Biology Department: Goals and Objectives
Biology is a collection of disciplines or fields, each of which, to a large extent, approaches questions according to the level of biological organization—e.g. ecosystem, individual, or subcellular—it emphasizes. At each level, though, biologists seek to understand how biological systems work, what processes are most influential in these systems, and how environmental variability affects these systems. Among the most unifying questions are: How has it evolved? How is it genetically controlled? Biologists' methods are specific to their fields. However, in most areas, biologists use observational, comparative, and experimental manipulations to study questions of interest. Observational studies usually supply the necessary context in which natural processes influence systems. Comparative studies can reveal differences among species or systems; these differences, in turn, can lead to clearer understandings of the systems and more precise questions that can be addressed experimentally.
Studying biology at a liberal arts college provides different opportunities for exploring the field. Small class sizes and personal attention from professors enable students to pursue in depth inquiry-based approaches, particularly in laboratories. In many laboratories, students engage in multi-week experimental studies designed to expose them to various study techniques and analytic methods that provide open-ended outcomes. Typically, students must draft the results of their work into lab reports that emulate the style of science manuscripts submitted for publication. Such exercises help students learn technical writing, develop literacy with language, and practice the process of researching the science literature.Many non-majors take biology courses, particularly pre-med. students, as well as majors in STS, Biochemistry, Neuroscience and Behavior, and Environmental Studies. The department's curricular approach to non-majors and majors does not differ from that to our majors. All students are expected to learn the content of courses and the intellectual approach to science in the same way. Biology 105 is a topic-based course that integrates biological information in the context of areas of current interest to students.Biology majors must become conversant in several areas of biology. They do so primarily at the 200-level, because students are required to select courses across three disciplinary areas: Ecology, Evolution, and Diversity; Biochemistry, Cellular, and Molecular Biology; and Developmental Biology and Physiology. Across the biology curriculum, students are expected to learn, understand, and use skillfully the vocabulary of each subject they take. Majors are expected to master the concepts and theories and become conversant in the literature and general knowledge of each subject. In addition, students must learn the experimental approaches used in each subject so that they can interpret and analyze data from that field.
Through the major and correlate, students are expected to be able to integrate among disciplines so they can appreciate the breadth of biology. The goals of the department are to help students develop critical thinking; learn to pose important hypotheses; use an inquiry-based approach in designing experimental protocols; and use analytical techniques skillfully. The department seeks to accomplish these goals through the courses students take and independent studies they pursue with faculty members.