Courses of Study 2023-2024 
    Jul 25, 2024  
Courses of Study 2023-2024 [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Biology & Society

In the College of Arts and Sciences .

 Course Offerings  

The Biology & Society major provides the skills and perspectives necessary to confront problems with biological, social, and ethical dimensions. The Biology & Society major is suited for students who wish to combine training in biology with perspectives from the social sciences and humanities aspects of modern biology. Because the Biology & Society major is multidisciplinary, students must attain a basic understanding of each of the several disciplines it comprises, by including courses in the fields of biology, humanities, social sciences, and mathematics. In addition, majors take core courses in Biology & Society, and a set of electives, and a special senior seminar that comprises their theme. Students are expected to select their theme courses to meet their own goals and interests in consultation with a faculty advisor. Some areas of interest might include genetic engineering, the right to medical care, health and society,  biology and public policy, food and population, and environment and society.
Course work in the College of Arts and Sciences may be selected from theme concentrations in Biology & Public Policy; Health and Society; Biology, Behavior and Society, to name a few.  Students may also develop their own individually tailored theme, in consultation with a faculty advisor.
The Biology & Society major, which involves faculty from throughout the university, is offered by the Department of Science & Technology Studies.  Students in the College of Arts & Sciences and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences are eligible for the major.  The major is coordinated for students in both colleges through the Biology & Society Office.
Students who are admitted to Biology & Society as their major field of study graduate from Cornell with well-developed writing and analytical skills and a knowledge base that can lead to employment in a variety of fields.  Many graduates have accepted positions as health counselors, writers, policy analysts and researchers for government organizations, medical institutions, consumer or environmental groups, or scientific research institutes.  Students have found that Biology & Society is also excellent preparation for professional training in medicine, law, and health services administration and for graduate programs in such fields as genetic counseling, nutrition, clinical psychology, public health, environmental studies, anthropology, sociology, and other related fields.



J. Ratcliff, director of undergraduate studies, College of Arts and Sciences; R. Wayne, advising coordinator, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; A. Banerjee, E. Cohn, L. Harrington, S. Hilgartner, T. J. Hinrichs, S. Hodžić, B. Johnson, B. Knuth, S. Langwick, C. Leuenberger, B. V. Lewenstein, J. Losey, O. Marshall, K. McComas, P. Nadasdy, J. Niederdeppe, T. Overton, J. Parreñas, A. G. Power, R. Prentice, S. Pritchard, C. Roby, N. Russel, A. Sachs, S. Seth, J. Sipple, J. Sparks, R. Slayton, R. Stedman, B. Strupp, N. Tamarkin, J. Tantillo, J. Thies, M. Velasco, R. Wayne, A. Willford, S. Wolf, M. Ziewitz

Biology & Society Major:

Admission to the Major:

Because of the interdisciplinary nature and flexibility of the Biology & Society major, we do not allow students to triple major. All students should have completed a year of college-level biology or two entry-level biology courses before submitting an application during their sophomore year. An application deadline is in effect each semester for A&S students declaring a major or any students changing their major to Biology & Society; please check with the department for deadline dates. CALS students admitted into the major are encouraged to submit a course plan via the major application during that time, but these course plans will be accepted after the Spring deadline of their sophomore year. Applying during this period will ensure an optimal advising experience prior to pre-enrollment. Juniors are considered on a case-by-case basis. Upper-division applicants should realize the difficulties of completing the major requirements in fewer than two years. The application includes (1) a one-page statement explaining the student’s intellectual interests in the Biology & Society major and why the major is consistent with the student’s academic goals and interests; (2) the theme the student wishes to pursue in the major; (3) a tentative plan of courses fulfilling Biology & Society requirements, including courses already taken and those the student plans to take; and (4) a transcript of work completed at Cornell University (and elsewhere, if applicable), current as of the date of application.

A minimum average grade of C is required for the two introductory biology courses. Each course must be passed with a grade of at least C-. Sophomores and above in the process of completing this prerequisite may be admitted to the major on a provisional basis. It is the student’s responsibility to assure that final acceptance is granted upon satisfactory completion of the introductory biology requirement. Although only introductory biological science is a prerequisite for acceptance, students find it useful to have completed some of the other requirements (listed below) by the end of their sophomore year, preferably by the end of the first semester. Students who are considering the major may also find it beneficial to take STS 2011 - What Is Science? An Introduction to the Social Studies of Science and Technology , in their first or sophomore year.

Note: Biology and Society majors may not double major in Biological Sciences.

Note: In addition to the major requirements outlined below, all students must meet the appropriate college graduation requirements.

