Biology is a broad field, most basically defined as the study of living organisms. It covers the morphology, physiology, anatomy, behavior, origin, and distribution of every known species. As the field continues to evolve, so does education in biology. In the following blog we’ll provide information to help potential biology majors seek out the “best-fit program” for their course of study.
Should I Major in Biology?
Biology has often been considered an excellent major for students who plan to pursue future careers in the medical field, as most biology programs cover many of the medical school prerequisites. However, biology can be a difficult course of study, and no one should choose this path without first considering their high school grades in the subject area, as well as speaking to at least one student currently studying biology and one professor teaching it.
Biology majors, however, are not limited to practicing medicine. According to Duke University, about 40% of their biology majors will go on to medical school, and 30% will pursue biological graduate programs typically involving research. But the rest will pursue a variety of paths including secondary school education, law school, business, and volunteer work with the Peace Corps.
The Growth of Genetics
One of the fastest growing fields in biology is genetics. Not only has our knowledge of the area increased, but the amount of people interested in pursuing genetics has grown as well.
Genetics is the study of genes and the way they behave. In more recent years, scientists have been able to use genetics as a way to make significant advancements in medicine and health. According to the American Society of Human Genetics, exciting career opportunities are expanding for geneticists in the following fields:
- Basic and clinical research
- Medical professions
- Interdisciplinary fields, such as patent law
- Laboratory geneticists
- Clinical work
Genetics has also received a lot of public interest in recent years and there has been much controversy over topics like the stem cell debate, genetic testing, and genetic engineering.
Increasing Opportunity for Research
Research has become an integral part of undergraduate education for students majoring in the sciences. And justifiably so—it helps students not only gain a greater understanding of their field, but identify future career paths, learn to tolerate obstacles, and enhance data analysis and interpretation skills.
The number of biology students who choose to pursue independent research varies by school. At Brown University, over 50% of students pursue research, while at Stanford University, that number hits 90%. Most institutions, however, offer students the opportunity to do research. Some schools even offer courses where research is required.
Students interested in biology should search for universities that offer beneficial and rewarding research experiences during their undergraduate time. Some schools offer on-campus research with professors or peers. Other schools may offer off-campus opportunities to work with institutions near campus, such as zoos or research centers. The research offerings of each school can generally be found on its website.
If research is your passion, you should look closely at the types of research that professors are conducting in the biology departments of your top-choice schools to help decide which programs are right for your interests. It is also important to participate in research opportunities during high school. For example, the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth lists many exciting opportunities for high school students to apply for during the summer.
Colleges vary in whether they offer or possibly even require that students choose a concentration within the biology major. Pursuing such specialization will enhance your education within this particular field of interest and better prepare you for a future career in this specific area.
Most concentrations are very specific and focused—General Biology is just the opposite. It is generally a good choice for students who have a strong interest in multiple areas, or are not sure what they’d like to focus on. According to Cornell University, the flexibility of their general biology concentration allows for endless opportunities both in school and out of school.
Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology is a more specific concentration than general biology. The major areas in this concentration are functional morphology, foraging ecology, the adaptive significance of animal behavior, sexual selection, mating behavior, population genetics, phylogenetic, marine community ecology, theoretical population and community ecology, and ecosystem ecology.
Molecular and Cell Biology
The focus areas of Molecular and Cell Biology include molecular biology, genetics, genomics, and cell biology. The field has roots in the study of molecules and their interactions in the context of cells and tissues, which allows this field of biology to aid research for medicine and health purposes.
Other Possible Concentrations
- Marine Biology
- Computational Biology
A major in biology opens the door to a vast array of career paths. There are many types of biologists, such as Microbial and Cellular Biologist, Arborist, or Geneticist. There are also many options that do not involve research. For example, many doctors choose to major in biology as undergraduates, because the information is useful and relevant to their medical interests.
Teaching is another option for students who have a strong interest in the sciences, but don’t necessarily want to work in a lab. Depending on your level of education, biology could be taught at every level, from elementary to medical school.
There are also opportunities within government or law. In recent years, bioethics has moved into the public eye. Companies and government projects have been criticized for research, studies, and discoveries, and they often turn to professionals for protection. For students interested in both science and policy, bioethics is a great choice.
Profile of Top School
MIT is a top academic university all around, and the school is ranked #1 (in a tie with Harvard and Stanford) for undergraduate biology by US News. Their program strives to promote exploration and collaboration amongst their students. MIT offers a Bachelor of Science in Biology as well as a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and Molecular Biology (offered jointly by MIT Biology and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science).
Biology majors may also choose to focus their study on one of nine specific tracks or subfields within the biology curriculum:
- General biology
- Cell, developmental, and molecular biology
- Computational biology
- Human biology
All students take part in laboratory research, which fosters knowledge of experimental design, data evaluation, and scientific presentation. These skills are important to have for future careers and upper level education. MIT offers five affiliated labs and research centers for their students to explore their interests. Research is prized by the university, which helps to explain the high success rates of their graduates.
In researching your best-fit biology program, it is important to consider opportunities for student and professor interactions, class sizes, areas of research, laboratory technology, and available concentrations. You should speak with biology major graduates, current students, and professors if possible, to gain insight into their experience as a biology major at specific institutions. For further assistance in choosing your major, feel free to contact us! At Collegiate Gateway, we’re always happy to help.