Robert M. Bellin, Ph.D., Professor and Chair
The biology curriculum is designed to acquaint students with the broad scope of the biological sciences at several levels of functional organization. Its courses include molecular, cellular, organismal, ecological, and evolutionary aspects of biology. Departmental course offerings prepare biology majors for advanced study in graduate or professional schools and for other professional opportunities. The department believes that an informed understanding of biological principles is an important aspect of a liberal arts education, and it therefore offers diverse courses that introduce non-majors to basic biological concepts and explore the implications of modern biology for various social and ethical issues. Our curriculum also offers courses in geology to inform majors and non-majors about the history of the Earth, geologic materials, and the physical processes operating within the Earth and on its surface.
To be admitted to the biology major, students must have completed at least one introductory biology course and a lab course in chemistry, geology or physics, all at Holy Cross. The applicant must have earned at least a C average in biology and also in the other science courses (both averages are considered separately). Admission is competitive; it depends on classroom performance, an essay submitted with the admission process and on available space. Because the biology major, like all science majors, is structured, it is important that prospective majors begin their science courses as early as possible and certainly no later than their third semester.
All biology majors joining the major in Fall Semester 2016 or later must fulfill curricular requirements approved by the College Curriculum Committee in Spring Semester 2016. These students will complete the BIOL 161-162-163 introductory sequence plus five other biology courses, at least three of which must have accompanying labs, and six cognate courses from mathematics and other relevant course disciplines.
The full list of requirements for current biology major (approved Spring 2016) is as follows: the complete introductory biology series with labs; three additional upper division biology courses with lab; two additional upper division biology courses with or without lab; CHEM 181 plus either CHEM 221 or CHEM 231 (all with labs); MATH 135, or the equivalent; an approved Holy Cross course in statistics (BIOL 275 or MATH 220); and two additional cognate courses chosen from the approved list maintained by the department (see additional information in the following paragraph). The upper division biology courses taken must include at least one from three of the four Course Distribution Areas (i.e., Cellular and Molecular Biology, Mechanistic Organismal Biology, Organismal Diversity, and Ecology and Evolution). One semester of research for credit may be used towards the upper division biology course requirement with lab. Students may substitute one Geoscience course above the 100 level for an upper division biology course. Of the minimum total of eight biology courses required by this curriculum, at least six must be taken at Holy Cross.
To complete their cognate requirements, students must take two additional courses from among the following offerings: CHEM 221, CHEM 222, CHEM 231, CSCI 131, CSCI 132, CSCI 135, GEOS 150, GEOS 210, GEOS 270, GEOS 310, MATH 136, MATH 241, PHYS 115, PHYS 116, PSYC 221. A.P. or I.B. credits may not be used to fulfill this requirement. Students may elect to substitute an upper division biology course (beyond the required five) for one of these cognates.
Biology majors who joined the major prior to Fall Semester 2016 may opt to follow the requirements listed above, or to complete the curriculum requirements that were in place when they joined the major. Under those previously established requirements, students will complete the BIOL161-162-163 introductory sequence plus six other biology courses, at least three of which must have accompanying labs, and six cognate courses from mathematics and other natural sciences. They will also select an area of concentration (track) that will help to determine the specific courses taken after introductory biology. The tracks are Cellular and Molecular Biology (CMB) and Ecological, Evolutionary and Organismal Biology (EEOB). Of the minimum total of nine biology courses, at least seven must be taken at Holy Cross.
For the CMB track, two of the classes beyond introductory biology must come from a group of cellular and molecular biology courses and two more must represent two other biology distribution areas (diversity, organismal biology, and ecology/evolution). Alternatively, a student may choose one cellular and molecular course, Genetics or Genetic Analysis plus two courses from areas outside of the CMB distribution courses. For both paths, the remaining two biology courses can come from any area of the biology curriculum. All students in the CMB track must also complete two years of chemistry and either mathematics through integration or one calculus and one statistics course. A year of physics is recommended but not required. (Premedical students must complete a year of physics with lab.)
