Courses & Requirements

IMPORTANT NOTE

The requirements below apply to those students with a 2022-2023 catalog year. Students are required by college policy to follow the major (and minor) requirements found in the catalog in effect at the time they declared their first major. To find your catalog year, please visit your Grades and Academic Records found in myOxy and access the catalog that matches your catalog year.

Biology

Overview

Biology is a rapidly expanding, multifaceted discipline, full of possibilities for undergraduate research and for stimulating graduate study and employment after Occidental. Within an evolutionary framework, our program investigates the interactions between molecules, cells, organisms, populations, and ecosystems that constitute life on earth. Interdisciplinary and integrative by nature, the biology program at Occidental engages both majors and non-majors in a curriculum that emphasizes laboratory and field investigation. Our students are encouraged to collaborate with faculty mentors, whose research employs current methods in addressing questions from the molecular to the global in scale. Students acquire skills from careful observation through hypothesis formulation and experimental design to formal oral and written presentations of results. After participating in the biology program at Occidental College, students are prepared for rewarding work and lifelong learning, armed with the tools necessary to understand large complex data sets and help explain the intricacies of living systems. This rigorous program provides our students with the training to enter the work force after graduation and/or transition to an advanced degree program. After completing the major, many students elect to take graduate training toward the PhD. in biological sciences or doctorates of medicine, veterinary medicine, pharmacy or dentistry. Many of our students complete Masters programs in Biological Sciences, teaching, environmental health and safety, and resource management. Receiving a degree in Biology at Occidental College enables our students to excel in any post-baccalaureate professional pursuit.

The Department of Biology is housed within the Bioscience building which is contiguous with the Moore Laboratory of Zoology. Facilities include the bird and mammal collections (70,000 specimens) of Moore Laboratory, greenhouses, facilities for microscopy (scanning and transmission electron and fluorescence), a tissue culture suite and fluorescence-activated cell sorter, fully-equipped molecular biology laboratories, field vehicles, and three research vessels for nearshore marine studies and SCUBA diving. Because of its proximity to the Mojave Desert, the Santa Monica, San Gabriel, and San Bernardino Mountains, and seacoast, Occidental College is ideally suited for field and laboratory studies of environmental biology.

Major Requirements

Students are required to complete all major requirements and supporting coursework as detailed below in order to earn their degree in Biology. Those students looking to complete a concentration in the following fields should familiarize themselves with the additional requirements below. 

COURSEWORK

Introductory Biology

Select one course from the list below:

BIO 105Marine Biology

4 units

BIO 110Organisms on Earth

4 units

BIO 115General Zoology

4 units

Cellular and Molecular Biology (2 courses)

BIO 130Introduction to Cell and Molecular Biology

4 units

 

And one course from:

BIO 221Molecular Biology

4 units

BIO 224Genetic Analysis

4 units

BIO 226Cell Biology

4 units

Environmental Biology

Select one course from the list below:

BIO 260Biodiversity and Organization of Marine Ecosystems

4 units

BIO 270Ecology

4 units

BIO 275Flora of Southern California

4 units

Evolutionary Biology

BIO 280Evolutionary Biology

4 units

Organismal Biology

Select one course from the list below:

BIO 240Vertebrate Physiology

4 units

BIO 250Plant Form and Function

4 units

BIO 275Flora of Southern California

4 units

Upper-division Biology

Students must select three 300-level Biology courses. At least two of these must be Occidental College Biology laboratory courses.

Senior Seminar

Supporting Coursework

Students are required to complete four additional courses. Two must be in chemistry as detailed below and two quantitative courses.

Chemistry
CHEM 120Foundations of General Chemistry

4 units

Or

CHEM 130Advanced Placement General Chemistry

4 units

 

And

CHEM 220Organic Chemistry I

4 units

Quantitative Coursework

Two 4-5-unit courses are required to satisfy the quantitative requirement for the Biology major: one course in Quantitative Literacy and one course in Data Analysis.

Quantitative Literacy

 All biology majors are required to complete a Calculus I-equivalent course (e.g. MATH 110 or MATH 114). Students who pass out of Calculus I are required to take an additional quantitative literacy course at the college level.

