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Why Biology?

The biology program at Sweet Briar can help you prepare for a wide range of careers. Depending on their interests, strengths and goals, students in our department take many different academic paths. The profiles below are meant to give you a taste of these possibilities. 

I love asking questions and working out the answers myself.
You will enjoy scientific research, which is integrated in our program at all levels. Original experiments are conducted in the first introductory course (BIOL 111), and more extensive research is incorporated into a number of our upper-level courses including ecology, plant physiology and microbiology. As the capstone experience, biology majors conduct at least one full semester of independent research.

Students who are interested in graduate school have many opportunities to gain additional experience. These include working as assistants on professors' projects, spending a summer as an Honors Research Fellow and writing an honors thesis.

We encourage our students to attend scientific conferences to present posters and talks on their work, and to participate in a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) in which students are paid to conduct 8-10 weeks of research at a major laboratory or field site.

Biology is my favorite subject, but I don't know what I want to do.
If this describes you, then we recommend taking a broad range of biology courses in your first two years while you explore your interests.

You may want to consider teaching. A biology teacher will be a generalist, knowing something about cell biology, microbiology, botany, ecology, genetics, etc. A number of our alumnae who are now teaching science discovered their interest late in college, or even after graduation. Now, Sweet Briar's five-year Master of Arts in Teaching program makes it easier to earn teacher licensure.

Other interesting employment that our majors have found right after graduation include biomedical research, working in a science museum, doing quality assurance in a pharmaceutical company, selling science software, interning at a botanical garden and training horses.

I want to save sea turtles (whales... butterflies... tropical forests...)
Conservation biology is an applied science devoted to studying the impact of humans on the diversity of organisms on Earth, and to developing practical strategies to slow the loss of this diversity.

If your interests are in the organisms themselves — studying why rare orchids are losing their pollinators, or working in a zoo on reproduction of endangered mammals, or restoring tallgrass prairies — then you need a strong science preparation, and a good choice is a combination of the Biology B.S. major with an Environmental Science minor.

If your interests are in the social, political or economic realm — you want to work for a non-profit organization such as World Wildlife Fund, or write legislation related to wetlands restoration, or help a community develop an economy based on ecotourism or sustainable agriculture — then a good choice is a combination of a B.S. in Environmental Science and a minor in Biology.

Talk with Dr. Fink (Biology) and Dr. Alexander (Environmental Science) about which path towards a conservation career is right for you.

I want a career in a health field.
Medicine is an exciting career. Sweet Briar's B.S. degree in biology is good preparation for medical school and our students have an excellent admissions success rate.

In addition to medicine, a diversity of other health careers offer their own challenges and rewards. Sweet Briar alumnae have become physical therapists, nurses, dentists, podiatrists, public health professionals, chiropractors and genetic counselors.

Most of these professions require additional education beyond Sweet Briar, and they vary in the undergraduate preparation they require. Whether you know exactly what you want to do within the health field, or are uncertain what would be a good fit for you, meet early with Dr. Davies, our health science careers advisor. 

I want to become a veterinarian.
The biology department has a great track record of placing our graduates in veterinary programs. Seven alumnae from the classes of 1999-2006 completed veterinary school, for example.  This spring four of our students were admitted for Fall 2012.

A number of our pre-vet students are also riders and come to Sweet Briar specifically because we have strong programs both in riding and in biology. Often, they already have considerable experience working for their local veterinarians and they do additional summer internships in small- and large-animal care. Some students go directly to veterinary school, while others spend a few years as research assistants or veterinary technicians. Dr. Morrissey is our pre-vet advisor.

I am interested in a lot of things, including biology.
Great!  Combine your study of biology with another science, or one of the creative arts, or business management. One recent student majored in philosophy and minored in biology, en route to law school to specialize in biotechnology law.  Another alumna, talented both in music and in field biology, worked for the National Park Service as an Acoustic Technician, measuring and analyzing sounds. Follow in the footsteps of biology-students-turned-fiction-writers Barbara Kingsolver (Prodigal Summer) and Andrea Barrett (Servants of the Map). Children's author Beatrix Potter (The Tale of Peter Rabbit) was an authority on fungi, and painted accurate and beautiful mushroom portraits. Perhaps a double major in biology and Spanish/business, with a minor in Latin American studies, would be good preparation for leading ecotours in Mexico or Costa Rica.