Undergraduate Guide

What is Biology? | Biology Undergrad List Serve | What Can I Do With a Degree in Biology? | B.S. in Biology | Minoring in Biology | Undergrad Research Possibilities | Biology Academic Advisors | Your Education in Biology | Advice on How to Succeed in Biology | B.A. in Biology | Upper-level Courses for Biology Majors | The Faculty & Their Research Interests

The Department of Biology is one of the largest, most diverse departments at the University of New Mexico. Members of this department conduct research and teach in a wide variety of areas that include Botany, Evolution, Ecology, Microbiology, Molecular and Cellular Biology, Physiology and Zoology.

In addition to our central complex on the UNM campus, faculty and research students conduct their experiments at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge in Central New Mexico, the Charles Darwin Research Station in the Galápagos Islands and at many other national and international locations.


Biology considers life in all forms, from single-celled organisms to more complex fungi, plants, and animals.The biological sciences are such a broad field that they span the basic workings of chemical functions inside our cells to broad scale concepts of ecosystems and global environmental changes. With more than three million species of organisms on Earth, the biological sciences offer an infinite number of intriguing questions.

Majors in biology are provided the basic foundation for pursuing a career in biological sciences. Majors may go into research, teaching, medicine, veterinary medicine, dentistry, and various applied and technical fields. Introductory courses cover the concepts, theories and processes of biology, and the diversity of life on all levels. Advanced courses and individual research courses with faculty are available in several sub-disciplines.

Molecular–cellular and microbial biology deals with the molecular basis of life processes and with the structure and function of the basic unit of life, the cell. For example, how are cellular processes such as movement, cell division and energy production performed by the molecules that make up cells? These are particularly fascinating problems because micro-organisms can inhabit extreme environments, from geothermal plumes on the ocean floor to Arctic ice. Micro-organisms are the largest group of organisms on our planet, and students study their lives and their interactions with the environments they inhabit.

Ecology and population biology deal with the interactions of organisms with their biological and physical environments, and with the distribution of individuals and species from local to continental scales. These interactions can be affected by the state of individuals, their behavior, changes in the numbers of individuals, changes in the species that choose to occupy a site, and changes in the amount of nutrients or contaminants

Evolutionary biology deals with the environmental forces and biological mechanisms of genetic change in organisms.

Organismal biology is the study of the organization and function of whole organisms and how they meet environmental challenges; it is the glue between molecular and cellular biology, and ecology and evolution. Two prominent areas within Organismal biology include Zoology and Botany.


College of Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Advisors in the Biology Department can provide you with information about Biology coursework, major or minor requirements, etc., and can assist you with the paperwork required by the College of Arts and Sciences. For the advisors' office hours (walk-in or by appointment), check the Advisors Daily Schedule.


Important! Receive e-mail about jobs, course announcements, summer internships, special lectures, research opportunities, workshops etc. . . .

Subscribe to the Biology Club (Bioclub-L) email list by following these instructions.

In order to follow these instructions, you will need an e-mail account and must be able to send an e-mail message.

  1. Send an e-mail message to: listserv@unm.edu
  2. Leave the subject line blank.
  3. In the message write: subscribe bioclub-L yourfirstname yourlastname

You will receive two messages confirming your subscription to the list.


A Bachelor's degree qualifies you for laboratory technician or technical assistant positions in education, industry, government, museums, parks, and botanical gardens.

A Master's degree qualifies you for some research and administrative positions. Students go into graduate programs to build their knowledge to higher technical levels. A master's degree prepares you as a professional in a technical field or gives you the background to do more advanced study. People with master's degrees may become secondary school teachers, junior college instructors, or laboratory technicians in industry, government and universities, or professional in government agencies.

A Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) is required for advanced research and administrative positions, college teaching, and independent research. The Ph.D. degree is a research degree that allows you to add to the body of existing scientific and technical knowledge. If your career goals include directing research or teaching at the college or university level, you should strongly consider entering a doctoral program.

Postdoctoral Study. If you desire a research career in academe, it is often necessary to spend one or more years beyond the Ph.D. in postdoctoral study. If the field is very competitive, it is not unusual for scientists to have several postdoctoral positions in succession before they find suitable academic positions.


