website for the biology department can be found at www.biology.purdue.edu.