Biology

Jenny Ramstetter
Todd Smith (see Chemistry and Biochemistry)
Jaime Tanner

There are many routes to a successful Plan in biology. The field is large and diverse, and therefore student Plans can vary a great deal. Marlboro students complete Plans on topics ranging from the molecular, cellular and physiological to organismal, ecological and evolutionary biology. Some students pursue a degree in biology that includes substantial course and tutorial work in the life sciences and the other natural sciences and mathematics. Others create cross-disciplinary Plans that combine a solid background in biology with substantial work in another field such as psychology, dance or theater. Many graduates who do a Plan in biology go on to graduate, medical or veterinary schools. Some are employed as lab or field technicians, and some treat biology as a hobby while pursuing other interests.
Science is a technique, not a jumble of facts. Our expectation is that Plan work in the life sciences will result in a thorough understanding of the scientific method. Ideally, each student should design and complete some original experimentation. Many biology students complete off-campus research in the summer or during a semester on subjects as diverse as the ecology of lemurs in Madagascar, a comparison of soil microorganisms in sun- versus shade-grown coffee in Hawaii and mRNA expression in the postnatal rat hypothalamus and sexual dimorphism. If field or lab research is not possible, extensive analysis and criticism of existing experimentation from the scientific literature must be completed.

Areas of Interest for Plan-Level Work:

Jenny Ramstetter

  • Botany
  • Population & community ecology
  • Conservation biology
  • Ethnobotany
  • Agroecology
  • Forest biology

Todd Smith (see Chemistry and Biochemistry)

  • Molecular biology
  • Cell biology
  • Biochemistry/neuroscience
  • Biochemistry/immunology
  • Biochemistry/nutrition
  • Biochemistry/toxicology

Jaime Tanner

  • Zoology
  • Animal behavior
  • Mammalogy
  • Evolution
  • Ecology
  • Anatomy
  • Physiology

Starting Points (Basic and Introductory Courses

GENERAL BIOLOGY I (NSC9)
An examination of the molecular and cellular basis for life. This course serves as the foundation course for further work in life sciences. Prerequisite: Some chemistry recommended     Introductory | Credits: 4

GENERAL BIOLOGY II (NSC291)
A study of organismal, population and community biology. Prerequisite: General Biology I or permission of instructor     Introductory | Credits: 4

GENERAL BIOLOGY I LAB (NSC174)
An exploration of biological principles and biological diversity in a laboratory setting. Recommended for prospective life science Plan students. Prerequisite: Concurrent enrollment in General Biology I or permission of instructor     Introductory | Credits: 2

GENERAL BIOLOGY II LAB (NSC292)
Further exploration of biological principles and biological diversity in a laboratory setting. Prerequisite: Concurrent enrollment in General Biology II    Introductory | Credits: 2

ANATOMY OF MOVEMENT (CDS564, team-taught)
In this course we will study human movement from an anatomical and biomechanical perspective. Concepts will be explored through a combination of scientific study, experiential anatomy and dance movement. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 3

BIOLOGY OF SOCIAL ISSUES (NSC598)
The objective of this class is to learn about the biology behind many of today’s social issues, including antibiotic resistance, infectious diseases, stem cell research, environmental land use and climate change. Prerequisite: General Biology I or permission of instructor     Introductory | Credits: 4

PLANTS OF VERMONT (NSC157)
A study of the taxonomic, evolutionary and ecological relationships of the dominant vascular plant families of Vermont. A strong emphasis is placed on fieldwork; several day trips are undertaken. Prerequisite: None Introductory | Credits: 4

PLANT DIVERSITY (NSC41)
An introduction to the biology of a variety of organisms including flowering plants, gymnosperms, ferns, mosses and algae. We will emphasize reproductive systems, morphology and ecology in each of these groups of plants. Whenever possible, we will use plants growing in Vermont as examples. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

NATURAL HISTORY OF VERMONT (NSC467)
An “old fashioned” course where we will study the climate and landscape of Vermont and the kinds of things that live here. While studying all groups, each student will be asked to specialize on one taxon. There will be a lot of work outside. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

PHYSICAL GEOGRAPHY (NSC111)
An introduction to the physical and biological environment of the planet: climate, oceans, landforms, biological life-zones. Recommended for non-science majors, and as an introduction to the sciences at Marlboro. Will probably include one or more field days. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

Pursuing Interests (Intermediate and Thematic Courses)

GENERAL ECOLOGY (NSC140)
An examination of several major factors which contribute to the distribution and abundance of organisms and, hence, to the structure of biotic communities. An emphasis will be placed on the original literature. This course should be taken by all students with a life-science orientation in the environmental sciences. Prerequisite: College-level biology    Intermediate | Credits: 3

