Biological Sciences Major

Goals for the Biological Sciences Major

  • An understanding of the fundamental principles and concepts of biology at all levels of organization, from molecules to ecosystems
  • Strong problem-solving abilities; the ability to think in a broad context about new biological problems and to evaluate data and arrive at defensible conclusions within the framework of current knowledge
  • Strong quantitative skills and critical-thinking abilities; the ability to frame focused biological questions that are approachable experimentally, to formulate and test hypotheses, to analyze and interpret data, and to apply statistical tests
  • Strong laboratory skills; experience with the operation of complex instrumentation and computers; and an understanding of general lab protocols and safety issues
  • The ability to read and interpret the primary biological literature and to use literature databases
  • Strong communication skills; the ability to speak and write about biological topics and the ability to work effectively as a member of a team
  • An appreciation of the relevance of biology in our lives and the biological literacy required to address ethical and public policy issues of biological significance

Requirements for the Biological Sciences Major

A major in Biological Sciences includes: nine biological sciences courses, at least seven of which must be taken at Wellesley, plus two units of college chemistry (CHEM 105 or higher). All BISC majors must take either BISC 110 or BISC 112, and either BISC 111 or BISC 113. Four 200-level courses are required, with at least one course from each of the following three groups: cell biology, (BISC 219, BISC 220); systems biology (BISC 203, BISC 207, BISC 216); and community biology (BISC 201, BISC 202, BISC 209, BISC 210, BISC 214, BISC 217/ES 217 [2011-12]). A minimum of two 300-level courses are also required for the major. One of these courses, exclusive of BISC 350, BISC 360, or BISC 370, must include laboratory and must be taken at Wellesley. Additional chemistry beyond the two required units is strongly recommended or required for certain 300-level courses. CHEM 222 and CHEM 223, and BISC 350, BISC 360, and BISC 370 do not count toward the minimum major. BISC 103, BISC 104, BISC 105, BISC 106, BISC 107, BISC 108, and BISC 109 count toward the minimum major in Biological Sciences, and may also be used to fulfill the College distribution requirements; BISC 106, BISC 108 and BISC 109 as laboratory sciences; BISC 103, BISC 104, BISC 105 and BISC 107 as nonlaboratory science courses. BISC 109, BISC 111/BISC 113, BISC 198 and BISC 201 fulfill the Quantitative Reasoning overlay course requirement.

Honors in Biological Sciences

Honors in Biological Sciences is earned by the demonstration of excellence in both coursework and a thesis research project. All junior majors are invited to apply for the honors program. Final acceptance into the program is contingent on a vote of the department faculty and, typically, a grade point of 3.5 or higher in courses in the major above the 100 level. The primary goal of the thesis project is the development of independent research capabilities, culminating in the writing of a research paper. Honors candidates present the results of their thesis research to an examination committee in the thesis oral discussion, which takes place during reading period. After the oral examination, the thesis committee evaluates the candidate's performance and may recommend approval of the degree with honors. For more information, please see the bulletin's "Guide to Independent Research."

Graduate Study in Biological Sciences

Students planning graduate work are advised to take calculus, statistics, organic chemistry, two units of physics, and to have a reading knowledge of a second language. They should consult the catalogs of the graduate schools of their choice for specific requirements.

Advanced Placement Policy in Biological Sciences

AP credit does not replace any course offered in the Department of Biological Sciences and does not count toward a major or minor. No exemption exams are given. All courses require the fulfillment of the Quantitative Reasoning basic skills requirement as a prerequisite.

Transfer Credit and Study Abroad in Biological Sciences

In order to obtain Wellesley credit for any biology course taken at another institution during the summer or the academic year, preliminary approval must be obtained from the chair of the department prior to enrolling in the course. After a student has enrolled at Wellesley, courses from two-year colleges will not be accepted at any level. Transfer students wishing to obtain credit for biology courses taken prior to enrollment at Wellesley should consult the chair of the department. Students wishing to apply courses taken overseas toward their major at Wellesley should also consult the chair.

Interdepartmental Majors

Students interested in an interdepartmental major in Biological Chemistry or Neuroscience are referred to the sections of the course catalog where those programs are described. They should consult with the director of the appropriate program.

Students interested in the interdepartmental major in Environmental Studies are referred to the section of the catalog where that program is described; they should consult with the director of the program. Students interested in concentrating in community biology may wish to supplement and enrich their work at Wellesley by taking Extradepartmental courses offered through the Marine Studies Consortium. Students are referred to the section of the course catalog titled Extradepartmental, where this opportunity is described.

Biological Sciences Related Courses - Attention Called

CS 112Computation for the Sciences


GEOS 200Earth History: Geologic Record of Deep Time with Laboratory


PE 205Sports Medicine


PHIL 233Environmental Ethics


PHIL 249Medical Ethics


PHYS 103The Physics of Marine Mammals


PHYS 222Medical Physics


Courses for Credit Toward the Biological Sciences Major

ES 212/RAST 212Lake Baikal: The Soul of Siberia


EXTD 225Biology of Fishes


EXTD 226Biology of Whales


RAST 212/ES 212Lake Baikal: The Soul of Siberia



Departments and Programs