When you study science, you’re mastering the art of identifying problems, then developing creative and practical solutions. You have to be flexible and adaptable and learn constantly in an ever-evolving environment. If you're considering a major in the Department of Biological Sciences, you'll have the chance to pursue this exciting intellectual journey in partnership with our outstanding, committed faculty.
Students in our department are able to take advantage of authentic research experiences as early as the second semester of their first year. Most of these research projects are in collaboration with research labs in our Department, so the students get a chance to interact with both their lab instructor and the faculty member of the research lab. We also offer the SEA-PHAGES program started by Dr. Graham Hatfull as a two-semester course sequence, BIOSC 0058 and BIOSC 0068. Students feel an increased sense of ownership of these projects, create a poster to communicate their work to students and faculty, and are very excited knowing they are helping to solve an open question in biology.
"Being able to do research one-on-one with Dr. Turcotte has allowed me more in-depth learning than is possible in a class with many students, and I have gained valuable experience with the inner workings of research. Dr. Turcotte and I speak frequently about the progress of my experiments and how to further my research, but also about the intricacies of the organisms I am working with and other important topics in ecology and evolution." Swapna Subramanian (Ecology and Evolution, Anthropology majors)
In addition to research, there are a number of other leadership opportunities outside of the classroom that our undergraduate students can take advantage of:
- Students can apply to become undergraduate teaching assistants for a course they have already completed and receive credit toward graduation by registering for BIOSC 1690. This is an immersive way to learn about and practice teaching through weekly preparatory meetings with the faculty member, attending lecture, staffing office hours, holding review sessions prior to exams, and monitoring course Facebook pages. Through this experience, students develop long-term relationships with their faculty member as they will often UTA for the same faculty for multiple semesters of the same course. This relationship provides an opportunity for a highly personalized letter of recommendation, mentorship by faculty who are dedicated to the art of teaching, and ability to positively impact student experience in our courses. For at least the last two years, our UTAs who have applied have been successful in obtaining Chancellor’s Undergraduate Teaching Fellowship Awards.
Hundreds of our students participate in our course sequence of BIOSC 1901/1903/1904 which provides an outlet for conducting a biologically based internship or laboratory research either in a laboratory within the Department of Biological Sciences, an external research laboratory (e.g. UPMC lab, School of Medicine, School of Dentistry), or an organization in the Pittsburgh area (e.g. The Pittsburgh Zoo, Carnegie Natural History Museum). Most students conduct their work over multiple semesters, attend and present at lab meetings, participate in professional conferences, generate poster presentations and in some cases receive authorship on a publication or an offer of full-time employment as a research technician after graduation. The students make close relationships with the head of the research lab. In addition, for students doing research outside of the Department, they also have a faculty co-sponsor within the Department, fostering another connection.
Our peer advising program started in Spring 2018 as BIOSC 1900. The course formally trains second, third, and fourth year Biological Sciences majors to effectively communicate and provide advice to students based on their own experiences. For example, they may share their personal college experiences and offer appropriate advice on scheduling, studying, and extracurricular activities. Peer advisors will meet with current and prospective biological sciences majors to ease progress through course requirements, career preparations, and work-life balance while also helping to develop a stronger sense of community within our department. The peer advisors are trained by our faculty and staff advisors are in regular contact with the advisors providing feedback from their student interactions, to plan for activities throughout the semester, address questions they may have and continue their training for best advising practices.