The Biology major is a department within the College of Science & Mathematics.


Ecology & Environmental Biology
Forestry (Dual Degree Program)

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.

More About the Field 

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.


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 BA degree can be met by adding the completion of an intermediate level foreign language and three credit hours in philosophy.

Complementary Majors and Minors 

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.

  • Agricultural Scientist
  • Air Pollution Analyst
  • Anesthesia Technician
  • Animal Scientist
  • Aquarium Technician
  • Biology Educator
  • Biochemist
  • Biologist
  • Biomedical Engineer
  • Biotechnologist
  • Blood Bank Specialist
  • Botanist
  • Cancer Researcher
  • Cell Biologist
  • Clinical Lab Scientist
  • Conservation Program Aid
  • Criminologist
  • Dentist
  • DNA Technician
  • Ecologist
  • Environmental Educator
  • Environmental Scientist
  • EPA Inspector
  • Exhibit Technician
  • Fisheries Conservationist
  • Food Regulatory Inspector
  • Food Scientist
  • Genetic Engineer
  • Healthcare Recruiter
  • Hematologist
  • Hospital Administrator
  • Immunologist
  • Industrial Hygienist Technician
  • Laboratory Supervisor
  • Marine Biologist
  • Medical Illustrator
  • Medical Research Assistant
  • Microbiologist
  • Natural Resource Conservation
  • Occupational Safety Specialist
  • Optometrist Assistant
  • Park Ranger
  • Pharmaceutical Salesperson
  • Pharmacy Technician
  • Physical Therapist
  • Physician
  • Physician Scribe
  • Program Analyst
  • Public Health Educator
  • Quality Engineer
  • Science Museum Curator
  • Science Teacher
  • Scientific Photographer
  • Soil Conservationist
  • Strategic Management Consultant
  • Technical Marketing Specialist
  • Technical Services Coordinator
  • Technical Writer
  • Toxicologist
  • Veterinary Assistant
  • Water/Wastewater Plant Agent
  • Wildlife Biologist
  • Zoologist

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 Experiential Opportunities 

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.

View our list of internship coordinators for each major.

Career Profiles

Biochemists and Biophysicists
Biological Science Teachers
Biological Technicians
Environmental Scientists and Specialists
Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists
Environmental Restoration Planners

Additional Resources to Research Careers
  • Handshake: view new internships and jobs that employers are looking to hire JMU students from your major 
  • Career Outcomes: see where alumni worked or studied right after graduating.
  • GoinGlobal: learn more about employment opportunities overseas as well as H1B visa information for international Dukes pursuing jobs in the U.S.
  • O*NET: browse occupational profiles to learn about thousands of different careers, pulling data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics 
  • CareerOneStop: explore thousands of different careers by looking at career profiles 
  • Utilize the LinkedIn Alumni tool to see what others have done with their majors and what their career paths look like. Reach out to alumni via LinkedIn and conduct an informational interview.

© University Career Center, James Madison University

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without permission from the JMU University Career Center. 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 career@jmu.edu

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