Undergraduate Aims and Objectives

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The objective of the undergraduate option in Biology is to produce graduates whose knowledge of biology, biological engineering and/or biologically-inspired design, will enable them to become leaders in academia, industry and government. More specifically, the option serves as a basis for graduate study in any field of biology or for admission to the study of medicine. The option builds on the foundation in mathematics and physical science that is essential to Caltech's core curriculum, and provides an introduction to the basic facts, concepts, problems, and methodologies of biological science. Through course work and directed research in the lab of a faculty member, students have many opportunities to develop a deep knowledge of specific fields within biology.

By graduation a Biology Major will have an understanding of biological principles, and the ability to make connections across different levels of biological organization, from molecules to cells, to whole organisms, populations and ecosystems. They will have mastered an inquiry-based approach to science, learning how to form and articulate testable hypotheses, and design investigations to test them. They will also have learned basic laboratory techniques used in a variety of biology sub-disciplines, and have the quantitative skills necessary to interpret findings. Biology majors will also understand how to comprehend and critically evaluate the primary biological literature, and how to communicate effectively their ideas about biology.

Students demonstrate breadth of knowledge by completing a series of required courses designed to introduce them to all levels of biology. These courses include organic chemistry, biochemistry, cell and molecular biology, genetics, development, and neuroscience. Students must take an advanced laboratory course or carry out supervised research, in addition to taking a course on scientific writing and speaking.

Along with these core requirements, students take upper division courses, both within and outside of BBE, that allow students to engage in deeper study of specific areas of interest and to engage in cross-disciplinary study. These requirements are structured such that students choose courses from multiple "tracks" (broadly defined as Biochemistry, Genetics, Development, Neurobiology, Development and Evolution, Behavior and Psychology, Computational and Systems Biology, Organismal Biology, Cell Biology) so as to acquire an in-depth understanding of several areas of biology. Students can arrange individual tutorials on specific topics (Bi 23), and can take classes at neighboring institutions in fields of biology that are not represented at Caltech.  In selecting classes, students are encouraged to consult with their faculty adviser, who is chosen by the faculty based on the student's particular set of interests.  The adviser can be changed as the student's interests evolve.

The Biology program is committed to developing a student's self-reliance, creativity, leadership, ethical standards, and capacity for professional and intellectual growth. To foster these traits, a key component of the program is directed research on cutting edge problems under the guidance of a faculty member in the BBE division, or in another division. Such work typically takes the form of research for credit during the school year, work/study, the preparation of an undergraduate thesis (Bi 90), and/or participation in a summer research fellowship at Caltech, or elsewhere. Research opportunities can be arranged directly with faculty members.  Guidance can also be obtained from a student's faculty adviser in the division, the biology undergraduate student adviser, or the Faculty option representative. Students can identify BBE division faculty of interest by participating in a weekly lunch-time seminar series in which Faculty present their research interests to the students (Bi 2). Caltech is perhaps unique in the world in its ability to offer all students the opportunity to work in multiple research environments on real world problems, over a sustained period of time. The program does not require students to carry out research, but the vast majority do. Some turn their work into a Senior thesis project, and many become authors on manuscripts resulting from their work.

A Biology student association (BUSAC) provides regular feedback to the faculty as a whole, as well as to the curriculum committee and the option representative, about specific courses, scheduling and student satisfaction.  Post Graduation outcomes for Biology majors are measured in the form of matriculation in graduate programs or professional schools (Medicine, Veterinary), as well as post-graduate fellowships and scholarships.