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Biology Major

Exploring the science of life from cells to ecosystems

Biology Major

Exploring the science of life from cells to ecosystems

Researcher kneeling on the Oregon coast

What will you do as a biology major?

With eight options and a wealth of electives, the biology major offers you a curriculum that is interdisciplinary, comprehensive and career-focused. Housed in the nationally ranked Department of Integrative Biology in the School of Life Sciences, the biology major program offers field, clinical and laboratory research experiences that will complement your studies in the classroom. The extensive curriculum covers coursework ranging from genetics, genomics, physiology, marine biology to ecology and conservation biology.

Integrative biology leads the university in sending our students abroad, and you can participate in a wide variety of international internships or study abroad opportunities around the world in locations from Australia to Tanzania. As a biology major, you will receive excellent training for life science careers ranging from education to human and animal health to public policy. You will also be well prepared for graduate programs in the biological sciences and professional schools including medicine, veterinary medicine, dentistry, pharmacy and others.

Students can choose to focus on their specific interests through a wide variety of elective courses and possible minors or by declaring one of eight (transcript-visible) options.

Ecology is the study of the physical and biological factors that affect the distribution and abundance of organisms, and ecological knowledge is essential to fields such as conservation biology, environmental sciences and others. Completion of the biology major and the coursework in the ecology option provides a solid foundation for jobs in research agencies, nongovernmental organizations, environmental consulting companies and academia, as well as for admission to graduate school. The ecology option coursework covers the Biology and Society, Organismal Biology, Physiology, Writing Intensive Course (WIC) and upper division science electives for the biology major. Students are encouraged to gain professional experience before graduation.

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The genetics option emphasizes the application of genetics theory and methods to evolutionary questions. It is an excellent way to prepare for graduate programs in genetics and evolutionary biology. The option combines the upper-division science electives for the biology major with tailored courses in genomics, advanced genetics, bioinformatics, statistics and computer science.

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The pre-education in biology option provides innovative and cutting-edge teaching and learning experiences such as a unique opportunity to work collaboratively with faculty in delivering biological science instruction at the college level. This option meets the requirements for most graduate teacher licensure programs. The coursework prepares students for endorsements to teach middle school integrated science and high school chemistry and biology. This option is especially valuable for students aspiring to teach biology in a high school (AP) or community college setting.

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Oceans produce more than 70% of the oxygen on earth, are home to more than 300,000 different species, and are critical to the survival of the human race and our planet. You can study the implications of this and more in the marine biology option in the biology major. The marine biology option couples the comprehensive core of the biology major with intensive marine courses covering topics such as biological oceanography, marine ecology, invertebrate zoology, conservation biology, marine field research methods and other areas. I

n the program you will be exposed to field and laboratory research ranging from invasive species to coral genetics. As an immersive and transformative educational experience, you will spend one or more terms in residence at the renowned Hatfield Marine Science Center (HMSC) in Newport, Oregon, to complete the BI 450 Marine Biology and Ecology course in the marine biology option. You can also participate in one of the many marine international internships and study abroad experiences available to marine biology option students in countries ranging from Australia to South Africa.

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The physiology and behavior option emphasizes the integrative and comparative biology of animals. It explores how animals, including humans, contend with the challenges of life through their physiology and behavior. This option prepares students very well for graduate programs and research careers in physiology, behavior and organismal biology. Students can choose to work closely with a faculty mentor to conduct research in a physiology or organismal biology lab.

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The pre-medicine option in biology has two tracks. Track I: pre-medicine is designed for students interested in becoming a physician, and Track II: pre-physician assistant, which is designed for students interested in becoming a physician assistant.

Students pursuing the pre-medicine option receive professional and academic advising support to chart their course to medical school.

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The pre-dentistry option provides relevant coursework, workshops, academic advising support and outstanding clinical, volunteer, internship and international study opportunities to prepare students for competitive dentistry programs. Coursework emphasizes upper division science elective courses in the biology major as well as writing intensive courses to improve cross-cultural communication skills and critical thinking, which are valued for admission to medical and dental schools.

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The pre-veterinary medicine option is designed to meet OSU College of Veterinary Medicine prerequisites and other U.S. veterinary schools. The pre-veterinary medicine option couples the strong biological sciences background of the biology major with core animal anatomy and physiology laboratories and animal science-focused electives. Dedicated professional advisors work with pre-veterinary medicine option students to integrate animal handling and other essential professional experiences during their time at OSU.

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Careers of our biology graduates

  • Director of Education and Outreach, Ocean Exploration Trust
  • Family Medicine Doctor, Oregon Health and Science University
  • Forensic scientist for the U.S. Government
  • Medical students at Duke University, Oregon Health & Science University, University of Washington
  • Shellfish Sampler, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
  • Graduate Students at UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, Emory University
  • Alcohol and Drug Counselor, U.S. Air Force
  • Curator of Marine Mammals, Oregon Coast Aquarium
  • Clinical Pharmacist, Oregon Health and Science University
  • Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist, American Refugee Committee

Sample courses

  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Genomes, Identities and Societies
  • Genetics
  • Ecology
Megan Cook wearing scuba gear on the edge of a boat.

"Traveling in international scholar exchange, diving into a field research team and being mentored in a community of inspiring peers and exceptional leaders gave me great confidence that my contributions could, should and would be impactful.”

Megan Cook (Biology '09), Manager of Education Partnerships & Programs at Ocean Exploration Trust.

Meet our students and alumni

A dream that won't be squelched: Protecting marine life and inspiring the next generation

Simone Burton, an Honors biology major with an option in marine biology, has pushed through more obstacles than she could have imagined only four years ago. Now, she is confident that she will find a powerful way to protect marine life through a career in conservation, science communication and outreach.

Researching intertidal communities ecosystems: Ecology fellowship supports student fieldwork

For Lily Miksell, the Alexei Lubchenco Menge Undergraduate Research Fellowship presented an exciting opportunity to pursue her interests in ecology and conservation.

Biology senior awarded Gilman Scholarship to pursue pre-med internship in Argentina

Julia Zavala is one of seven undergraduate students at Oregon State University to have been awarded a Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship during the 2020-2021 academic year. The honors biology senior will undertake a paid 10-week pre-med internship in Cordoba, Argentina, during summer 2021 where she will gain a global perspective on healthcare. Oregon State enjoys the distinction of being a top producer of Gilman Scholars. With seven honorees, OSU continues its trend of having students accepted at or greater than the national rate of 25%.

Fulbright awards will take science students to Germany and New Zealand

Oregon State University and the College of Science are thrilled to congratulate biochemistry and molecular biology Honors student Maja Engler and biology alumna Emily Newton on receiving the 2021-2022 Fulbright Award.

Continuing a family tradition: Mahtab Brar pursues a future in medicine

Mahtab Singh Brar ('20) an OSU Honors biology major and pre-med graduate, began medical school at OHSU in the fall to launch his career in medicine.

Ask Me Anything: Watch our virtual biology Q&A session!

The Integrative Biology department hosted a virtual "ask me anything" information session on Tuesday, May 5 for admitted College of Science students.

Explore biology further

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