Select one course from the list below:

BIO 373Computational Biology

4 units

Calculus 1

4 units

Calculus 2

4 units

COMP 131Fundamentals of Computer Science

4 units

COMP 149Mathematical Foundations of Computer Science

4 units

COMP 229Data Structures

4 units

ECON 301Environmental Economics and Policy

4 units

GEO 255Remote Exploration of Earth

4 units

MATH 210Discrete Mathematics

4 units

MATH 212Multivariable Calculus

4 units

MATH 214Linear Algebra

4 units

PHYS 110Introductory Mechanics

4 units

PHYS 115General Physics I

4 units

PHYS 117Waves and Thermal Physics

4 units

PHYS 125General Physics II

4 units

Data Analysis

Select one course from the list below:

BIO 268Biostatistics

4 units

COGS 255Data Analysis and Visualization

4 units

COMP 146Statistics

4 units

MATH 150Statistical Data Analysis

4 units

PSYC 201Statistics in Psychological Science

4 units

Concentration in Cell and Molecular Biology

In addition to completing all major requirements, students pursuing this concentration must complete:

One additional 200-level courses, for a total of two courses, in Cell & Molecular Biology. Coursework must be selected from the list below. 

BIO 221Molecular Biology

4 units

BIO 224Genetic Analysis

4 units

BIO 226Cell Biology

4 units

Two of the three required 300-level courses must be selected from the list below.

BIO 320Developmental Biology

4 units

BIO 322Principles of Biochemistry

4 units

BIO 323Histology

4 units

BIO 325Microbial Diversity

4 units

BIO 326Molecular Phylogenetics

4 units

BIO 330Immunology

4 units

BIO 333Neurobiology

4 units

BIO 336Microbial Pathogenesis

4 units

BIO 340Sensory Biology and Neurophysiology

4 units

BIO 345Virology

4 units

BIO 349Biochemistry I

4 units

BIO 350Microbial Symbiosis

4 units

BIO 393Special Topics in Biology

4 units

Concentration in Environmental Science

Introductory Biology

Select one course from the list below:

BIO 105Marine Biology

4 units

BIO 110Organisms on Earth

4 units

BIO 115General Zoology

4 units

Organismal Biology

Select one course from the list below:

BIO 240Vertebrate Physiology

4 units

BIO 250Plant Form and Function

4 units

BIO 275Flora of Southern California

4 units

Cellular and Molecular Biology

BIO 130Introduction to Cell and Molecular Biology

4 units

Environmental Biology

BIO 260Biodiversity and Organization of Marine Ecosystems

4 units

Or

BIO 270Ecology

4 units

Evolutionary Biology

BIO 280Evolutionary Biology

4 units

Upper-division Biology

Students must select three 300-level Biology courses from the list below. At least two of these must be Occidental College Biology laboratory courses.

BIO 325Microbial Diversity

4 units

BIO 350Microbial Symbiosis

4 units

BIO 356The Biology of Marine Fishes

4 units

BIO 360Avian Biology

4 units

BIO 369Biological Oceanography

4 units

BIO 370Field Ecology

4 units

BIO 373Computational Biology

4 units

BIO 380Plant Physiological Ecology

4 units

Chemistry Component

CHEM 120Foundations of General Chemistry

4 units

One additional Chemistry course (with a lab)

4 or 5 units

Economics Component:

Students must complete the following two courses:

ECON 101Principles of Economics I

4 units

ECON 301Environmental Economics and Policy

4 units

ECON 301: Students may petition for another 300-level course from another department to substitute for ECON 301. An appropriate substitute must deal with environmental policy and be chosen in consultation with the academic adviser and approved by the department chair. All substitutions must be filed with the Registrar's Office by submitting a completed Transfer Credit & Course Substitution Form.

Geology Component

Students must complete the following two courses:

GEO 105Earth: Our Environment

4 units

GEO 245Earth's Climate: Past and Future

4 units

Quantitative Coursework

Two 4-5 unit courses are required to satisfy the quantitative requirement for the Biology major. These courses include one course in Quantitative Literacy and one course in Data Analysis. 

