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Biology & Society Major

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The Biology & Society Major is designed for students who wish to combine training in biology with perspectives from the social sciences and humanities on the social, political and ethical aspects of modern biology. Many of the most critical social concerns of our time -- food and population; impact of genetic engineering and new medical technologies; testing for drugs; AIDS and genes; the influence of heredity versus environment on human behavior; environmental quality; and ethical, legal and social aspects of modern medical practice -- are innately biological. At the same time, each of these issues is inherently a social concern and involves complex relations between biological and sociocultural forces. The Biology & Society major is intended to provide the skills and perspectives to enable its students to systematically confront these and many other social-biological issues. For a detailed description of the Major, see the section on Biology & Society in the Courses of Study.

Each student's program incorporating the requirements of the major is planned in consultation with a faculty member and is designed to accommodate individual goals and interests. Students who complete the requirements for the Biology & Society major leave Cornell with well-developed writing and analytical skills and with the ability to confront complex issues. Biology & Society graduates are thus equipped to enter a variety of careers. Students have found the Major is also excellent preparation for law, medicine, health services administration, and other professional schools and for graduate programs in genetic counseling, nutrition, clinical psychology, public health, environmental studies, anthropology, sociology or other related fields. Students have gone on to successful careers in the healthcare industry, legal profession, policymaking, scientific research, and many other exciting professions.  

Requirements

Requirements for the major are listed below. A full description and listings of courses that satisfy the requirements can be obtained in 303 Morrill Hall. Also refer to the section on Biology & Society in Courses of Study.

Biology & Society Requirements:

Starting with the class of 2014, we will no longer accept AP Biology to fulfill the introductory biology requirement.

  • Introductory biology (BioG 1105/1106; or two of the following: BioEE 1610 or BioSM 1610, BioEE 1780 or BioSM 1780, BioG 1440 or BioG 1445, or BioMG 1350.  Students are not required to take BioG 1500, but may wish to for a lab experience.  BioG 1105/1106 is no longer offered.  A minimum grade of C- in each of the two Intro Biology courses or proven success in biology foundation breadth is required.
  • College calculus (one course)
  • Ethics (one course)
  • Two social sciences/humanities foundation courses
  • Three biology foundation courses
  • One biology depth course
  • Statistics (one course)
  • Core course
  • Five theme courses (a coherent group of five courses relevant to the student’s special interest in Biology and Society, including a senior seminar that serves as a capstone course for the major).

No single course may satisfy more than one major requirement. With the exception of the four elective courses in the theme (2 biology electives and 2 humanities/social sciences electives), all courses must be chosen from the Biology & Society official course list. Courses used for the Major must be at least 3 credit hours, at least 2000-level (except Intro Biology and Calculus requirements, Math 1710, NS 1150, NS 1220, BSOC 1941 and 1942), taken for a letter grade, and students must receive at least a C- as a final grade. Students should develop their theme and select their courses in consultation with a member of the Biology & Society faculty. A list of faculty is available in 303 Morrill Hall.

Independent Study and Honors Research:

Majors are encouraged to do independent study or honors research. Projects under the direction of a Biology & Society faculty mentor can be developed as a part of the program of study within the student's concentration area. Further information can be found in Courses of Study or is available in the Biology & Society office, 303 Morrill Hall. NOTE: At this time Biology & Society honors research is available to majors from the Colleges of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Arts and Sciences, and Human Ecology. Human Ecology students should contact Professor Margaret Frey (137 Human Ecology Building, 255-1937) for information.

Major Forms

Applying to the Major

Students must have completed a year of college-level biology or two entry level biology courses and submit an application during their sophomore year.  (See requirements for minimum grade.)  Students in the process of completing this prerequisite may be admitted to the Major on a provisional basis. It is the student's responsibility to assure that final acceptance is granted on completion of the introductory biology requirements. Although only introductory biology, or its equivalent is a prerequisite for acceptance, students will find it useful to have completed some of the other requirements (see course checklist) by the end of their sophomore year. Juniors are considered on a case-by-case basis. Upper-division applicants should realize the difficulties of completing the Major requirements in less than two years.

