Modern biology has seen tremendous growth in our ability to understand and compare the structure and function of living organisms at the cellular, molecular and genetic levels, and what were traditionally regarded as many different areas of biology have become integrated, particularly in the research laboratory. Our approach to teaching biology therefore emphasizes unifying principles and research method while offering students the flexibility to customize an integrative program of study tailored to their specific interests. We involve students in the process of discovery in a research-focused curriculum that stresses the experimental method as a teaching tool. Students at all levels of the curriculum frame their own experimental questions and use current research techniques to search for answers. In the junior year students participate in research-focused laboratories (BIOL H300/BIOL H301 “Superlab”) and as seniors they conduct their own laboratory-based, year-long research projects. This research may result in presentations at local and national meetings, and occasionally publications in peer-reviewed journals. Our curricular approach allows students to develop the conceptual tools to both follow and contribute to the rapid advance of knowledge and understanding.
Located in the Marian E. Koshland Integrated Natural Sciences Center (KINSC), the Biology Department maintains close interdisciplinary ties with the Chemistry, Physics, Math, Computer Science and Psychology Departments.
Students completing a major in biology at Haverford will be able to:
- work both independently and collaboratively;
- understand fundamental concepts in modern biology;
- integrate knowledge and experimental approaches from multiple scientific disciplines such as chemistry, physics, mathematics, and geology;
- read, understand, and critique the primary scientific literature;
- interpret and analyze scientific data;
- design and conduct hypothesis-driven research;
- troubleshoot experimental approaches;
- integrate new knowledge into a framework that advances understanding;
- communicate scientific ideas and concepts, both orally and in writing;
- understand and practice ethical conduct in scientific inquiry.
Haverford’s Institutional Learning Goals are available on the President’s website, at http://hav.to/learninggoals.
Perspectives in Biology
Perspectives in Biology courses without prerequisites are offered at the 100 level for exploration by students interested in learning about biology but not intending to major in the subject. These are appropriate for students from all backgrounds and disciplines and are separate from the major track.
Students who wish to major in biology enter the department in their second year, building on a first-year natural science experience. Students take BIOL H200 and BIOL H201, the year-long sophomore introductory course, followed by their choice of four half-semester lecture courses in the junior year that explore fundamental areas of biology. Juniors also engage in a unique, year-long laboratory course (BIOL H300 and BIOL H301 “Superlab”), in which they employ contemporary techniques to answer open-ended biological questions.
The Senior Research Program is the capstone of the Haverford major in biology. The Biology Department provides every major with the opportunity to work directly with our faculty on original research projects. Four to six students work with each professor in that professor’s area of expertise, be it cell biology, genetics, immunology, microbiology, neurobiology, developmental biology, protein biochemistry or the coevolution of plants and the environment. Senior research can account for as much as half of a student’s senior courses. All seniors present a public talk and poster on their research in their senior year and they write both a research proposal and a final thesis. Students are sometimes co-authors on faculty publications and often travel with them to local and national meetings to present their work. A tradition in the Biology Department, this close research partnership between students and faculty is a distinctive feature of a Haverford education.
- Both semesters of BIOL H200 and BIOL H201. Successful completion of a one-credit natural science course (which includes a laboratory experience) at Haverford, Bryn Mawr or Swarthmore College is a prerequisite for enrolling in BIOL H200.
- A minimum of a one-credit chemistry course (with associated lab).
- At least one semester of advanced coursework (200 level or higher) in a natural sciences course outside the biology department. Courses crosslisted in biology may not be counted toward this requirement.
- Two semesters of the junior laboratory, BIOL H300 and BIOL H301.
- Four half-semester 300-level advanced topics courses (selected from BIOL H311-H329). Occasionally, an upper-level course from Bryn Mawr or Swarthmore may substitute for one or two of the half-semester lecture courses, but only with the specific permission of the student’s major advisor. Students are encouraged to take additional topics classes beyond the minimum of four to enhance their biology experience.
- One half-semester 450-level seminar course in the Haverford Biology Department (chosen from BIOL H450-H463-; no substitutions permitted). Students may take additional seminar courses to enrich their knowledge of the discipline.
