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Read Smith’s UPDATED plans as of November 23, 2020,
for the spring 2021 semester.

Biological Sciences

Student in Michael Barresi's lab

The Department of Biological Sciences treats the life sciences in all their breadth and diversity, including the study of molecules, cells, whole organisms, ecosystems, plants, animals and microorganisms. The requirements for the major in the biological sciences provide both a solid foundation in biology and opportunities to pursue special interests.

The major embraces three broad core areas: cells, physiology and development; genetics, molecular biology and evolution; and biodiversity, ecology and conservation. All majors are strongly encouraged to pursue collaborative research with any of the department’s faculty members who work in areas as diverse as bacterial pathogenesis, ecological impacts of invasive marine organisms, ecology of coral reefs, regulation of photosynthesis, ciliate evolution, muscle biochemistry, mammalian reproductive ecology and the molecular biology of human parasites.

Requirements & Courses

The biological sciences form the foundation of a number of academic disciplines at Smith, including biology, biochemistry, neuroscience, landscape studies, and environmental science and policy. The major in biological sciences itself spans organisms from bacteria through plants and animals, levels of organization from molecules and cells through ecosystems, and modern research methods in both the laboratory and the field.

Students in biological sciences master fundamental concepts in introductory courses with associated laboratories or fieldwork. In those courses, students conduct research projects, an emphasis on research that recurs in the upper-level courses that follow. As they choose those courses, they select a track to focus their learning in specific areas (cells, physiology and development; genetics, evolution and molecular biology; biodiversity, ecology and conservation) or instead choose a broad integrative approach that can include an option to prepare to teach at the secondary school level.

No matter how they focus their work within the breadth of biological sciences, students can expect to develop:

  • A deep knowledge of the subject
  • The ability to think critically and design experiments
  • The ability to organize and analyze data
  • Skills in laboratory and field research using sophisticated instrumentation
  • Experience in reading and critiquing primary research articles
  • Enhanced communication skills in writing, visualizing, and public speaking through presentations in classes and at research symposia
  • The opportunity to join faculty research projects, which often lead to co-authored scientific publications.
With a rich array of courses and access to extensive research resources, students in biological sciences graduate with the knowledge and experience they need to begin careers in research, academia, the health professions, the biotech and pharmaceutical industries, conservation, wildlife management, secondary education and many other endeavors.

A quick guide to the Biology  Major (for LAA advisors and first-year students) can be found here.  

The major in biological sciences includes a set of five fundamental courses (biodiversity ecology and conservation, cell and molecular biology, genetics or evolution, chemistry, and statistics) plus courses within one of the five tracks listed below. Biological sciences majors can select courses that prepare them for professional training in medical, dental and veterinary schools; for graduate programs in the various biological disciplines; for high school teaching; and for employment in research labs, pharmaceutical companies and government agencies.

Track 1: Integrative Biology
Track 2: Cells, Physiology, and Development
Track 3: Genetics, Evolution, and Molecular Biosciences
Track 4: Biodiversity, Ecology and Conservation
Track 5: Biology and Education

Specific details about which courses are included for each track can be found below in the Course Offerings tab.


Students should choose their advisers, according to their interests, from the department faculty.

Prospective majors should consult with biology faculty in choosing their courses.

Study Abroad Adviser: Each student should consult their major advisor for any necessary study abroad information and signatures.

Advanced Placement Credit

Students receiving advanced placement on their Smith College transcript for biology (e.g. AP, International Baccalaureate, A Levels) may substitute 200-/300-level courses, one in each of the respective tracks, for the equivalent core courses. Two of these courses must be taken with labs. A total of 12 courses is still required for completion of the major.

The requirements for the minor in biological sciences comprise six courses chosen in consultation with an adviser. These courses usually include at least one core course and must include one 300-level course. At least one laboratory course is required; one-credit or two-credit laboratories do not count as separate courses toward the minimum of six required courses. No more than one course designed primarily for non-majors may be included. One course from another department or program may be included provided that course is related to a student’s particular interest in biology and is chosen in consultation with her adviser.


Members of the department also serve as advisers for the minor. Students should choose their advisers, according to their interests, from the department faculty.

Director: Laura Katz

430d Thesis
8 credits
Full-year course; offered each year

432d Thesis
12 credits
Full-year course; offered each year


  • GPA of 3.3 for courses in the major taken (including courses in the major taken at other institutions)
  • A thesis proposal (500 to 1000 words) must be approved by the thesis adviser and the members of the department prior to the college deadlines for submission of honors applications.


  • Requirements for the major
  • 8 or 12 thesis credits in the senior year, involving an individual investigation, an oral presentation and a written thesis.


The thesis is graded by two to three readers: the thesis adviser, a faculty member in biology and optionally a third faculty member outside the department.


The final honors determination is based on:

  • Overall GPA (twenty percent)*
  • Final oral presentation (twenty percent)
  • Quality of the thesis (sixty percent)

*The thesis course (430D or 432D) receives a grade which is calculated in the overall GPA.

Smith College Course Search

Smith’s online course search includes course listings (description, instructor and offered terms), department data, information on majors and minors, honors programs and cross-listed and interdepartmental courses. A search function allows you to find courses by course number, department, keywords in the title, term offered, number of credits, fields of knowledge and professor.

Five College Course Guide

The Five College Consortium increases your choices. Four liberal arts colleges—Smith, Amherst, Hampshire and Mount Holyoke—along with the University of Massachusetts, offer joint courses of study as well as certificate programs in interdisciplinary fields. Courses are available at no extra cost to Smith students.


Students and faculty, a Zoom invite and link will be sent to you weekly. Please contact if you need it.

Were you unable to attend a recent Lunch Bag? The recording may be available, email to inquire.


Monday, November 30, 2020
12:30-1:20 p.m.

Preliminary Honors Presentations


Clara Malekshahi - Hyalosphenia Hunting: Population Structure Inferred from 88 Single-Cell Transcriptomes of Testate Amoebae



Anna Tenerowicz - Thesis Presentation:  Differential Gene Expression in the Ciliate Blepharisma


Monday, December 7, 2020
12:30-1:20 p.m.

Preliminary Honors Presentations


Quinton Celluza


Giovanna Sabini-Leite


Maria Bermudez


Tuesday, November 17, 2020 5 pm

Looking Within: Host Responses to SARS-CoV-2

Angela Rasmussen, PhD 

Georgetown Center for Global Health Science and Security

COVID-19 severity is determined by the host response to infection. Researchers know that SARS-CoV-2 infection can suppress antiviral responses, but what happens systemically? Doctor Rasmussen, Smith '00, will talk about data from a rhesus macaque model of infection as well as how this information can be used to develop new diagnostic, surveillance, and therapeutics.

Doctor Rasmussen uses a combination of classical virology and systems biology approaches to study the host response to emerging viruses, including influenza, MERS-CoV, Ebola virus, and SARS-CoV-2.

Rsvp to register and receive Zoom link:







Emeriti Faculty

Margaret Anderson
Professor Emerita of Biological Sciences

Richard T. Briggs
Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences

C. John Burk
Elsie Damon Simonds Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences

Michael Marcotrigiano
Professor Emeritus

Robert B. Merritt
Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences

Stephen G. Tilley
Myra A. Sampson Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences

Student Liaisons



Department of Biology
Burton Hall 115
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01063
Phone: 413-585-6598
Fax: 413-585-3786

Administrative Assistant: Elizabeth Iola Sylvan

Current Chair: Robert Dorit