How to succeed in Biology by trying:

Four Pointers:

  1. Think about what you want to do, so your education can work for you
    1. Take some time each week to pay attention to what you are enjoying in your classes - these help you decide your path
  2. Declare your major as soon as possible
    1. Once you are declared, you should talk to an advisor
  3. Talk to your professors, because once you are known, when opportunities arise, we will think of you. Go to office hours - not to "suck up" but to ask questions and let the professor know that you are interested in what is being taught.
    1. The professors who get to know you are also the ones who can/will write letters of recommendation for you. It is not a terrible thing for you to be thinking about that. Professors want to be able to say that you are a motivated, dedicated student who is going to contribute significantly to whatever you do. It is best if we have known you for some time and see how you are deciding what to do.
  4. Get the best grades you can
    1. Remember, academics/science is like gymnastics - everyone remembers the landing. Make sure, no matter how you do your first two years that you show improvements and you do as well as possible your last two years.


Once you’ve started the Biology major, start thinking, what are you interested in doing in Biology?  There are many different opportunities – being a professor or an M.D. are only two of them.  Start asking your teachers and TAs (teaching assistants) about careers in Biology – whether at the organismal, ecological, cell or molecular level.  There are opportunities in a variety of areas, including law; Masters of Science degrees are good for industrial positions.  Ask several faculty and advisors for information and ideas about teaching and jobs.

If you are thinking of graduate, medical or law school, or if you might consider these options later, you will need 3 letters of recommendation.  This means you need to get to know three of your favorite professors well enough so they can speak for you.  They need to know that you are motivated, reliable, interested, intelligent and basically a great person.  Plan to take the GRE, MCAT, or LSAT before fall of your senior year.

In your Biology courses, notice which areas of biology are most exciting to you.  What do you really love to think about?  Then look at the list of faculty included in this handout and on the Biology website (  See who is doing something you find interesting and make an appointment to talk with them.  The best way to know if a particular career suits you is to learn how research is done in that area.  Get to know graduate students in that area and find out what they are learning, doing and thinking.  The graduate students are listed on the faculty’s websites as well as teaching you your labs!

You can try to get into a lab as a work-study student or a volunteer or as a research assistant.  This may mean photocopying or washing dishes at first, but if you show the inclination, you will probably be able to help in the work of the laboratory eventually.  You also need to notice whether you are happy and comfortable in that lab; every lab is different and whether you will be happy there depends on luck and timing as much as whether you find the work fascinating.  There are opportunities for undergraduates to do summer research and, in some cases, to be hired year round for research.  If you are a minority, you may also find support through a program in the Biology department called IMSD.  Through special supplements to professors who have National Science Foundation (NSF) or National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants, you may also find support.  Opportunities for scholarships arise during the year – remember, someone has to know who you are and that you’re interested so we can connect you with these opportunities.

The summer after your sophomore or junior year, you should think about going somewhere for a summer research program. There are many of these available.  Usually, application deadlines for summer research are early in the year (January, February, March). 

Math summer REU programs: Biology summer research programs: and

The Biology BS or BA can provide students with the skills and information needed to pursue advanced work in preparation for careers as scientists and health professionals.