For the EEOB track, students will take one course from each of the four distribution areas (cell and molecular, diversity, organismal biology, ecology and evolution). The remaining two courses can come from any area of the biology curriculum. All students in the EEOB track must also complete one year of general chemistry plus either mathematics through integration or one calculus and one statistics course. In addition they must take two other science courses (Geology, Chemistry, Physics or Genetics) drawn from a list of courses approved for this purpose. (Premedical students must complete two years of chemistry with lab and a year of physics with lab.)
Regardless of the curriculum chosen, all biology majors must earn an average grade of C or better in introductory biology courses to continue in the major. Additional courses, up to a maximum of 14, may be taken at Holy Cross or, with the chair’s permission, in other programs, such as Study Abroad, Study Away, the Higher Education Consortium of Central Massachusetts or summer school.
In addition to formal courses, the Department offers qualified students an opportunity to conduct research (Biology 401) in association with faculty members in their research laboratories. Opportunities also exist for students to pursue individual interests in faculty-directed readings courses based on biological literature (Biology 405). Students conducting research for a thesis in the College Honors Program must elect Biology 407, 408. Students may receive up to one semester of lab credit towards the major by taking either Biology 401 or 407. Additional semesters of research count for credit towards graduation from the College but do not count as biology credits. Research credits are subject to the rule of no more than 14 courses in any department.
Advanced Placement Credit: Students with AP credit in Biology do not receive credit toward the minimum number of course required by the major or advanced standing in the Biology curriculum.
The Departments of Biology and Chemistry jointly offer a concentration that focuses on the study of the chemistry underlying biological structure and function. Concentrators must be enrolled as either biology or chemistry majors. Participants take Biology 161, 301, and 302 with laboratories; Chemistry 181, 221, 222, 231, and 336 (or equivalent); and one additional biology course with an associated biochemistry-oriented laboratory, in addition to the usual courses required of their major. Concentrators must also complete a two-semester thesis project in their fourth year involving research on some aspect of biochemistry. Admission to the concentration is competitive and occurs in the second semester of the second year. Interested students should contact the Concentration Coordinator or the chair of either department.
The Geosciences curriculum offers students an insight into the physical, chemical, and biological processes of the Earth and its multitude of interacting global systems. As we face increasing scientific, social, and economic challenges related to our changing environment, the tools and topics covered in this curriculum can help us make sense of how we affect and are affected by this environment. The Geosciences curriculum at Holy Cross highlights the wide range of processes that occur at and near the Earth's surface, including how geologic forces create and modify landscapes; how water moves between the Earth, oceans, and atmosphere; and how life and climate have evolved and influence the Earth over its 4.5 to 4.6-billion-year history. Fieldwork outdoors is central to many of the courses, and many of the courses provide opportunities for hands-on exploration of the Earth, whether outdoors, in the lab, or through analyzing authentic data. Geosciences course offerings are listed below the Biology courses.
The Geosciences minor is a flexible six-course program for students of any major who want to explore this discipline beyond the introductory level. Students considering this minor are advised to complete GEOS 150 (Introduction to Geology) no later than fall semester sophomore year, and they are advised to declare the minor no later than the end of spring semester junior year. Note that GEOS 140 (Environmental Geology) does not count toward the minor.
The curriculum is as follows: Geosciences minors must successfully complete one required course, GEOS 150 (Introduction to Geology). Students must also complete five additional Geosciences electives (currently GEOS 210, 270, 299, 399, 401, 405; and BIOL 255). Because the Geosciences draw on tools and techniques from many disciplines, students may substitute one Geosciences elective with one of these complimentary courses: BIOL 233 (Freshwater Ecology), BIOL 275 (Biological Statistics), CHEM 300 (Instrumental Chemistry and Analytical Methods), CSCI 131 (Techniques of Programming), ENVS 247 (Introduction to Geographical Information Systems), MATH 220 (Statistics), MATH 303 (Mathematical Models), PHYS 221 (Methods of Physics). Students may count up to two pre-approved geosciences courses taken through the Colleges of Worcester Consortium or a Holy Cross Study Abroad program toward their electives. At least four of the five electives/complementary courses must be at the 200 or 300 level (or equivalent). Students ordinarily may not count more than two courses taken for their major toward the Geosciences minor. Students thinking about applying to graduate school in the Geosciences are further advised to complete at least two semesters each of Chemistry, Physics, and Calculus, as most programs currently require these courses for admission, regardless of major or minor.