NOTE: Students in the Colleges of Human Ecology and Agriculture and Life Sciences are provisionally admitted to the major during their freshman year (or as transfer students). Full acceptance is contingent upon submission of an application during the sophomore year.

The application includes:

  1. a one to two page statement explaining your intellectual interests in the Biology & Society major and why the major is consistent with your academic goals and interests
  2. a selected theme in the Major
  3. a tentative plan of courses fulfilling Biology & Society requirements, including courses you have taken and those you plan to take
  4. a transcript of work taken at Cornell University, or elsewhere, current as of the date of application

Applications are reviewed by the faculty admissions committee twice a year, once each during the fall and spring semesters. A faculty advisor is assigned on admittance to the Major.

The Major is offered to students enrolled in the Colleges of Arts and Sciences, Human Ecology, and Agriculture and Life Sciences. The Major is administered by a committee of faculty members representing various disciplines in the biological and social sciences and the humanities. Approximately 70 faculty from three colleges serve as advisors to Biology & Society Majors. The Major is coordinated for students in all colleges through the Biology & Society office. Students can get information, specific course requirements, and application procedures for the major from the office located in 303 Morrill Hall. Faculty advisors are available to discuss the major and requirements with you.

Because the major is multidisciplinary, students must attain a basic understanding of each of the several disciplines it comprises. These include introductory courses in three of the nine fields of biology (see checklist), ethics, history or philosophy and statistics. In addition, majors are required to take a core course and must develop a theme: a coherent and meaningful grouping of five courses representative of their special interest in Biology & Society. Students should develop the theme and select the courses in consultation with a member of the Biology & Society faculty. (A list of faculty is available from the Biology & Society office).

Please print out and submit your completed Biology & Society Major Application to 303B Morrill Hall by Friday, February 10, 2017. 

Applications received by this deadline will receive priority attention for obtaining a Biology & Society faculty advisor before pre-enrollment begins. 

Application Forms

For a listing of Biology & Society Courses, click here, or to pick up a paper version, please stop by our main office, 303 Morrill Hall.

Honors Program

The Honors Program is designed to challenge academically talented undergraduate students whose major is Biology & Society. Students who enroll in the honors program are given an opportunity, with faculty guidance, to do independent study and research dealing with issues in biology and society. Students participating in the program should find the experience intellectually stimulating and rewarding.

Selection of Students:

Biology & Society majors are considered for entry into the honors program at the end of the second semester of the junior year. Application forms for the honors program are available in the Biology & Society office, 306 Rockefeller. The Biology & Society honors program is available to Biology & Society majors from the Colleges of Arts and Sciences and Agriculture and Life Sciences. Biology & Society majors in the College of Human Ecology must be selected by an honors committee within their college. To qualify for the Biology & Society honors program, students must have an overall Cornell cumulative grade-point average of at least 3.30, have formulated a research topic, and have found a project supervisor and a second faculty member willing to serve as advisors. Both must hold academic appointments at Cornell, and at least one must be a member of Biology & Society. Applications will be reviewed by a committee headed by the director of undergraduate studies, who will notify students directly of the outcome. Students will be permitted to register for the honors program only by permission of the department. Students must enroll for two semesters, each time for four credits. At the end of the first semester, the student will receive a grade of "R" for satisfactory progress. The grade recorded at the end of the second term evaluates the student's performance in the course for the entire year. CALS and CHE students may enroll in ALS 4991 and HE 4991 the same way to receive credit from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Human Ecology, respectively.

If, after admission to the honors program, a student fails to maintain a high scholastic average, or for any other reason is considered unsuited for honors work, the student reverts to candidacy for the regular Bachelor's degree. The student who does not continue in the honors program must change the first semester to Independent Study in order to and receive a grade.

Students are required to complete two semesters of honors project research and to write an honors thesis. The project must include substantial research and the completed work should be of wider scope and greater originality than is normal for an upper-level course. Additionally, as part of the first semester of honors work (BSOC 4991, ALS 4991, or HE 4991), students are required to attend an honors seminar, which covers basic research skills. A preliminary paper and bibliography on the student's project is due by the end of the fall semester.