Senior Seminar

Concentration in Marine Biology

In addition to completing all major requirements, students pursuing this concentration must complete four courses from the list below:

 

BIO 260Biodiversity and Organization of Marine Ecosystems

4 units

BIO 268Biostatistics

4 units

BIO 344Invertebrate Morphology and Physiology

4 units

BIO 356The Biology of Marine Fishes

4 units

BIO 369Biological Oceanography

4 units

GEO 245Earth's Climate: Past and Future

4 units

 

Supporting Coursework

Students are required to complete five additional courses. Two must be in chemistry as detailed below and three additional quantitative courses.

Chemistry

CHEM 120Foundations of General Chemistry

4 units

Or

CHEM 130Advanced Placement General Chemistry

4 units

 

And

CHEM 220Organic Chemistry I

4 units

Quantitative Coursework

Two 4-5-unit courses are required to satisfy the quantitative requirement for the Biology major: one course in Quantitative Literacy and one course in Data Analysis.

Quantitative Literacy

All biology majors are required to complete a Calculus I-equivalent course (e.g. MATH 110 or MATH 114). Students who pass out of Calculus I are required to take an additional quantitative literacy course at the college level.

Select one course from the list below:

BIO 373Computational Biology

4 units

Calculus 1

4 units

Calculus 2

4 units

COMP 131Fundamentals of Computer Science

4 units

COMP 149Mathematical Foundations of Computer Science

4 units

COMP 229Data Structures

4 units

ECON 301Environmental Economics and Policy

4 units

GEO 255Remote Exploration of Earth

4 units

MATH 210Discrete Mathematics

4 units

MATH 212Multivariable Calculus

4 units

MATH 214Linear Algebra

4 units

PHYS 110Introductory Mechanics

4 units

PHYS 115General Physics I

4 units

PHYS 117Waves and Thermal Physics

4 units

PHYS 125General Physics II

4 units

Data Analysis

Select one course from the list below:

BIO 268Biostatistics

4 units

COGS 255Data Analysis and Visualization

4 units

COMP 146Statistics

4 units

MATH 150Statistical Data Analysis

4 units

PSYC 201Statistics in Psychological Science

4 units

The most current version as taught as 146 statistics in COMP Sci. is suitable as a data analysis course.

Honors in the Major

  • Student typically will have worked on a research project for 2 semesters (or 1 semester + summer session) minimum, before applying for honors
  • Student must have an average GPA of 3.25 (college policy)

Application Process

  • Student should discuss with their research mentor and submit an official Letter of Intent to the Biology Chairperson by the beginning of their senior year, or sooner.
  • The letter of intent should include a summary of research results (realized and projected), as well as significance of the research and any projects in progress at the time of submission.
  • Applications will be evaluated by the Biology faculty.
  • Students nominated for honors will be notified by the Biology Chairperson.

Completion Process

  • At the time of nomination, each candidate will be assigned an honors thesis committee of two Biology faculty members, in addition to their faculty mentor. This committee will be available for guidance and to help ensure that milestones are met in a timely manner.
  • Milestones will include a thorough literature review, written drafts of the introduction, methods, and results sections, including draft figures, and a final discussion section, as well as preparation of a public seminar.
  • The candidate must complete a written thesis of their work. It is expected that the student will spend part of their final semester or directed research writing the thesis.
  • The written thesis will be due to the mentor by Monday in the 4th week of February.
  • The revised honors thesis will be due to the committee by Monday in the 3rd week of February.
  • The thesis will be reviewed by committee, and final revisions must be submitted by the last day of March.
  • Honors candidates will also give a presentation on their research during the week of April 15. These presentations will last approximately 15 minutes, with 5 min for questions.
  • Honors grades are Pass/Fail and reported to the registrar by the Chair. The chair will inform the students of their grade when it is decided upon by the committee.