- A minimum of two 400-level Senior Research Tutorial credits, generally taken over both semesters of the senior year, including active participation in weekly lab meetings and submission of a notebook and a thesis describing the progress and results of the project. The tutorial may be taken for single or double credit each semester.
- Senior Department Studies, BIOL H499.
In addition to the required courses, the Biology Department strongly recommends a year of physics, a course in probability and statistics, and advanced coursework in another natural science department.
Department policy is to limit study abroad biology major credit to a maximum of two 31X/32X courses and one Superlab quarter (with rare exceptions of a full semester Superlab credit).
The senior thesis is a major component of a year-long research experience that is the capstone of the Biology major at Haverford. The process begins in the junior year, when students and faculty work together to distribute students evenly across all the available Senior Research Tutorials for the following year (each faculty member normally supervises four to six students in all).
During the senior year students enroll in a Senior Research Tutorial (numbered BIOL H401-H411, depending on the faculty mentor) which is taken for a minimum of one credit in each semester of the senior year. The Senior Research Tutorial involves 10 hours of laboratory work per week per credit, and is completed under the guidance of a faculty mentor. Students may elect to increase their commitment to their research project by enrolling in 1.5 or 2 credits of Senior Research per semester, for up to four credits in the senior year. In addition, all seniors must take Senior Departmental Studies (BIOL H499), which is a pass/fail, half-credit course taken for a full year in parallel with their Senior Research. This senior seminar course provides an opportunity for all majors to be trained in lab safety, hear invited seminar speakers, and to present thesis proposals as well as the results of senior research work.
In the fall, all senior majors complete at least one credit of Senior Research Tutorial during which they begin an original research project that will be continued throughout the year. In the Senior Research Tutorial, students participate in weekly laboratory meetings, keep a laboratory notebook as a record of their work, and interpret and analyze their data. In the fall semester students write a formal project proposal and also present their proposal as a short talk to the department during Senior Departmental Studies.
In the spring, all majors complete a second semester of Senior Research Tutorial and participate in Senior Departmental Studies. Students continue the research projects started in the fall under the guidance of their faculty mentor. Senior majors write a final thesis and present a scientific poster describing the results of their research project. They submit their lab notebook as a permanent record of the work they have completed in the lab.
Thesis Preparation (prior to senior year)
Preparation for thesis research begins with the introductory course for biology majors, BIOL H200/BIOL H201, and builds in each course thereafter, so that all of the departmental learning goals are consistently reinforced. For example, all students in laboratory courses (such as BIOL H200/H201 and BIOL H300/H301 ) work with a lab partner or in small groups so that they learn to work collaboratively. At the same time, students are also called upon to present their work individually and to maintain their own research lab notebooks, so that they learn to work independently and are responsible for all parts of the project. The students participate in directed journal clubs in BIOL H200/H201 and majors in upper-level courses read and critique research papers from the original scientific literature, presenting their analyses to the class.
The BIOL H31x/H32X courses, typically taken during the junior year, are based on current research in biology, with an emphasis on integrating this information into a broader understanding of biological topics. The primary focus in these courses is not simply the information itself but rather on how it was determined experimentally. This emphasis provides the students with the skills needed to understand how research is done.
BIOL H300/BIOL H301, the junior-level laboratory course, is intentionally modeled on the work that students are expected to conduct for their senior research thesis, and can be described as a class-based research experience. The emphasis in this yearlong course, which is required for all Biology majors, includes the acquisition of new research techniques but places greater emphasis on hypothesis—testing, data analysis, experimental troubleshooting, record keeping, and oral and written presentations. The projects in BIOL H300/H301 are designed to be intellectually open-ended; students share results and insights, and work to understand the current literature and to connect their findings to what is already known.
Senior Project Learning Goals
The learning goals for the senior thesis include:
- increasing intellectual independence and initiative.
- developing creativity and rigor in experimental design, execution, and interpretation.
- ensuring reproducibility of experimental results, accurate record keeping, and productivity.
- understanding and participating in collaborative and ethical conduct of research
- learning to present research orally, visually, and in writing.
These are criteria by which the department can assess the students’ maturation as scholars.
Senior Project Assessment
The department has developed criteria for evaluating the research proposal and thesis, as well as a grading rubric that is distributed to students at the start of their senior year (available on the departmental website). Each faculty member plays a role in the assessment of senior work, which consists of:
- faculty supervision of weekly laboratory work that includes maintenance of laboratory notebook and participation in lab meetings.
