Biology Website



Professors: ALTSCHULER, ART, DEWITT, J. EDWARDS, D. LYNCH**, H. WILLIAMS*, ZOTTOLI. Associate Professors: RAYMOND***, ROSEMAN, SAVAGE**, SWOAP. Visiting Associate Professor: BANTA. Senior Lecturer: D. C. SMITH. Assistant Professors: HUTSON***, MORALES*, TING. Professor of Marine Science for the Williams-Mystic Program: CARLTON. Instructor: MACINTIRE.

The Biology curriculum has been designed to provide students with a broad base for understanding principles governing life processes at all levels, from biochemistry and cell biology to physiology to ecology and behavior. Courses emphasize fundamentals common to all subdisciplines including the coupling of structure to function, the transfer of energy in living systems, communication, and the molding of diversity by the evolutionary process. In upper-level courses and in independent and honors research, students have the opportunity to investigate areas at the frontiers of modern biology.

Although the Biology major is specifically designed to provide a balanced curriculum in the broader context of the liberal arts, it is also excellent preparation for graduate studies in the life sciences and in the health professions.


In order to make the major accessible to students with diverse interests, required courses are kept to a minimum. The Biology major is satisfied by nine courses, as follows:

Biology 101 The Cell

Biology 102 The Organism

Biology 202 Genetics

Any two 300-level courses, one of which must have a laboratory associated with it.

Any one 400-level course other than 493-494.

Any other three courses or any other two courses and two semesters of Organic Chemistry.

NOTE: Independent study courses and AMS 311 (Same as Biology 231) do not fulfill the 300-level or 400-level course requirements. Both WIOX 215, Biology: Ecology of Flowering Plants, and WIOX 216, Biology: Evolution, in the Williams Oxford Program qualify for major credit.

Distribution Requirement

In order to ensure that majors broaden their knowledge of biology, one of the elective courses for the major must include an upper-level course covering biological processes at levels of organization above the cell. Courses that satisfy this distribution requirement are indicated in the individual course description.


It is preferable for students who plan to major in biology, or think they may be interested in doing so, to take Biology 101, 102 during their first year at Williams. It is also possible to begin the Biology major during the sophomore year, although students should understand that it may require taking two or more biology courses during several semesters.

Students interested in biology, whether or not they intend to major in it, are encouraged to take Biology 101, 102. It is also possible, with permission of the instructor, to take Biology 203 Ecology, Biology 204 Animal Behavior, and Biology 220 Field Botany without prerequisite. Other biology courses designed specifically for students who do not intend to take additional upper-level courses in biology include Biology 132 Human Biology and Social Issues, Biology 134 The Tropics: Biology and Social Issues, and Biology 133 Biology of Exercise and Nutrition. All of these courses satisfy the Division III distribution requirement; in addition, Biology 134 satisfies the Peoples and Cultures distribution requirement.

Beginning students should normally enroll in Biology 101 and 102. Students with unusually strong backgrounds in biology, such as those with outstanding performance on the College Board Biology Advanced Placement Test, may be permitted to elect a sophomore-level course in lieu of Biology 101 and/or Biology 102 upon successful completion of a departmental qualifying exam, administered during First Days.


Students planning to pursue their interest in biology and related fields after completing their undergraduate degrees are strongly encouraged to take one year of chemistry, at least one semester of mathematics (a course in statistics is recommended), and one semester of physics. Students may wish to check the requirements for graduate admission at relevant universities, and are also encouraged to consult with the Biology Department's graduate school advisor about prerequisites for admission to graduate programs.


Students interested in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (BIMO) should consult the general statement under Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.


Students interested in Bioinformatics, Genomics and Proteomics (BIGP) should consult the general statement under Bioinformatics, Genomics and Proteomics. Biology majors interested in this field are strongly encouraged to enroll in Life as an Algorithm (Computer Science 106/Biology 106) in the Spring of 2005. The capstone course for the BIGP program will be offered in the Fall of 2005, and will have prerequisites of Genetics (Biology 202) and Life as an Algorithm (Computer Science 106/Biology 106).


Students interested in Neuroscience (NSCI) should consult the general statement under Neuroscience.


Students interested in Environmental Studies (ENVI) should consult the general statement under Environmental Studies.


In order to be recommended for the degree with honors, a Biology major is normally expected to have completed the equivalent of two semesters and a winter study (031) of independent research culminating in a thesis which demonstrates outstanding achievement of an original and innovative nature. Although the presentation of a thesis and associated oral presentation in the fall and poster defense in the spring are required for consideration for a degree with honors, their completion should not be interpreted as a guarantee of a degree with honors. The principal considerations in admitting a student to the program of independent honors research will be mastery of fundamental material and skills, ability to pursue independent study successfully, and demonstrated interest and motivation. Students interested in participating in the honors program should consult with the department early in the spring semester of the junior year; approval must be received before spring registration in the junior year.

The minimum course requirements for a degree with honors in Biology are Biology 101, Biology 102, Biology 202, two 300-level biology courses (one of which must have a laboratory associated with it), one 400-level biology course, Biology 493, Biology 494, WSP 031, and any other two courses in biology (or any other one course and two semesters of Organic Chemistry).

In addition to the normal honors route, which includes two semesters (Biology 493-494) and a winter study of research (WSP 031) during senior year, students have the option, subject to the approval of their thesis advisor, to begin the honors research during winter study junior year or during the second semester junior year. Students beginning honors in winter study of junior year would take Biology 494 in the spring of their junior year followed by Biology 493 in the fall of their senior year; students beginning honors during the second semester of junior year would take Biology 494 that semester, followed by Biology 493 in the fall of senior year and winter study research in the winter of the senior year.


Students who enroll in study away programs may receive credit for up to two 200-level electives towards the biology major upon approval of the course syllabi by the Biology Department's study abroad coordinator.

Students wishing to satisfy prerequisites for courses offered by the Biology Department with courses taken at other institutions should consult, in person, with a member of the Biology Department, prior to registering for the course that requires a prerequisite. Such consultations will include a review of the course syllabi and the transcripts of the relevant previous college work, and students should bring these materials with them.


Individual research projects must be approved by the department. Application should be made to the department prior to spring registration.

NOTE: Senior thesis and independent study courses do not count as 300-level or 400-level course requirements for the major.