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Haverford College
Department of Biology

Frequently Asked Questions about the Biology Department

Hello and welcome to Haverford!

Because we may not see you until your sophomore year, we wanted to introduce ourselves and assure you that we are thinking of you and have your interests in mind. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the Biology Department!

What kind of Biology Department does Haverford have?

Our Department of Cellular, Molecular, and Developmental Biology is unique among liberal arts colleges because it focuses on the cell rather than the organism. We feel that an understanding of cellular and molecular processes that underlie Biology is the basis for the most sophisticated understanding of organisms and of current medicine.

How do you approach the teaching of Biology at Haverford?

We support a philosophy that science is best learned as a dynamic endeavor and approach the teaching of biology from historical and experimental perspectives. In short, we emphasize experimental evidence. All faculty members are as actively involved in laboratory research on the cellular and molecular levels as they are in the teaching of classes from the first year to senior levels. All students in their senior years, and many before that, are given the opportunity to do their senior theses performing original research in our laboratories or, if desired, other labs in the Philadelphia area.

Why do you start the major sequence in the sophomore year?

This can be a source of anxiety for some first year students who are eager to start their training in college biology. However, because our Department will introduce you to molecular and biochemical underpinnings of Biology we require that you have one one semester of a natural science course with a laboratory experience prior to our introductory course, Bio 200: The cellular basis of life. Commonly, students will take a semester of chemistry or physics to meet this requirement.

How many majors do you have and what do they end up doing?

Between 25 and 45 students choose to major in Biology at Haverford every year. 30-40% of these students ultimately attend medical school, 20-30% attend graduate school and the remainder pursue other, equally interesting careers.

What sequence of courses does the typical Biology major take?

If you are interested in taking Biology and/or majoring in Biology at Haverford, you will typically take the following sequence of courses. Examine the catalog for possible variations in sequence for students interested in The Concentration in Biochemistry or Biophysics.

  • First year: One year of Chemistry (a combination of 111, 112, or 115) or 2 semesters of Physics (101 and 102 or 105 and 106).
  • Sophomore year: Bio 200a and b: The cellular basis of life  This is a year long sequence of lab and lecture courses which includes introduction to Cell Biology, Genetics, Biochemistry, Cellular Metabolism, and Cellular Regulation.   **This course can be used to fulfill pre-med requirements.  However, if you are considering medical school, but are not majoring in Biology, we highly recommend that, you take one or two 300 level seminar courses after Bio 200 to prepare you best for the MCATs.

    In addition, one semester of of advanced work (200 level or higher) in a natural science department other than biology is required for those majoring in Biology, and  two semesters (220, 221) are recommended.
  • Junior year: If you want to continue as a major, you will then take Bio 300a and Bio 300b.  This is a full year laboratory course affectionately called "Superlab".  The sequence gives you an intensive introduction to current research techniques in the context of current biological questions and theory (in fields that include Cell Structure, Immunology, Nucleic Acid Biochemistry, and Protein Biochemistry).

    You will also choose four 1/2 semester courses (from among 6-8) which cover key topics in molecular, cellular, and or developmental biology in some depth.  Two of these four courses must be selected from a "core" (Biology 301-306 and 312).  These courses are also available to non-majors who have completed Bio 200a&b and to other students with permission from instructor.

  • Senior year: Majors are generally required to take one 1/2 semester seminar course (35x courses) during which students analyze current primary literature in a field and prepare both oral and written presentations.

    The cornerstone of the senior year (and arguably of the major) is the senior research thesis (40x courses).  All students have the opportunity to perform their thesis in a research laboratory and most (more than 95%) take advantage of this.  Students spend from 10-20 hours in the laboratory of a faculty member working independently on a project related to the focus of the faculty investigator.  At the end of the year, students prepare a written thesis and also present their work in a public format as either a poster or an oral presentation.

What about taking Biology at Bryn Mawr College?

Bryn Mawr College, our sister institution, has a broad-based Biology curriculum that allows students to explore subdisciplines ranging from molecular biology and genomics to ecology and evolution. The programs at Bryn Mawr and Haverford complement each other, and both allow students to complete their major requirements with courses tailored to their individual interests and goals. In addition, both Departments prepare students well for post-graduate work, including medical or graduate school.

Do you give credit for AP courses? Can I test out of your introductory sequence?

If you received a 4 or a 5 on the Biology AP exam, the College will give you credit towards graduation. However, this will not fulfill natural science credit, or give you advanced placement in biology. All prospective biology majors begin the course sequence together with Biology 200a. Although a few of you may find some of the material in the Bio 200 sequence a review of AP Biology, our approach to the teaching of science, which emphasizes experimental foundations, is distinct from the way you have probably learned this material in the past. In addition, the sequence of topics is advanced enough that you will not find Bio200 to be a repeat of AP Biology.

Will I be prepared to take the medical school entrance exams (MCATs) by majoring in Biology at Haverford College?

Although we do not teach Biology with the specific goal of preparing students for the MCATs (we firmly feel that students get the best education by learning how to think and how to learn), we are sensitive to the desire of many students to attend medical school. Haverford Biology majors fare well on the MCATs and over 90% of all applicants to medical school are accepted. The focus on biochemistry, molecular, and cellular biology gives you an advantage on some parts of the MCATs and many students find that additional preparation (e.g. Stanley Kaplan Reviews, Princeton Review) helps them 'bone' up on anatomy, physiology and on specific test-taking strategy before taking the MCATs.

Students who do not major in Biology also can do quite well on the Biology section of the MCATs. Again, it is recommended that these students take one or two upper level Biology courses beyond the introductory Bio 200a and b.

Can I talk to members of the Biology Department about concerns?

Absolutely! E-mail any of us (below) and we will be more than happy to make an appointment to talk with you about any worries or interests. Looking forward to seeing you in the future!

Haverford College Biology Department

Research Interests

Teaching Interests

area code (610)

Rob Fairman

Protein folding & design

Biochemistry, Protein structure and function


Rachel Hoang

Evolution & Development

Genetics, Developmental Biology and Evolution


Karl Johnson

Cell architecture

Cell Biology, Cell Structure and Cell Architecture


Philip Meneely


Developmental Biology


Iruka Okeke


Genetics, Host-Pathogen interactions


Judy Owen

Immunology (Germinal Centers and CTL's)

Immunology, Biochemistry


Jonathan Wilson

Environmental Biology

Environmental Science, Plant Biology & Evolution, Photosynthesis