Major Requirements:

The major requires 17 unique courses: 3 basic courses of two introductory biology and calculus, and 14 courses that make up the Foundation, Core, and Theme of the major. No single course may satisfy more than one major requirement. All courses must be taken for a letter grade and at least 3 credits. For a course to count towards the major, students must receive at least a C- as a final grade.

I. Prerequisite and Basic Courses:

b. College calculus (one course:)

c. Recommended for students on a pre-health careers track:

General chemistry (one-year sequence) (prerequisite to biochemistry and other chemistry courses):

II. Foundation Courses:

(Should be completed by end of junior year.) Foundation courses are intended to provide a broad introduction to methodology and theory in their area.

All courses must be above the 1000-level, at least 3 credit hours, and taken for a letter grade. For a course to count towards the major, students must receive at least a C- as a final grade.

a. Ethics:

One course (should be completed by end of junior year).

b. Social sciences/humanities foundation:

Two courses; one from any two of the following subject areas:

  • History of science
  • Philosophy of science
  • Sociology of science
  • Politics of science
  • Science communication
  • Literature and Science
  • Anthropology of Science, Medicine, and Environment
c. Biology foundation (breadth requirement):

Three courses; one each from three of the following subject areas:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Animal behavior
  • Biochemistry, molecular and cell biology
  • Biological diversity
  • Genetics and development
  • Neurobiology
  • Nutrition
d. Biology foundation (Depth requirement):

One biology course for which one of the above (2c) is a prerequisite. The depth course must include as a prerequisite a course you have completed as part of 2c. Please note that a year of introductory biology courses will not count as a prerequisite for the depth requirement. See list of NS Depth Courses.

e. Statistics:

One course. AP credit may be accepted for Statistics.

III. Core Course:

One course. Should be completed by end of junior year.

IV. Theme:

(Five courses that correspond to the theme selected by the student). These courses must be above the 2000-level, at least 3 credit hours, and taken for a letter grade. For a course to count towards the major, students must receive at least a C- as a final grade. Choose these courses as follows:

  • Natural science issues/biology elective (two courses). Select from the list of BSOC approved natural science issues courses or choose course(s) with introductory biology as a prerequisite.
  • Humanities/social sciences electives (two courses). Courses from the list of senior seminars may be used as theme electives if not used to meet another requirement, or select humanities or social sciences courses in consultation with the faculty advisor.
  • Senior seminar (one course taken junior or senior year). Courses change yearly.


Students may petition to take a second statistics course (an advanced course, in sequence with the statistics course taken in the foundation) in place of the calculus requirement.

A list of approved depth courses using NS 1150  and NS 1220  as a prerequisite is available online.  (Courses are subject to change.)

Students may take BIOAP 2140  or ANSC 2400  for Animal Science major credit, but not both.

First-year writing seminars and introductory courses may not be used to fulfill major requirements.

Independent Study:

Permission of faculty supervisor required. Enrollment limited to: biology and society majors. To apply for independent study, please complete the on-line form.


Projects under the direction of a Biology & Society faculty member are encouraged as part of the program of study in the student’s theme area. Applications for research projects are accepted by individual faculty members. Students may enroll in 1–4 credits of BSOC 3751 - Independent Study ; with written permission of the faculty supervisor and may elect either the letter grade or the S–U option. Students may elect to do an independent study project as an alternative to, or in advance of an honors project. Information on faculty research, scholarly activities, and undergraduate opportunities are available in the Biology & Society office, 303 Morrill Hall. Independent study credits may not be used in completion of the major requirements.

The Honors Program:

The honors program is designed to provide independent research opportunities for academically talented undergraduate students whose major is Biology & Society (BSOC). Students who enroll in the honors program are expected, with faculty guidance, to do independent study and research dealing with issues in Biology & Society. Students participating in the program should find the experience intellectually stimulating and rewarding whether or not they intend to pursue a research career.

Biology & Society majors are considered for entry into the honors program at the end of the second semester of the junior year. Application forms for the honors program are available in the Biology & Society office. The honors program is available to Biology & Society majors from the Colleges of Arts and Sciences and Agriculture and Life Sciences. To qualify for the Biology & Society honors program, students must have an overall Cornell cumulative grade point average (GPA) of at least 3.3, have formulated a research topic, and have found a project supervisor (with an academic appointment at Cornell) and another faculty member willing to serve as their advisor. At least one of these must be a member of the Biology & Society major. Applications will be reviewed by a committee headed by the director of undergraduate studies, who will notify students directly of the outcome. Students will be permitted to register for the honors program only by permission of the department. Students must enroll for both the fall and spring semesters. More information on the honors program is available here.

For additional information about the Biology & Society Major and Honors Program:

General Information: Contact the Biology & Society Advising Office,