See also Biological Sciences: What Can I Do With a Degree in Biology? (PDF)





















Four Pointers:

  1. Think about what you want to do, so your education can work for you.
  2. Start taking Biology's core curriculum, Biol. 201, 202, 203 & 204.
  3. Declare your major as soon as possible.
  4. Talk to professors, because once you are known, when opportunities arise, we will think of you.
  5. Get the best grades you can.

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 T.A.s (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 three 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.You also have to plan to take the GRE, MCAT, or LSAT in the fall of your senior year.

In your first 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 on the UNM Biology Department 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 person 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. Through special supplements to professors who have National Science Foundation (NSF) or National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants, you also may 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. Good web sites to begin your search are: http://www.ams.org/programs/students/emp-reu, http://www.columbia.edu/cu/biology/ug/intern.html

There are many of these available. Look on one of the bulletin boards outside the departmental Main Office (167 Castetter Hall) or on the wall outside 205 Marron Hall. Usually, application deadlines for summer research are early in the year (January, February, March). Don’t give up, but be sure you find a professor to act as a mentor/advisor.

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


The B.S. degree provides students with the skills and information needed to pursue advanced work in preparation for careers as scientists and health professionals. If you are planning to pursue graduate school in the sciences, then you should follow the B.S. track.

Consult the University Catalog for the B.S. degree requirements.


The B.A. degree offers a program of studies with greater flexibility in the Biology and support science courses. Students who major with a B.A. often plan to pursue a career outside Biology, but need a foundation in biological principles. These careers include science education, law school, environmental journalism, or community planning.

Consult the University Catalog for the B.A. degree requirements.


Consult the University Catalog for the minor study requirements.


The Biology Department offers upper-level courses in the following areas: botany, evolutionaly / ecology, microbiology, molecular / cellular biology, physiology, and zoology. Consult the University Catalog for courses in these areas. IMPORTANT: The UNM bachelor diploma will indicate only your Biology degree and will not include any emphasis or specialty within Biology.


Biology Honors Program

The departmental Honors Program is open to junior and senior biology majors with an overall GPA of 3.2 or higher and a GPA of at least 3.5 in a minimum of 20 credit hours of biology courses. Students conduct research and write a thesis during their junior and senior years within the Department. Contact the Biology Honors Program Advisor.

Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) Program

Designed to increase the number of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) majors, especially those from underrepresented minorities, MARC recruits students interested in biomedical research who wish to apply to and succeed in Ph.D. programs. We recruit at least five minority students per year as MARC U*STAR scholars, preparing them for two years for post-baccalaureate study and research careers. Training includes a well-mentored research project, presentations at local and national meetings, training in research ethics and training in scientific communication. MARC scholars become part of a supportive peer group of other students involved in research. MARC scholars receive a stipend of more than $11,000 per year, tuition support and travel support. MARC scholars become part of a national network of MARC scholars, mentors and programs that provides unique opportunities for access to summer research programs and graduate training programs For details and program requirements, see the MARC web page or call us at (505) 277-0884.

Work-study Employment, Student Employment, and Volunteering

Another way to gain experience in research is to find a position in a lab or in the field through work-study, student employment, or volunteering. To apply for work-study positions, Financial Aid must first approve you as being eligible for financial assistance. Work-study and student employment positions are announced through the Bioclub-L e-mail list and on the UNM student employment web site. From time to time, faculty members allow undergraduates to volunteer in a laboratory or on a field research project. Read the list of faculty members and their research interests at the end of this guide. You must take the initiative to visit these professors during their office hours.

Biol. 402—Special Topics, Seminars in Biology

As a junior or senior, you can enroll in Biol. 402, a seminar class that allows you to focus on current research in biology in small classes that emphasize discussion and student participation. Each semester the list of seminar courses changes. You are limited to 4 credits of Biol. 402 toward your Biology major and 2 credits for the minor.

Biol. 499—Undergraduate Problems

As a junior or senior, you can enroll in Biol. 499, an independent study that can involve laboratory or field research. You must take the initiative to find a faculty member who will mentor you. Each professor has his or her own registration number for Biol. 499. Only 2 credit hours of Biol. 499 can be used toward Biology requirements.


Faculty Web Pages Faculty By Specialty