- formal project proposal, including written proposal, and oral presentation to the department in the fall.
- poster presentation summarizing research results in the spring semester.
- evaluation of written thesis based on set criteria and grading rubric provided to students at start of senior year.
See the Biology Department website for detailed grading guidelines and standards used in evaluating the senior project (PDF download).
Requirements for Honors
Due to concerns about equity and fairness regarding the use of GPAs to make distinctions between students, the department does not award GPA-based honors in biology. We do, however, award graduation prizes in biology to recognize growth and accomplishment within the major.
Many Haverford biology majors participate in academic work that crosses departmental boundaries. The Biology Department contributes to many interdisciplinary programs and has particularly close ties with the following ones:
Environmental Studies Minor
The Environmental Studies minor aims to cultivate in students the capacity to identify and confront key environmental issues through a blend of multiple disciplines, encompassing historical, cultural, economic, political, scientific and ethical modes of inquiry.
Health Studies Minor
The goal of the Health Studies minor is to give greater context to the issues facing health professionals on local, national, and global scales. The structure of this program is intentionally multidisciplinary, bringing scientists together with social science and humanities professors to guide students through the political, cultural and ethical questions that relate to health issues worldwide.
The Minor in Neuroscience is designed to allow students with any major to pursue interests in behavior and the nervous system across disciplines. Students should consult with any member of the advisory committee in order to declare the minor.
Biochemistry & Biophysics Concentration
The Concentration in Biochemistry and Biophysics recognizes current and undoubtedly enduring trends in interdisciplinary science by establishing in the curriculum a formal program of classroom and laboratory training at the interface between the physical and biological science.
Scientific Computing Concentration
The Concentration in Scientific Computing gives students an opportunity to develop a basic facility with the tools and concepts involved in applying computation to a scientific problem, and to explore the specific computational aspects of their own major disciplines.
4+1 Bioengineering Program with the University of Pennsylvania
Study for four years at Haverford, then one year at Penn, and receive a Bachelor of Science from Haverford and a Master’s in Engineering from Penn. Haverford is the first liberal arts college in the world to enter into such an agreement with an Ivy League engineering program.
4+1 Bioethics Program with the University of Pennsylvania
Study for four years at Haverford, then one year at Penn, and receive a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science from Haverford and a Master’s in Bioethics (M.BE.) from Penn’s Bioethics Program in the Perelman School of Medicine.
The Koshland Integrated Natural Sciences Center is the nucleus of a vital summer research program, where faculty members from across the sciences engage students on supervised but independent research projects. Full-time work in the lab permits students to make significant contributions to these studies. Alternatively, many students pursue summer research off campus and bring their experiences and insights back to Haverford, further enriching a diverse curriculum. We encourage all students to present their summer research work at an annual interdisciplinary poster session in the fall.
Students from Haverford who enter medical schools have graduated with a great variety of majors—philosophy, Spanish, English and several others of which the most common are, as might be expected, biology and chemistry.
Many biology majors take the opportunity to participate in study abroad programs during their junior year. It is possible for students to devote a semester abroad to studies outside of biology or to include some study of biology (depending on the program). Equivalencies for certain major requirements may be granted by the department to biology majors participating in study away programs during the junior year, depending upon the specific program and coursework undertaken.
The department awards three prizes annually:
The Irving Finger Prize in Biology: Established in 2003 by family, friends, and alumni in memory of Irving Finger, professor of biology from 1957 to 1994. It is awarded to a graduating senior (or seniors) in biology for outstanding growth and accomplishment in the major.
The Marian E. Koshland Prize in Biology: Established in 1997 by biology faculty, College administrators, and Board members. The prize is awarded to a graduating senior (or seniors) who, in the judgment of the department, demonstrated outstanding performance in senior research.
The Ariel G. Loewy Prize for Senior Research in Biology: Established in 2001 in memory of Ariel G. Loewy, professor of biology from 1953 to 2000. This prize is given to a graduating senior (or seniors) in biology whose efforts and accomplishments incorporate the rigor and diligence of experimental science.
See the departmental web page for a description of laboratories, equipment and other special facilities for this program.