Biology

Frequently Asked Questions

First things first: There are two authoritative and indispensable resources for all your questions about the Biology Department and its arcane practices: your advisor and the catalog.

But, for a quick info fix, look through the following.


Is there more than one way to major in Biology?

Yes. In addition to the standard major, you can petition for an alternate Biology major, pursue a Biochemistry and Molecular Biology major, or declare an Environmental Sciences - Biology major. All are described in links from biology's academic program page.

Is there a pre-med or pre-vet track?

No. You can major in anything and prepare for the health professions by taking the prerequisite courses specified by the professional schools. The Biology major includes most of them, with the addition of physics. See the catalog [Dual Degree and Special Programs] or the Reed health professions web site, and consult with a pre-med advisor.

Can I go overseas for a semester?

You can, but it requires some careful planning. The main things to keep in mind are completing your year-long courses and ensuring your coursework preparation for the Jr. Qual. Suggested 4-year plans are available from the International Programs office.

When do I have to declare my major?

The Registrar's Office requires a completed Declaration of Major form by the end of your second year (or equivalent for transfers). If you do not declare a major at that point, you will not be allowed to register for the following term. It is possible to change your major subsequently by filing an amended declaration form.

Do I have to worry about Divisional requirements?

The Division of Mathematics and Natural Sciences imposes no requirements.

Is there some preferred order for taking upper-division courses?

A complete description of each course can be found in the Catalog or on the Department's web site. This includes recommended and prerequisite courses. As you might suppose, 200-level courses are intended to be taken earlier than are 300-level courses, and 400-level courses [e.g., 431 seminars] are restricted to juniors and seniors and often build on related 300-level courses. This being said, there is no tracking of courses; so, you may take them in the order that makes sense to you and your advisor.

[Keep in mind that only one 200-level course can be applied toward the "5th unit," or any number of 431 seminars or "half courses," i.e., the lecture-only portion of a 300-level course.]

Can I take bio courses off campus (even overseas)?

Except in unusual situations we discourage it, especially for the 300-level required courses. There are two problems posed by off-campus courses: unit transfer accounting can be cumbersome and course contents and quality vary greatly. Exceptions are always possible and include courses not offered at Reed but available through pre-existing study abroad programs.

Should I plan to do a summer research internship?

There are many internship opportunities available in the department, in Portland, and nationally. If you can afford the low pay, internships offer valuable perspectives on research and hands-on experience with state-of-the-art methodology.

What's the deal with the Jr. Qual?

The Qual is an open-book, -notes, -internet, -library exam given three times each year (at the beginnings of each term and just after Spring Break). Successful completion of the exam makes you eligible to enroll for the thesis. Most people doing Fall/Spring theses take the qual after Spring Break. Look for the sign-up sheet on the board in the hall outside the Biology office (B115). Click here for more information about Biology Jr. Qual.

What's the Qual format?

There are two sections. One consists of ~10 quantitative questions from which you select 4. The other is a list of ~10 essay questions from which you select 2. These essay questions are based on material related to 300-level course.work. You have a long weekend to complete the exam.

Can I study for the Qual?

Basically no. The best preparation is to assemble your class notes, term papers, and lab reports. It probably also makes sense to get your texts together (including your Intro book). These will all be potentially useful resources. An information session will also usually be offered in the spring semester to answer any additional questions.

How about thesis? I'm not sure I can come up with a thesis topic on my own.

Not a problem. Thesis topic development is a collaborative process between you and your thesis advisor.

How do I get a thesis advisor?

The first couple weeks of your thesis year are set aside for you to go around and talk with faculty about their work and possible projects under their supervision. After you've submitted two short proposals (ranked in order of preference), the faculty meets and decides on assignments. In the great majority of cases, first choices are honored. Learn more about the thesis process here.

Can I do a thesis off-campus?

Yes, but you need to think carefully about this option and consult with your academic advisor. Some obvious concerns are the need for transport, the time it will take you away from Reed, and the fact that you will be working in an environment operating on a completely different calendar and with substantially different expectations about productivity.

Do I have to do an experimental thesis?

No. Each year a few students decide to tackle problems that aren't amenable to the sorts of experimental approaches we can apply. The challenge then becomes marshalling the literature resources necessary to develop a carefully argued document.

My friends are freaking out about the First Draft deadline. Should I?

Our Division has no formal deadline. The Biology Department asks for a draft of the Introduction the first day of the second semester, you need to consult with your thesis advisor on this deadline and others.

What if I don't get interpretable results?

Welcome to the Real World of Science! Most of the experiments we do, "don't work." It is our job to try to figure out why an experiment didn't produce the sorts of results we were expecting. It is rare that a set of experiments all work but it is even rarer that nothing works. Relax.