Which Biology track should I choose?
  • BS - Biological Sciences will meet all the requirements for graduate (MS or PhD) study in a biological field and provide excellent preparation for life-science jobs of all kinds.
  • BS - Biomedical Science is intended for students preparing for careers in medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine, physician assistant, or similar fields; degree requirements include nearly all the courses required or recommended by professional schools in these areas.
  • BS - Biology Education is for students preparing to teach high-school biology; it includes the requirements for a second major in Secondary Education.
  • BA - Health Professions prepares students for post-graduate programs such as optometry, pharmacy, physical or occupational therapy, nursing, etc.
  • BA - Biology Professions requires a second major and provides a pathway for students with interdisciplinary interests to combine biology with areas like environmental studies, math, computer science, neuroscience, English, philosophy, language, etc.
Should I study Biology or Biochemistry?
The Biochemistry major focuses in on cells, genes, and molecules—especially enzymes and other proteins. Biology majors get a broader foundation that includes Ecology and Evolution. They can work in cellular and molecular areas (by choosing advanced electives such as Molecular Biology of Cancer, Developmental Biology, or Biochemistry) or in organismal and ecological areas. The curriculum for the first two years is almost exactly the same, so you can take some time and explore different areas before you decide.
What major is best if I want to be an (MD, DDS, DVM, PA...)?
Take a look at our Pre-health pages for lots of information about professional school requirements, majors, etc.
How does the capstone course work?
Our capstone course has two components:
  • The classroom component meets one hour per week to explore key aspects of being a life-science professional through discussion, reading, and writing. Topics might include research ethics, grants, authorship, human and animal research, media, science policy, or gender issues.
  • The lab component engages you in an independent project related to your instructor's area of research. It meets the research requirement for graduation and involves you in reviewing relevant literature, experimental design, proposal writing, and informal lab presentations in addition to the actual lab work. Each semester, two lab sections are available, one emphasizing biology at the cellular and molecular level and one at the organismal or ecological level.
You can choose to take the capstone either fall or spring semester and should choose one of the four total lab sections available each year based on your current and future interests. Clicking the links on each lab section in Merlin will take you to a brief description of the research topic; feel free to ask the faculty for more information, as well. Biology majors should register for BIOL 400; Biochemistry majors should choose the molecular lab and register for BCHM 400. This is actually one course with two different course numbers, for record-keeping purposes. All Biology and Biochemistry majors complete the capstone, even if they have done research previously.
Are there ways to do research besides the capstone course?
Yes! Research is great experience to prepare you for any kind of life-science career, and you can also make a real contribution to scientific understanding.
  • Summer research is a great way immerse yourself full-time in a research project. Most Biology faculty take summer students most summers, and you can be paid a stipend for your work. Watch for an e-mail to let you know that applications are open around February or March; there will be a list of faculty who are taking students and brief information about their research.
  • During the academic year, many faculty can mentor students in research. Often, these are students who started projects during the summer and who hope to reach the level of a publication or national conference. Students can also start working in a lab during the academic year, depending on the situation and needs of a particular faculty member. You can get an hour or two of credit for research by signing up for BIOL 395.
  • Off-campus research opportunities are plentiful in the summer; our Opportunities page lists some that faculty are aware of, and search engines such as the one maintained by NSF give access to many more. These opportunities usually pay a stipend and may also provide housing and/or pay travel costs. However, they are often very competitive, and a student who has already done at least a summer of research at NCC may have a much better chance of being accepted.
  • BIOL/BCHM 400, our capstone course, engages students in a smaller research project and meets the research requirement for graduation.
Students at any level can participate in research, and in fact those who get publications or conference presentations are often those who started as early as freshman or sophomore year. You should talk to faculty whose research area interests you to see what the possibilities are!
I'm a transfer student. How should I plan to finish my degree?
Our Four-year plans page has some specific planning help for transfer students bringing in different combinations of courses. We encourage you to sit down with a faculty member to talk about your goals and how to get the most out of your NCC education. Our distinctive Biology curriculum focuses on skill development and active engagement along with content; unfortunately, typical community-college courses are designed to transfer to a more generic program. So, you may need to be a little flexible in planning a program that is right for you.
How can I figure out what to do with my life?
We offer Careers in Biological Science (BIOL 390) every year and recommend it for sophomores. We are also developing a Career page on the Biology Web site with helpful resources. The NCC Career and Professional Development Center has experts who can help you find your path and get there. And, this is a great question to ask a faculty mentor!
What are good minors for Biology or Biochemistry majors?
A minor can help prepare you to work in increasingly interdisciplinary environments; it can also add distinctiveness to your program and help you stand out. You could consider an Ethics or Philosophy minor, especially if you're headed for medicine or environmental fields. So much of Biology today relies on mathematical ideas and computational applications that a Mathematics or Computer Science minor is very helpful in many fields. A minor in Professional and Technical Writing can build writing expertise. Minoring in a language is a great way to prepare to work internationally or in diverse communities. For fields where you're likely to manage your own business, such as dentistry, an Accounting or Management minor may be desirable. A minor in Environmental Studies or Neuroscience could broaden your preparation if you're headed in one of those directions. And, a minor in NCC's unique Shimer Great Books program can make any student a better reader and thinker.
Can I double major in...?
Usually, the answer to this question is yes! Any double major takes planning; however, our BA-Biology Professions track is designed for (and requires) a double major. Biology majors often double-major in Environmental Studies, Mathematics or Applied Mathematics, Computer Science, English, Anthropology, languages, Art, or Music. For secondary education, the best option is the BS-Biology Education track.
What's the difference between an advisor, a success coach, and a faculty mentor?

Every student is assigned to a Student Success Coach. We used to call these Academic Advisors. Success coaches are staff members hired to help students plan schedules and meet graduation requirements.

A faculty mentor is someone you choose to help you in your program. It might be your BIOL 195 instructor or some other faculty member you feel you can talk to. Faculty mentors have insights into the details of the curriculum that a success coach might not have, such as what courses would best help you reach your particular career goals. Faculty mentors are great for advice on improving study skills and time management, understanding graduate programs and how to apply, considering career possibilities, doing research, finding ways to enhance your education, and more.

You are always welcome to meet one-on-one with any Biology faculty member—this is not only part of our job, but something we really enjoy doing.

Good writing is challenging for me. How can I improve?
The Biology Student Handbook has a lot of ideas about scientific writing. Additional guidelines in BIOL 195, BIOL 210, and BIOL 230 can strengthen your scientific writing if you pay close attention to them. North Central's Writing Center is a good place to find help in putting your ideas together in a clear and well-structured way. You can also ask your faculty to read and critique your writing. Finally, good readers are good writers: reading lots and lots of well-written work (scientific papers, reviews, all kinds of books—even novels) trains your brain to know what words to use and how to make them sound good together.
Where can I get help?
  • Need help with courses? Your first and best resource is always your course instructor. Our Biology faculty are here because we want to help you become the best student you can be! North Central also has free peer tutors.
  • Need help with your schedule, registration, what courses to take, career advice? Biology faculty can help! If you are a first-year student, your BIOL 195 instructor is also your first-year mentor; you can ask him/her about anything. After the first year, we suggest you form a relationship with a faculty member close to your areas of interest. But, any Biology faculty member will be happy to try to help you or point you to someone who can!