Admission and Progression Standards:
Visit the Major Snapshots site to learn more about the admission and progression standards of this major.
Description of Major
Biology is offered as a major and minor at JMU. The Department of Biology prepares our majors in attaining their post-graduate goals by developing subject matter competency within the context of a liberal arts education. Specifically, the department seeks to: 1) provide a broad conceptual background in all areas of biological science, followed by individualized specialization in areas of career and academic interest; 2) reveal biology as a dynamic science involving divergent concepts, imagining, and explorations based on the scientific method; 3) develop an integrated understanding of the discipline and its relationship to technology and society; 4) develop within students an appreciation of life including the formation of a bond between themselves and their environment; and 5) emphasize the development skills necessary for long term success, including problem solving/critical thinking, writing, and oral communication. In addition to the concentrations mentioned above, the Biology Department also offers minors in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and Human Science.
Tell me more about this field of study
Training in Biology prepares an individual for a very large number of occupations. Consider the following, which represent less than 10% of the identified occupational categories related to life science: agronomy, biophysics, developmental biology, environmental law, forensic entomology, forestry, genetic counseling, immunology, medical practice, molecular biology, neurobiology, secondary school teaching, and veterinary medicine. Some of these deal exclusively with molecules and cells, others concern entire ecosystems; some involve daily interaction with dozens or hundreds of people, others can be done in complete isolation; some are narrowly specific, others require knowledge far beyond science. Studies in the Biology program, develop a broad conceptual background in the basic principles governing living systems and develops in one, an appreciation of life in its myriad forms. There are many opportunities to engage in critical thinking about biological problems using both descriptive and quantitative methods. The knowledge gained will enhance decision-making skills essential today and for the future in solving societal problems. Students learn to master scientific principles and theories, and improve their observational abilities.
Tell me more about specialization
A major in Biology is much more than a single scientific area of study. This program includes a variety of areas in which to specialize. Examples of activities performed within these areas include: the use of recombinant DNA and monoclonal antibody techniques, somatic cell genetics and plant tissue culture, plant floristics of mid-Appalachian regions, ecology and environmental biology, laboratory testing of blood and other bodily fluids for various diseases, community and ecosystems studies, studies of fungi, plant molecular biology, muscle development, molecular evolution and environmental toxicology. Opportunities include working at the bench in a laboratory or working outdoors in field biology, or a combination of these. JMU also partners with Virginia Tech to offer a dual degree program making it possible for a student to earn a BS degree in Biology from JMU and a Master of Forestry degree from Virginia Tech in five years. Requirements for a B.A. degree can be met by adding the completion of an intermediate level foreign language and three credit hours in philosophy.
Common majors or minors that complement this major
The most common is perhaps a minor in Chemistry or Biochemistry. Other combinations could include: Anthropology, Art, Chronic Illness, Environmental Management, Environmental Science, Geology, Geographic Sciences, Health Sciences, Historical Archaeology, Human Science, Integrated Science and Technology, Justice Studies, Kinesiology, Mathematics, Nonprofit Studies, Physics, Psychology, Statistics, or Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication. Many students choose to do a Pre-Professional Health Program such as: Pre-Dentistry, Pre-Medicine, Pre-Occupational Therapy, Pre-Optometry, Pre-Pharmacy, Pre-Physician Assistant, Pre-Physical Therapy, Pre-Veterinary Medicine.
Characteristics of Successful Students
Those students who show good motivation to learn in regular classes, who talk with their advisor and choose appropriate course work to develop a meaningful program of study, those who show ability in doing precision work, who work well under pressure, who are naturally curious, and those who devote a portion of their curriculum to serious research. In addition, flexibility appears to be a key trait for anyone entering the job market in the future. While the educational requirements for most fields of biology and medicine tend toward specialization, the actual jobs developing for the 21st century place a premium on adapting to change, moving into new settings, and combining diverse areas. For instance, a typical research project in the pharmaceutical industry lasts only a few years, after which a scientist might be asked to tackle an entirely different project. Or consider the biotechnology industry, where many research scientists find themselves moving into management positions and working with such topics as patent law and marketing.
Many graduates choose typical career paths associated with this major. However, some graduates choose nontraditional career fields that utilize skills and experiences developed during their years in college. Keep in mind, that some fields will require graduate study or further training. The listing below offers examples of possible career paths and is not meant to be comprehensive.
Air Pollution Analyst
Blood Bank Specialist
Clinical Lab Scientist
Conservation Program Aid
Food Regulatory Inspector
Industrial Hygienist Technician
Medical Research Assistant
Natural Resource Conservation
Occupational Safety Specialist
Public Health Educator
Science Museum Curator
Strategic Management Consultant
Technical Marketing Specialist
Technical Services Coordinator
Water/Wastewater Plant Agent
Who employs graduates?
Agricultural Industries, Aquariums, Biotechnology Firms, Chemical Companies, Colleges and Universities, Cosmetic Companies, Environment and Pollution Control Agencies, Federal and State Government Laboratories (Department of Agriculture, Fish & Wildlife Service, National Institutes of Health), Food Companies, Hospitals, Medical Centers, Pharmaceutical Companies, Private Research Firms, Public Health Facilities, and Zoos.
Internships and Practicum Experiences
There is no formal practicum or internship program in the Biology Department; however, students have many opportunities to gain "hands on" experience in each class they participate in. There are opportunities to work in laboratories, conduct community and ecosystems studies in the Blue Ridge Mountains, George Washington National Forest or the Appalachian Mountains or work in JMU's Arboretum. Students should consult with the faculty of the area in which they are interested for more information. Students could also benefit from getting involved in organizations, such as, Tri-Beta, EARTH, and pre-health career clubs.
A broad range of resources on career fields, internships, and job search information is also available in our Resource Center. Come to the 3rd floor of the Student Success Center to explore our Resource Center in person, or search for titles from our collection online. Just enter keywords into the search bar under "Search JMUCAP's books" in the upper right to find titles that interest you.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without permission from JMU Career & Academic Planning. Content for each major has been written/reviewed by faculty in the respective department and is revised each year. Requests to update content can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org.