Program Requirements:

The student has primary responsibility for constituting a committee of two faculty advisors, formulating ideas, developing the proposal, carrying out the study, and preparing a suitable thesis. Honors projects will be carried out under the direction of the two advisors mentioned above. The project supervisor should be expert in the topic and willing to serve as the primary advisor. In the second semester of the senior year, the director of undergraduate studies will appoint a third reader of the completed honors thesis.

Students must register for the total credits (8) for the whole year, 4 credits each semester in Biology & Society/ALS 4991, Honors Project I and II. Students should note that BSOC/ALS/HE 4991 may not be used to fulfill any major requirements. The student and the project supervisor must reach clear agreement at the outset as to what sort of work will need to be completed during the first semester. Minimally an honors thesis outline and bibliography should be accomplished. At the end of the first semester, a grade of "R" will be assigned to note satisfactory progress. The advisors, in consultation with the director of undergraduate studies, will evaluate whether or not the student should continue working on an honors project. The student who does not continue in the honors program must change the first semester to Independent Study in order to receive a grade. The grade recorded at the end of the second term evaluates the student's performance in the course for the entire year. 

Students should meet regularly with the project supervisor during the period of research and writing for the honors thesis. The responsibility for scheduling these meetings, and for carrying out the research in timely fashion, rests with the student. Advisors are expected to make themselves available for discussion and to offer advice on the plan of research, as well as provide critical and constructive comments on the written work as it is completed. They are not expected, however, to pursue students to ensure that the research and writing are being done on schedule.

The Honors Thesis:

There is no prescribed length for a thesis, since different topics may require longer or shorter treatment, but the thesis should be a substantial body of work. We have found that the thesis is normally in the range of 70 - 100 double-spaced typed pages. The thesis must be completed in a form satisfactory for purposes of evaluation and submitted by April 15* to the two thesis advisors and to a third faculty member appointed by the director of undergraduate studies. The candidate must meet with the three readers for a formal defense of the thesis by April 29. * CALS students must follow the requirements set forth by Dean Viands for formatting, binding, and submitting their honors thesis. Please see Sue Sullivan or Ann Gantner in CALS for further information. Human Ecology students should contact Professor Margaret Frey for further information.

One copy of the completed and defended thesis (suitably bound in a plastic or hard-backed cover), together with the advisors' recommendations, must be submitted to the undergraduate coordinator in 303B Morrill Hall by May 15. *

Following the formal thesis defense, the thesis advisors will submit to the director of undergraduate studies a recommendation to include: 1) the evaluation of the honors thesis by the three readers; 2) an evaluation of the student's academic record in the Biology & Society major; and 3) a recommendation for or against awarding honors, as well as a recommendation for the level of honors.

As the director of undergraduate studies may have little knowledge of the subject area of the thesis, recommendations should be carefully prepared to help ensure consistency within the Honors Program. If there is disagreement among the readers, the director of undergraduate studies will make the final decision after consultation with the interested parties.

Summary of Important Dates:

  • Last week of second semester junior year: Application for honors program submitted to 303B Morrill Hall.
  • April 15*: Thesis completed in a form satisfactory for evaluation and submitted to the three readers
  • April 29*: Thesis defense accomplished
  • May 13*: Bound copy of completed and defended thesis submitted to the undergraduate coordinator in 303B Morrill Hall

* If these dates fall on a weekend, the deadline will be the previous Friday. 

Contacts

Undergraduate Program Coordinator, Biology & Society Major:
Stacey Stone
303B Morrill Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853 USA
Telephone: (607) 255-6047
Email: sms252@cornell.edu

Director of Undergraduate Studies:
Professor Rachel Prentice (rep35@cornell.edu

Agriculture & Life Sciences Advising Coordinator:
Professor Randy Wayne (row1@cornell.edu)

Human Ecology Advising Coordinator:
Professor Margaret Frey (mfw24@cornell.edu)