Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of Biology degree is available at Duke?

Duke offers several programs in the biological sciences for undergraduates. Most students will pursue the BS degree with a Biology major. This program requires two ‘gateway’ courses in molecular biology, genetics and evolution, as well as introductory courses in chemistry, math and physics. It also requires at least eight upper-level courses in the biological sciences. Three of those courses will involve exposure to essential areas in biology: organismal diversity; biological structure and function; and ecology. The other five courses will be 'electives', allowing for advanced courses in whatever you're most interested in. So, although there we do not have separate majors in specialties like molecular biology or botany or marine biology, it is possible to complete a biology major that 'concentrates' on these or many other areas.

In addition to the Biology major, Duke also has related majors in Neuroscience, Evolutionary Anthropology (primatology and human origins), Chemistry (with a biochemistry focus), Environmental Science and Policy, and Biomedical Engineering, as well as minors an certificates in Genome Sciences and Global Health.  And it's certainly possible to use courses from these other programs to count towards a Biology degree.

What is the difference between a Bachelor of Arts in biology and a Bachelor of Science?

The Bachelor of Arts (A.B.) in Biology is the liberal arts major program, appropriate for students planning a career in law, policy, or secondary school teaching. It requires math and chemistry only through Calculus I and introductory chemistry. Two semesters of introductory biology and eight upper- level courses are required. The upper-level courses include courses in specific areas, as well as elective courses in biology and related biological sciences.

The Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Biology is the degree recommended for students contemplating a career in biological or biomedical sciences. The B.S. degree requires either Calculus II or statistics, organic chemistry, and physics corequisites. Two semesters of introductory biology and eight upper-level courses are required. The upper-level courses include courses in specific areas, as well as elective courses in biology and related biological sciences.

Can I specialize my studies in biology?

Yes. As part of the Biology major, students may elect to complete requirements in specified sub-disciplines in the biological sciences.  Currently available areas of concentration in the biology major are: anatomy, physiology and biomechanics, animal behavior, biochemistry, cell and molecular biology, evolutionary biology, genetics, genomics, marine biology, neurobiology, pharmacology, and plant biology.  Completion of concentration requirements will result in a note on the student's transcript at graduation.

Can I use advanced placement in Biology?

Advanced placement credit will be awarded for a score of 4 or 5 on the American AP exam, or a score of 6 or 7 on the Higher Level International Baccalaureate (IB) exam or GCE A-Levels. Credit will be recorded on your transcript as BIO 20 (BIO 19 prior to Fall 2012), but it will not allow placement out of any Biology courses for the major.  However, all Biology majors, regardless of whether you’ve had AP Bio or not, will take the same biology ‘gateway’ courses: Bio 201L and 202L. These courses will introduce the three foundations of modern biology: molecular biology, genetics and evolution. The gateway courses will take you deep into the topics, beyond AP Bio, and provide a foundation for other advanced courses in biology.  Upper-level courses in biology typically specify either 201L or 202L as prerequisites, though there are several courses that would be appropriate for students with just a strong science background and AP Bio credit. 

In addition, advanced placement is possible in chemistry, math and physics, depending on your exam scores and by the decision of the respective departments. Students who place out of the first year of chemistry or math will not have to retake those courses for the biology major. 

Although you can only use two AP credits to reduce the number of credits you need to take for graduation (from 34 to 32), any number of AP credits can be used for placement out of introductory courses.  So, advanced placement in chemistry, math and physics will reduce the courses needed to complete the Biology major, freeing you up to take more advanced courses or courses in other disciplines.

Trinity College Rules on Advanced Placement, IPC, and IB Credit

Can I get involved in research?

Yes! Most biology majors will do at least one or two semesters of research as part of their major.  You will be participating in state of the art research with world-class scientists in any one of the many of research labs in the University or the Medical Center (e.g, Cell Biology, Immunology, Cancer Biology, etc.).  Most students will start in their junior or senior year, although many begin earlier.  Most students will do research as part of their regular course work, receiving grades and academic credit for their research. Many students will have their work published in the scientific literature and use their research as the basis for graduation with honors.  Special research opportunities are also available during summer.  These fellowships generally pay a stipend so that students can live on campus or at the Marine Lab while immersed in their research experience.

How many bio majors are there? What are classes like? Who teaches them?

There are typically about 170 biology majors in each graduating class. In addition, there are about an equal number of students in other majors that will be taking introductory and 'pre-health' courses.  So, the introductory courses may have as many as 150-200 students in lecture.  The second level courses usually have 25-40 students each and the advanced lab courses and seminars are generally less than 20 students.  However, even the larger lecture courses always split up once a week for lab or discussion with 15-20 students per section.  While these sections may be led by a graduate teaching assistant, all the lecture and seminar courses are taught by regular faculty.

Can I study abroad and still do a biology major? Can I transfer courses during the summer?

Yes!  Many Biology students will do at least one semester of Study Abroad, typically in their junior year.  There are several programs that are especially popular with Biology majors including semester and summer programs in marine biology at the Duke Marine Lab, semester and summer programs studying tropical biology in Costa Rica, a summer course in Australian biogeography, and a semester program in savannah ecology in South Africa.  In addition, there are many other study abroad programs that allow students the opportunity to take courses in biology as well as other fields.  Moreover, the major in Biology is sufficiently flexible to allow students to take semester abroad with out any biology, to study art in Florence, for example.

What do Biology majors do when they graduate?

Following graduation, about 40% of Biology majors will go off to medical school and about 30% will attend graduate programs in the biological/biomedical sciences, though not all directly—many will take a few years to work in labs before starting graduate school.  The remainder will do many things, including secondary school teaching, law school, business pursuits, or volunteer work with Teach for America, Peace Corps, etc.  Duke Biology grads generally place well.  For example, they have a rate of medical school acceptance that is twice the national average.