GENERAL ECOLOGY LAB (NSC402)
In this lab we will take a hands-on approach to learning important concepts discussed in the General Ecology class. You will be introduced to the methods that ecologists use to design, carry out and analyze research. Prerequisite: Concurrent enrollment in General Ecology (NSC140)    Intermediate | Credits: 2

ORNITHOLOGY (NSC147)
A study of the anatomy, physiology, behavior and ecology of birds. Text readings will be supplemented with primary literature and we will schedule regular bird walks in order to identify and observe birds in their natural habitat. Prerequisite: College-level biology; Animal Behavior and/or General Ecology would be beneficial but are not required.    Intermediate | Credits: 4

BIOLOGY OF MAMMALS (NSC591)
An exploration of the anatomy, physiology, behavior and ecology of mammals. We will utilize recent primary literature and we will examine and identify skulls and skins from representative mammal species during a few lab sessions.     Intermediate | Credits: 4

ANIMAL BEHAVIOR (NSC594)
This course will introduce students to basic concepts of animal behavior from a strong evolutionary perspective. We will focus on the evolutionary and ecological significance of behaviors exhibited by a broad range of animals. Prerequisite: College-level biology course     Intermediate | Credits: 4

ANIMAL BEHAVIOR LAB (NSC595)
This laboratory will develop your ability to measure, quantify and assess the behavior of animals. You will receive extensive training on the scientific method and hypothesis testing. Students will gain experience in the research techniques and critical thinking through an independent research topic. Prerequisite: College-level biology course     Intermediate | Credits: 2

GENETICS & EVOLUTION (NSC224)
An integration of the major elements of molecular, Mendelian, and population genetics with the principles of organic evolution. Recommended for all students doing Plan work in the life sciences. Prerequisite: College-level biology course     Intermediate | Credits: 4

PLANT REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY (NSC565)
Sexual reproduction in flowering plants involves a complex series of processes. How is pollen transferred among plants? How do seed and fruit production occur? How are seeds and fruits dispersed? How do seeds germinate and seedlings become established to begin the next generation of plants? We will explore physiological, ecological and evolutionary dimensions of these questions. Examples will include a diversity of plant taxa in ecosystems throughout the world. Prerequisite: General Biology or permission of instructor Intermediate | Credits: 4

CONSERVATION BIOLOGY (NSC168)
A course designed to investigate the problem of the rapidly accelerating rate of extinction and habitat destruction. The emphasis will be on how principles in ecology and genetics can be used effectively in conserving biological diversity. Prerequisite: General Biology or permission of instructor     Intermediate | Credits: 4

Good Foundation for Plan

Good biology is done by broadly trained scientists; there is no one way to examine a scientific question. Sufficient work in chemistry, mathematics and physics permits excellence in biology. Good biologists are also good naturalists. Familiarization with a number of taxa and ecosystems brings biology almost to an art form. One does not appreciate life unless one appreciates the diversity of life. Finally, it is important to bear in mind that science is not the only valid means of inquiry. People who understand the history and aspirations of our species and who can speak to and understand different cultures make the largest contributions as life scientists.
A broad foundation is the basis of an excellent Plan in biology. The following courses are recommended, as well as work in chemistry, physics, mathematics and other areas of study:

  • General Biology I & II, with concurrent labs
  • General Ecology
  • Animal Behavior
  • Genetics & Evolution
  • Plant Reproductive Biology
  • Conservation Biology

(Please see Environmental Studies for related courses in conservation biology, ethnobiology, culture and ecology, agroecology, ecological sustainability and other relevant courses; see chemistry for courses in biochemistry and molecular biology).

Guidelines for Tutorial Work

To prepare for a tutorial and benefit fully from it, a student should already have a basic background in biology including at least one intermediate-level course (e.g., Genetics and Evolution, Ecology, Biochemistry). Tutorials are generally appropriate for juniors and seniors. A conversation between the student and faculty member will be necessary to determine if a tutorial is appropriate. For students who don’t yet have a solid background, a research paper in a course can often allow the student to explore a potential area of interest and prepare for a tutorial in the following semester. Students are expected to provide a general outline of the semester’s tutorial and to provide much of the scientific literature that will be covered in the tutorial. Students often complete an end-of-the-semester paper or research proposal.

Sample Tutorial Topics

Jenny Ramstetter

  • Forest Biology: Physiology, Ecology and Conservation of Forest Systems
  • Ethnobotany: Medicinal and Other Uses of Plants by Humans

Todd Smith

  • HIV, the Immune System, and AIDS
  • Bioinformatics

Jaime Tanner

  • Carnivore Anatomy and Physiology
  • Evolution of Social Behavior
  • Infectious Disease and Women’s Health in East Africa