Minor

Introductory Level

Students must select two courses from:

BIO 105Marine Biology

4 units

BIO 110Organisms on Earth

4 units

BIO 115General Zoology

4 units

BIO 130Introduction to Cell and Molecular Biology

4 units

Additional Electives

Choose three additional courses at the 200- or 300-level, two of which must be taken in the Occidental College Biology Department. Two unit courses may not apply to this requirement. Independent Studies and Advanced Placement credit may not count toward the minor.

Second-Stage Writing Proficiency

Students majoring in Biology will satisfy the second-stage writing requirement by successfully completing two courses at the 300-level (or appropriate course work). Students should familiarize themselves with the departmental requirement at the time of declaring the major. See the Writing Program and consult the department chair for additional information.

Comprehensive Requirement

The Senior Comprehensive in Biology provides an opportunity for every senior to demonstrate mastery of a topic of current importance and research interest in contemporary biology.

Seniors enroll in small, one-semester seminars (BIO 490) organized around current topics that are meant to span a number of scales in biology. The seminar includes extensive reading (both assigned and independently chosen), discussion and evaluation of primary literature, selection of an appropriate subtopic on which to focus, synthesis and writing of a précis or summary of research on the subtopic, and a major oral presentation by each student. The seminar also involves collaboration in that presenters partner with discussion leaders and work together throughout the semester to hone each other’s written and oral presentations.

Advising Information

All Biology majors start with the same group of gateway courses. Students should start taking biology classes as soon as possible! An ideal first-year schedule is to take Marine Biology (BIO 105), Organisms on Earth (Bio 110), or General Zoology (Bio 115) in the fall semester, along with Foundations of General Chemistry (CHEM 120 or CHEM 130). This would be followed in the spring semester by Cell and Molecular Biology (BIO 130).

Placement Information

Most students who are interested in majoring in Biology should take the Calculus Placement Assessment (ALEKS) during the summer prior to their first year. You do not need to take the Calculus Placement Assessment if any of the following are true:

  • You received a score of 4 or 5 on either the AP Calculus AB or BC exam;
  • You received an IB Calculus HL score of 5 or above;
  • You have already taken a Calculus 1 course at another accredited college or university.

Sample 4-Year Plan


Fall

Spring

Year 1

  • Fall FYS course

  • Introductory BIO course (CPLS)

  • Calculus 1 (CPMS)

  • Core Requirement (4 units)

  • Spring FYS course

  • CHEM 120 or CHEM 130 (CPLS)

  • Core Requirement (4 units)

  • General Elective (4 units)

Year 2

  • Environmental BIO

  • BIO 130 (CPLS)

  • Core Requirement (4 units)

  • Core Requirement (4 units)

  • CHEM 220

  • Data Analysis

  • Core Requirement (4 units)

  • Core Requirement (4 units)

Year 3

  • BIO 280

  • 200-level Organismal

  • General Elective (4 units)

  • General Elective (4 units)

  • 300-level BIO

  • 200-level Cell & Molecular

  • General Elective (4 units)

  • General Elective (4 units)

Year 4

  • BIO 490 or 300-level BIO

  • 300-level BIO

  • General Elective (4 units)

  • General Elective (4 units)

  • BIO 490 or 300-level BIO

  • General Elective (4 units)

  • General Elective (4 units)

  • General Elective (4 units)

Curricular Notes

Graduate Study

Graduate study toward the degree of Master of Arts under the thesis plan may be undertaken in Biology by properly qualified students. Thesis projects may be elected in any of the following fields: cellular biology, developmental biology, immunology, microbiology, molecular biology, neurobiology, biochemistry, comparative physiology, animal behavior, environmental biology, ecology, systematics and evolutionary biology, and marine biology. Graduate courses, numbered 500 and above, are valued at five units unless otherwise noted. Consult the department chair for further information on graduate studies.

Transfer Credit Policies

The Biology Department policy on transfer credit conforms to College policy. Students should reference the Transfer Credit section for more details. IB or A-level examinations in Biology will not substitute for an Occidental course, place students into advanced courses, or allow a wider opportunity for choice of electives in the Department.

For the major at most two 200-level courses and at most one 300-level course will be accepted in transfer.

For the minor at most one course in transfer may be counted toward the 200- and 300-level requirement.

Courses

Biology Courses